As you know, I love architecture. Most of my books are about “important” buildings – either houses designed by famous architects or, more often, public buildings like retail, commercial, industrial, office, university, and government buildings. But I’m also interested in what the architects call “vernacular” or traditional architecture.
There seem to be endless ways in which people traditionally build houses and barns and such around the world. The various uses of mud, brick, wood, stone, and other materials is staggering, a lesson in creativity. These diversities of daily design are part of what gives the world its continuing vitality and variety.
Built by Hand: Vernacular Buildings Around the World by Bill Steen, Athena Steen, and Eiko Komatsu, with photographs by Yoshio Komatsu (Gibbs Smith, 2003) is the best book to understand this beautiful world. This 400+ page full color book will introduce you to such visual delights (and cultural contrasts) as stunning Chinese circular group housing, mud skyscraper housing in Yemen, people whose homes float low on the water in Southeast Asia, the yurts of Central Asia, and cliff dwellers. I am sure that we could all learn something about energy conservation from these many different approaches to building for daily life.
For me, however, the book is most important as a tour of the world, to help remind me that we are not all alike, that we do not have a monopoly on cool ideas or artistic talent. In fact, those things spread to every corner of the globe, and this book proves it. Built by Hand is a true world tour: from Colorado to Ireland, Cameroon to Venezuela, Spain to Mongolia, Japan to Greece, and Tunisia to Australia. It is a delightful book for any curious person to scan through, and a real value for such a big, beautifully produced architecture book.




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