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.
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.