02 January 2012

Handmade Houses

Written by Published in Latest books

‘What if you could not only build your “dream house”, but you could find desirable cheap land on which to build ... and design and construct it entirely on your own creative terms?’

This question, one loaded with the bubbling excitement of infinite possibility and freedom, is at the core of Richard Olsen’s Handmade Houses, an inspiring book charting a century of ‘green’ architecture through 25 projects in North America, Australia and Europe.

Olsen writes with zeal about the back-to-the-earth movement of the 1960s and 1970s – a time when the rapid decline of the US’s agricultural past coincided with a new wave of people questioning the status quo and seeking something different. 

He documents the desire to revive ‘peasant’ and ‘pioneer’ architecture among the crowds of people fleeing America’s urban centres amid a panorama of Vietnam War protests, rioting and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy, and charts the movement’s progress to the present day.

Using materials salvaged from old houses and office blocks, barns and even railway bridges, the book reveals in fascinating detail how back-to-earth homebuilders created unique, idiosyncratic homes.

As architect Bernard Maybeck once remarked: ‘With four sticks of wood you can express any emotion’, and through Olsen’s knowledgeable gaze, we realise that each of these houses expresses emotion, community, warmth and artistic creativity in its own way.

Each was built with the aim of avoiding ‘sterile mechanical repetitions’, as one homebuilder put it, and yet are about so much more than bricks and mortar – or the lack of. 

The projects reveal humankind’s capacity for creative inspiration, and the glorious possibilities of this when allied with a determination to realise our dreams.

Handmade Houses: A Century of Earth-Friendly Home Design by Richard Olsen (Rizzoli, from March) £28.95 

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