Shelter book (9)

Alex Writes About the Influence of Shelter on His Life

It’s kinda mind-boggling to me how many people are writing us these days about the influence of our building books on their lives — at least once a day.

Hi Lloyd,

My name is Alex, born in France 30 years ago,

In 2017 my then girlfriend and I were farming a small piece of land in rural Portugal, living in our van. Our neighbors, two Swedish friends who had recently moved in the country too, were getting started with a sandbag dome project and we’d committed to dedicate a few weeks to helping them. It was the peak of a very hot summer so the four of us would work early every morning until the sun slowed us too much to keep going and would go to the lake or chill in a hammock until the evening temperature drop allowed us to carry on with the build.

 It’s during one of those hot afternoons, sheltered from the sunrays by an olive tree, that my friend Karl handed one of his books. I read it like a novel over a couple of days putting it down only to eat work and sleep. The read had a big impact on me. That book was filled with hope, history, nostalgia, knowledge and stories and all of it fueled me, my imagination, my motivation. That book that may have looked like an other beautiful book about buildings turned out to be a magical collection of archives, thoughts, projects, experiences and dreams you’d gathered early in your life, a book unlike any other, Shelter.

When I visited my family in France a couple months later, my aunt who often goes to local garage sales told me she found an old book in english she thought I might like, Shelter landed in my hands for the second time and now sits on my bookshelf.

After having lost the mental battle against drought and wildfires in Central Portugal we moved back to France and after years of many jobs I am now studying to better myself as a builder. I got a scholarship to enter a program for conventional builders transitionning to eco friendly practices. I had no prior official building education but managed to convince them to have me and I now learn masonry, carpentry and other coating and insulation techniques.

 I think Shelter made me see in construction the same thing I was seeing in agriculture. It looks ugly the way it’s done in our modern societies but if you do it with a bit of awareness curiosity and creativity it can be noble, artistic. It helped me see how culturally, ecologically and politically important building was. Growing up no one was a builder around me and I wasn’t especially destined to dedicate my time to this, when I was asked about where my interest for this field came from during my enroling interview I mentionned you as my distant mentor.

My life has been made more interesting by a lot of books, Shelter definitely hangs with the ones at the top. I know you’ve been getting a lot of similar messages and letters since the 70’s, your book Home Work displays some of them, I can’t say it was vital for me to write this but it feels right knowing my admiration might reach you in person.

For some time I was planning to send you a letter and a photo when I finished my house but I currently live on a friends couch and my dream house has remained a dream house and is still only drawings on the pages of my old notebooks. The reason I’m writing this today is more practical. My school has me schedule four three-week internships this year. I get to choose where and with whom I want to work. I started exploring my options but the other day I wondered if Lloyd Kahn would have someone to recommend in France or Italy or wherever in Europe.

I think I mostly like carpentry but I’m happy to discover most things, I’m still at an early stage of my building story and would probably be happy learning with most skilled workers willing to share their knowledge. I really like Linda and Ianto’s Oregon cob that I discovered thanks to you but I failed to find people who work in similar ways around here, I guess building regulations are hitting creative builders pretty hard worldwide. This is just a message in bottle, I’m already happy I wrote this, happier even if you find it, infinitely grateful if you got that far. But if you happen to have an idea or some quick guidance for me I’ll take it, whatever it is. Mostly I know bottles don’t usually come back with an answer and I’m not stuck on an island either, so thank you for what you did, and I hope you feel happy looking back at your experience and achievements.


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Shelter for Humans

Lloyd Kahn (born 1935) is arguably the most influential pioneer of the DIY building movement that emerged in the counterculture of the 1960s. Besides being trained as a carpenter and having built many homes by hand, he also has a special talent for presenting information in an easy-to-understand form, a skill he puts to use as editor-in-chief of Shelter Publications, where he releases books on building and fitness.

His first contact with the craft of publishing was in 1968 when he became a key contributor to the creation of the Whole Earth Catalog, which led him to publish two books on dome building and then, in 1973, the book Shelter (which went on to sell over 300.000 copies).

The name Shelter is significant here, as it describes the essence of why we build. When we speak of architecture we think of monumental structures or at least buildings for an elite, and not of the homes built to meet our most human needs. This is what I find so empowering about Kahn’s emphasis on building traditions outside the architectural canon: The message that you can still create your own home, without being rich or a professional. Much of what is presented to us today under the label #cabinporn has little to do with this utopian spirit that encourages a forgotten self-efficacy beyond what money can buy.

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Shelter’s First Five Books

Last week, Kyle Theirmann, surfer, skater, journalist, and pal of Chris Ryan’s came here to do a podcast of me talking about the ’60s, about which he is doing a book based on the fact that a lot of millennials (he’s 32) are aware that something happened then, but don’t know exactly what.

To start out, I gave him a thumbnail description of our first books, and I got him to shoot this video on my camera.

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Shelter Exhibition Opens This Friday in Berlin


The exhibit, which was originally at the Architettura Biennale in Venice last year, is moving to Berlin and opening at the German Architecture Center this Friday, October 28.

Our books, Domebook One, Domebook 2, and Shelter are also on display in a large glass case. These models are based on drawings from those books.

Our exhibit was one of the first things you saw when entering the Arsenale di Venezia, the huge ship building complex in Venice (which was the largest industrial complex in Europe before the Industrial Revolution), now converted to exhibition space. Over 300,000 people visited the exhibition. When I was there with Lukas, there were crowds of people checking out our books and the models.

I’m flying to Berlin this Wednesday and will be doing a discussion with architect Leopold Banchini and curator Lukas Feireiss on hand-made housing and alternatives to traditional methods of building and living together. (And exploring Berlin — my first visit there.)

The title of the exhibit, There Are Walls That Want to Prowl is a line from the poem “Let’s Voyage Into the New American House” by Richard Brautigan, which was reprinted in Shelter.

More info at

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Exhibit of Shelter Books and Models Opens This Week in Berlin


From Lukas Feireiss in Berlin:

Friday evening October 28, we are opening our exhibition There Are Walls That Want to Prowl at the German Architecture Center (DAZ). Come, celebrate and discuss with us.

The exhibit was originally shown at the Biennalle Archittetura in Venice in 2021 and is an installation that combines building models from Lloyd Kahn’s books with architectural models by Leopold Banchini, interview footage, and photographs of Kahn’s home in California by Dylan Perrenoud. The exhibit was inspired by Kahn’s iconic books Domebook One, Domebook 2, and Shelter.

These three compendia of self-build architecture tell stories of alternative dwellings from nomadic structures in the Iron Age to contemporary mobile homes, consistently extolling ecological and self-reliant ways of living that liberate themselves from capital and production methods marked by alienation.

I’m pretty excited, taking off for a week in Berlin on Wednesday.

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Phil Jackson’s New Woodshop

Howdy Lloyd!

Thanks for your interest in my shop build.

Just wanted to thank you for the knowledge you shared in Shelter, specifically about typical spans for girders and joists. I didn’t grow up with any building experience, and your work really helped me wrap my head around my first structure, pictured below.

Dorothy Ainsworth, Larry Haun, Scott Wadsworth (from the Essential Craftsman), and a whole bunch of local knowledge filled in the rest.

My instagram @philjacksonphoto has a whole story highlighted about the build, too.

Thanks again, Lloyd!! Hope to cross paths some day

–Phil (Jackson)

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GIMME SHELTER In These Troubled Times – April 2020

This is a newsletter I send out maybe once a month. If you’d like to be on the list to receive it, you can sign up for email delivery of the Gimme Shelter newsletter here.

To those of you receiving this for the first time, this is an intermittent and infrequent newsletter that describes what’s going on with our publishing operation and daily lives. The last one was two months ago. I’m sorry these are so interminably long, but (yes, I’ve said this before):

“I have made this [letter] longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”

–Blaise Pascal, 17th century French mathematician and philosopher

So much of what I write these days has to be short (tweets, Instagram, etc.) that it feels good to just let it rip once in a while.

Cover of the Rolling Stone

The big news around here these days (other than the end of the world as we knew it) is (was) the article on Lesley and me in the New York Times on March, 11, 2020. Journalist/writer Penelope Green and I have corresponded a bit over the years, but not in any depth. To my surprise, she emailed me after getting my January GIMME SHELTER newsletter, proposing she do a story on us in conjunction with the publishing of The Half-Acre Homestead.

Interesting, I thought, a sophisticated New York journalist picking up on our do-it-yourself California homestead.

When doing the book, there was always the issue of how much of our private lives we wanted to include. Getting covered in one of the biggest (and best) newspapers in the world was even riskier. How would we come across? A lot of it had to do with journalism. After emails and talking on the phone with Penelope, I felt comfortable with her.

She flew out on a Wednesday, came out here for about four hours, including lunch, on Thursday, and went back to New York on Friday. She got it. She liked what we were doing, what we’d done, loved Lesley’s weavings, got the history right. I was happy with the article.

It caused an explosion of emails, phone calls, and book orders. Things are just starting to settle down now.

Here it is:

The Half-Acre Homestead: 46 Years of Building and Gardening

Dining table made of 3″ by 10″ used Douglas fir floor joists from industrial building

A lot of people are saying that this is a perfect book for these troubled times. That using your hands to create food and/or shelter is not only still relevant in this digital age, but especially applicable now, when people have to stay at home. Bake some bread, fix that leaky faucet, build a table, knit a hat, plant a vegetable garden.

We got a long handwritten letter today from a 29-year-old woman who said, “Every time I open the book, it makes me excited for a future when I can build a beautiful life with a loved one…”

If you want to review the book for any type of media, send us your address and we’ll send you a free copy. To buy a copy, contact your favorite independent bookstore, or go to our website (we have free shipping + a 30% discount on two or more books):

Note: You can get a sneak preview of the book by going to: It gives you about one-third of the book.


Brother and sister planning their first homes with one of our mini copies of Tiny Homes

I gave one of our Tiny Homes mini books to a 10-year-old working as an apprentice at the Proof Lab Surf Shop in Mill Valley. He flipped through the pages excitedly and then said, “This is what I want to do. … This is so sick!”

Biennale Architettura 2020

This architectural exposition scheduled for this summer in Venice was to have an exhibit of “…the content and influence of three iconic counterculture publications on organic architecture published half a century ago by now 85-year-old publisher and builder Lloyd Kahn — Domebook One (1970), Domebook 2 (1971), and Shelter (1973) — on contemporary architecture practices.” They sent me a round-trip ticket and three nights lodging, and, as you might guess, it’s been called off. I’m hoping that sometime in the future I can finally see Venice. And boy, to be recognized by architects — that’s something new.

Stretching: 40th Anniversary Edition

By having to stick around here, I got the layout done a lot sooner than if I’d been running over the hill every week. Publication date is October, 2020. Here are two of the new pages:

Working on it has made me think about posture. Hold your phone up at eye level. Stop bending over to look at it. Pull your shoulders back and relax them. Try a few of the above stretches if you’re at a computer reading this.

Sheltering In Place

Our life isn’t all that much different. Lesley doesn’t have her friends over for tea these days, I don’t meet my running pals on Tuesday nights, but we have a lot to do in our daily lives around here that’s pretty much unchanged. The cooking, gardening, fixing stuff, weaving, getting firewood, dealing with critters such as mice, ants, skunks, and gophers — running the publishing business — it’s not like were cooped up; it’s pretty much business as usual.

And there are the good things amidst all the gloom, throughout the state. LA has some of the “cleanest air of any major city in the world.” The tourists, which have become onerous out here in recent years, are not clogging the roads on weekends. People are cooperating and helping each other out, neighbors helping neighbors, masks (Lesley’s made about 30 of them for friends) and gloves and distance now part of daily life just about everywhere.

I like it at home! By staying home, I’m more in tune with the weather, the tides, and the rhythms of the surrounding land. I’m doing more foraging, hunting, and fishing. I’ve been making nettle tea every morning; it tastes good and has a lot of healthy ingredients (steep leaves 3 minutes in boiling water, add small amount of honey). Also collecting and eating miners’ lettuce, watercress, a few mushrooms, wild onions.

“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.”

–William Morris, 1834–1896

A few weeks ago I took a 3-mile round-trip kayak paddle and got clams, mussels, and seaweed (the latter to dry and grind into powder to put on just about all foods). I’m making an annual calendar with harvesting times for various wild plants, Like like early summer for cattail pollen, later summer for cattail shoots, early fall for Manzanita berries and huckleberries … there’s a lot of wild food everywhere. Now there’s more time to get it.

I’m certainly not the first to say it, but things are seriously out of whack on the planet — all being made worse by our loathsome president and his greedy, vicious cohorts. It’s as if the planet is conscious (the Gaia hypothesis), and taking steps to stop planetary abuse and untrammeled consumption. One can only hope that when it’s over, the world economies will do a reset. The problem is, the most vulnerable are suffering the worst.

Making Do

I’ve come to realize lately that there are a ton of used things in my life that I’m nursing along, and that I get a lot of satisfaction from making do instead of buying new. A few examples:

  • Replaced damaged plastic knob on teakettle with piece of madrone
  • My 20-year-old Mercedes E-320, bought for $4000, a fantastic car
  • My 10-year-old Smartwool merino wool jersey, with patches and holes
    (my blankie)
  • Coffee roaster top held together with high-temperature silver tape
  • 70-year-old (family heirloom) wooden pruning ladder, still working fine
  • Stool re-covered with piece of old Persian rug
  • 25-year-old Evinrude 15 hp outboard, motor rebuilt twice

The Aging Body

One of the things I learned working on fitness books in the ’80s and ’90s, was that it’s not so much age that makes you lose strength and agility, as it is disuse. People stop using their muscles and they deteriorate. I read about a 35-year-old doctor who broke his leg skiing. When the cast came off, his leg was shriveled, “…like the leg of an old man,” he said. It’s the “use it or lose it” principle. If you stop using your muscles, they’ll shrink, and you’ll get weaker. It’s not that aging doesn’t take its toll, but steady exercise — if possible — is key to staying healthy and fit.

Bob Anderson, author of Stretching, my frequent running partner through the years, told me once: “You never hear anybody say, ‘I’m sorry I worked out.’” So true. Every time I hike, walk, paddle, ride a bike, or lift a few weights, I feel much better. Especially paddling; something about being in the (cold) water and getting an upper body workout leaves me feeling energized and happy.

My New eBike

I started competitive running at around age 50, did it for 20+ years, and quit racing 10 years ago due to knee problems (I wanted to be able to walk for the remaining years of my life).

I started skateboarding at age 65, and kept at it for maybe 20 years until I broke my arm pretty badly a few years ago. I didn’t give it up right away, but the trauma made me tentative, my skating awkward, and I lost my confidence. Sigh!

My latest activity, at age 85, is with my new Specialized Turbo Levo Fattie pedal-assist e-bike, Is it exciting! I know that hard-core mountain bikers don’t exactly love bikes with motors, but there are three reasons I finally made the jump. First, you get a break when you’re over 80. Second, our good family friend Bryce, a professional bike guy, had bought this bike for his wife, and she decided not to keep it. It was the perfect size, the perfect bike, and I got it for a healthy discount. The third reason, which I discovered on my first ride out into the hills, was that it was fun. Really fun!

It’s changed my life, in spite of the fact that I was crossing a big puddle on a fire road yesterday and the wheel sunk down, and I went over into the water on my side, along with the bike. That’s why my leg and arm are covered with mud here. No real harm, just embarrassing. I squirted the bike and me off when I got home, and I’m going out again today to pick nettles and mushrooms. After a lifetime of riding a bike, this is like having superpowers. You’re going up a steep hill and you kick in the motor and it’s like someone is pushing you from behind. And this bike is beautifully designed, it not only has power, but it’s a kick-ass trail bike.

Lesley has had a Rad eBike for about 6 months now, that she uses to pick up groceries downtown and to visit friends (once that’s possible again).

The State of Shelter Publications

The coronavirus has closed bookstores, and much of our income is cut off. This isn’t exactly unchartered territory for us, because we’ve been in the red for about two years now, and could well be out of business in the next year. We’ve applied for a Payroll Protection Program loan, as well as an Economic Disaster Loan, but the processes are confusing and disorganized. We’re looking into getting a grant, or an angel that would help us keep us rolling (paying printing bills of about $40,000) until we get some income from the new version of Stretching. At that point we hope we’ll be self-sufficient enough to do another 5 or 6 books and keep our communications hub operating for another 5 years. We’ll see.

In any event, it’s been a great 50 years, and a privilege to have been in such a wonderful business, and to have followed our hearts in whatever we’ve done.

In the meantime, we’re going to, as the Scots say, och wheesht and get oan wae it.

On My Blog

My Instagram account (8400 followers):

Shelter’s Instagram account (13,000 followers):

Música del día

Springsteen, Sam Moore, E Street band live at 25th anniversary of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “Hold On, I’m Comin’”

““Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”

–High school football coach Eric Taylor, Amazon Prime series “Friday Night Lights”

Over and out…

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Lloyd’s Podcast with

Play the podcast:

Intro & synopsis from the podcast page (, which also contains more images and videos:

Today my guest is Lloyd Kahn; and if you don’t recognize the name, you’ve probably seen one of his books. Lloyd published the seminal book, Shelter in 1973, documenting alternative housing ideas not limited to, but including, tiny houses, well before the current modern movement.

Lloyd has a lifelong fascination with shelter, and this conversation, we trace the steps of how an insurance broker in San Francisco built his own home and slowly transitioned to publishing internationally about Geodesic Domes, Tiny Houses, Mobile Houses, Driftwood Shelters and more. DIY building. While many thousands of the homes that Lloyd has documented over the years are small or tiny, he’s got a healthy amount of skepticism about the tiny home movement.

In this wide-ranging conversation, we talk about Lloyd’s books, his original influences of the counter culture of the 1960s, and how the concept of shelter has changed over the years.

In This Episode

  • How did Lloyd’s fascination with shelter begin?
  • Why Lloyd’s 1973 book Shelter is the most important of his work
  • Why Lloyd decided to pull his Dome Books off the shelves even though they were selling
  • Why Lloyd says that Builders of the Pacific Coast is Lloyd’s favorite book
  • Lloyd tells the story of meeting and building with Derek ‘Deek’ Diedricksen
  • Why Dome homes have fallen out of favor (and Lloyd is more than okay with that!)
  • How Lloyd got into publishing in the first place
  • What is causing the current fascination with tiny houses?
  • Lloyd’s advice for first-time DIY home builders
  • Lloyd’s two favorite houses of all times
  • Lloyd’s take on aging well (He’s 83!)
  • Lloyd’s new book coming soon: The Half-Acre Homestead (It sounds amazing!)

Links and Resources

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Shelter on Sale — 30% Discount

45 years ago, Bob Easton and I spent the summer of 1973 putting together this book in Bolinas. We had gathered a lot of material, but had no idea how it would fit together for a book. So we just started, two pages at a time.

We both loved Life magazine, and wanted the book to be visual. (It ended up with 1,000 photos and 250,000 words.) I had a geodesic dome at the time, and Bob did layout in the dome while I worked on my Adler portable typewriter in the second story of the tower, practicing real cut and paste: scissors and Scotch tape.

Joe Bacon, from New Orleans, set the type on an IBM Composer (an $8000 Selectric typewriter) in a little room we built him on the side of the tower (a couple of decades before the Mac).

I had a mission in starting this book: I had published a popular book on dome building, only to find out that domes didn’t work. By the time Domebook 2 sold 160,000 copies, I took it out of print.

I then thought that I should show people all the other ways to build: different materials, different techniques, different ideas on design. I set out with 2 Nikons, one loaded with Tri-X, the other with color slide film, and traveled around the USA, Canada, and Europe studying building techniques. We also did a poster announcing the book and people sent us material.

The book came together on its own, with our assistance, and we printed 50,000 copies on a newspaper press in San Francisco, shipped it to Random House, and it sold like crazy. (It’s now sold over 250,000 copies in English, and has been translated into French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese.)

I can’t tell you how many people have said, over the years, that they were inspired by this book. One guy came up to us at a solar energy festival, picked up Shelter, and said “I remember when I first saw this book at a party. I took it into a corner of the room and read it all night. The next day I quit my job and went to work as the builder and now I’m a contractor.”

It’s not us, it’s the people and the buildings in the book that are inspiring.

It’s a book dedicated to doing things with your own hands.

We want to get it out there more widely, so are selling it for a 30% discount* through the end of September, with free shipping.

*making it $20, $6 cheaper than Amazon

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