natural materials (268)

Warmest Tent on Earth – Pitching in the Siberian Arctic Winter

The Nenet reindeer herders need to move their tent every few days throughout most of the year. Every time they migrate they must pack the whole tent away, drag it across the tundra on sledges, and erect it again in a fresh place, sometimes in temperatures of minus thirty degrees. Survival depends on working together as a team.

After staying in the wooded taiga for two months they start to migrate north following the ancient paths of migrating reindeer (caribou). In four months they will travel up to 1200km and must pack and move every three to five days to keep up with their herd. They must reach their summer quarters before the snows melt and flood great rivers with icy waters too cold and deep for the calves, born along the way, to cross.…

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Louie’s Shop

When I first met Louie, in the mid-1980s, I was stunned by the beauty of this little building, and even more stunned when he told me that his design was based on the painting of a Mandan earth lodge on page 4 of our book Shelter. Moreover, his cabin across the river was based on the drawing of a small Japanese cabin (bottom right, page 21) in Shelter.

At that point, I had published Shelter II in 1978, but hadn’t really planned on any new books on building.

If Shelter had inspired buildings like this, it occurred to me that it was time for a sequel, and therefore I started working on Home Work, featuring Louie’s creations as the first part of the book. It turned out that a lot of buildings had been inspired by Shelter, as you can see if you leaf through Home Work.*

Since then, we’ve become the best of friends, and I visit him whenever I can. I stay in the little circular room (at right in the exterior photo), and it’s always a wonderful experience — looking up at the radial framing of the roof (with a Ford truck wheel at the apex), looking out at the grapevines, enjoying the design and quality of the building.

I always consult him on projects underway, and on this trip I took along the 30 or so pages of rough layout of our next book, Rolling Homes, and got his feedback.

Now that I’ve returned home, I’m back to work on this book, and it looks really exciting — what with the huge interest in nomadic living these days.*

Stay tuned.

P.S.: I highly recommend the film Nomadland; it’s real (a rarity these days).

*Shameless Commerce Department

You can get both Shelter and Home Work on our website with a 30% discount and free shipping — which beats Amazon. There’s a money back guarantee on all of our books.
www.shelterpub.com

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Reconstructed Building at Fort Ross, Sonoma County, California

This octagonal wooden structure is one of the beautifully reconstructed buildings at Fort Ross, “…the hub of the southernmost Russian settlements in North America from 1812 to 1841.” See: wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Ross,_California

If you are ever driving north along Highway one towards Mendocino, and are at all interested in building or California history, I highly recommend stopping in at this spectacularly reconstructed fort.

www.fortross.org/reconstruction.htm

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Ranchera in Baja California Sur

In 1988, I bought my first 4 × 4 Tacoma pickup truck and headed for Baja California. This was shot on the Naranjas road, which goes from north of San José Del Cabo across the Sierra La Laguna mountain range to the Pacific Ocean near Pescadero. It’s a dirt road, rough in spots, and at times closed due to rock slides or washouts. This was at an immaculate rancho about halfway along the road. The ranchera told me she had six kids and that her husband was in the hospital. A beautiful home, built of (obviously) all local materials. These ranches, many of which are in almost inaccessible spots in Baja California, usually run dairy animals: cows or goats, or beef cattle. She took off her hat and posed proudly in front of her home.

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Shelter Publications World Headquarters

In the middle of a vegetable garden, hooked into the world with a half dozen Macs and a bunch of iPhones.

Built almost entirely of used wood from torn-down Navy barracks at Treasure Island (between Oakland and San Francisco) during the early ’70s.

I made friends with the wrecker, George Taylor, and we did a feature on his tools and techniques in our book Shelter.

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House Built of Bridge Timbers in Big Sur

In 1968, I moved from Mill Valley to Big Sur and worked as foreman on a job building this house out of bridge timbers. The architect was George Brook-Kothlow. George had purchased all the bridge timbers from the town of Duncan’s Mills on the Russian River; they tore down the redwood bridge to build one of concrete, and George had hand-hewn 12 × 12 posts, 16-foot-long 6-by-16s and 16-foot-long 8-by-22s.

Carpenters Paul and Seth Wingate went down with me and we lived on the site, Rancho Rico, a 400-acre ranch with two private beaches. We remodeled some chicken coops for living quarters.

I spent about a year on the project. It was a struggle. We had to splice together two 8-by-22s for the 32-foot-long rafters, and lift them into place with a boom on the back of the ranch backhoe. There were 11 concrete pours for the foundation, each one coming 40 miles down the winding coast from Monterey. I quit after we got the building framed.

About 10 years ago, I went down for a visit. The family had moved into the chicken coops and they were renting the house for $13,000 a month.

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My Home in Big Sur, Built in the ’60s

I built this house in 1967–68 at Burns Creek in Big Sur, California (about two miles north of Esalen). The 14 posts were 12-foot-long 6″ by 12″ double-track railroad ties on 8′ centers. The girders, as well as the rafters were 30-foot-long, 2-by-14’s that had been salvaged by Cleveland Wreckers from an old horse stable in San Francisco. Sheathing was lumber from a farm labor camp I tore down in Salinas, and the shakes were split from deadfall trees I found in Palo Colorado Canyon. I used studs in between the posts. For shear panels (diagonal bracing) on one 8-foot-wide section each of the 4 walls, I used ⅝″ plywood nailed 2″ on centers around the edges and 6″ o.c. on the interior studs. I used annular grooved nails, which are way stronger than smooth nails.

Foundation was a grade beam with concrete delivered (40 miles down the coast) from Pacific Grove, on top of which I mixed and poured 14 round piers shaped by cardboard Sonotubes. Steel brackets embedded in the piers held the posts.

It took me about a year. I did all the carpentry, plumbing, and wiring. It’s a very simple house, a big shed really, and the carpentry is less than exquisite, but it got a roof over our heads. Oh yes, total materials costs were $8,000.

I developed a water supply by building a little dam in a spring 600′ above the house, and running plastic pipe down the hillside. I started some small-scale farming and we had a big garden and I would pick up fish guts in a 50-gallon drum on the Monterey wharf (in our 1960 VW van) on our weekly shopping trips into town.

There were a few things about it that didn’t exactly fit the building codes, so once when the building inspector came, I put on a Jimi Hendrix record loud when I saw him pull up, and he was so rattled that he didn’t notice the non-compliances.

The owners love the house, and I visit once in a while, and camp out next to a studio above the house.

When I decided to leave Big Sur (and embarked on a 5-year period of building geodesic domes), I sold the house to the owners of the land for $11,000.

Item of interest: Barbara Spring, an artist who bought the house from the land owners in the early ’70s, was a friend of the architect Phillip Johnson (post-modern architect known for his Glass House, co-designer (with Mies van der Rohe) of the Seagram Building in NYC, etc.). Johnson was looking for a house to buy in Big Sur and when he came to visit Barbara on a rainy day (with the Ashley Automatic wood stove warming the house), he told her this was the kind of place he would love to find.

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