Lightweight, Inexpensive, Quick-to-Build Structures

I got an Instagram message from Greg Ryan last week, and got him to write up this unique project:

I was trying to design a structure that could be used as an outdoor classroom space during Covid. I wanted it to be inexpensive and simple to build, to cover maximum space with minimal materials and something that would lend itself to community builds (or ‘unskilled labor’).

I was inspired by the usual suspects … Frei Otto, Buckminster Fuller, Amory Lovins, as well as my brother’s interest in ultralight aircraft design and how strong something could be while being very light and using minimal materials. I was also inspired by Bill Coperthwaite’s yurts and the outward leaning walls that create a built-in seat or bench back. The aesthetic draws on architecture found in Vermont, including covered bridges and barns.

I wanted something that could be built with minimal materials that were readily available, could be built in a shop and assembled quickly on site. Strong enough to survive Vermont winters, handle heavy snow loads, and strong winds. The resulting structure is extremely strong (as it is composed primarily of triangles), easy to assemble, and uses minimal materials.

The end result is a structure that looks modern, but also fits in with the traditional architecture of New England. Although the structures were originally designed to be outdoor classrooms, people are finding many uses for them, including shop space, lumber drying, boat houses, second garages, backyard covered decks, etc. A unique feature of the “RyanTruss” is that the entire building is laid out on a single template. This template is also a drill guide. The idea being that a community group could get together and build one of these with basic cordless tools.

In practice, this has proven a little more difficult than that, though we keep getting closer.

Over the past year, my sons Aidan and Casey have built over a dozen RyanTrusses and have worked to refine the building process as well as honing in on the best ways to assemble the structures onsite.

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

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