The Accumulated Wisdom of Anonymous Builders

shelter sketchbookbuilt by hand

The third post in a series inspired by the University of Colorado School of Architecture’s ongoing design work for the future home of the Rocky Mountain Land Library.

Among our favorite books at the Land Library are those devoted to traditional architecture across the globe — so often simple and elegant structures built with the natural elements at hand. Yoshio Komatsu has devoted the last twenty-five years to photographing the wide diversity of homemade shelters. Built by Hand: Vernacular Buildings Across the World (with text by Bill & Athena Steen and Eiko Komatsu) is a hefty omnibus of Yoshio’s work. It’s hard to improve on the authors’ own words as they describe their book:

Built by Hand is a celebration of what is so uniquely diverse and yet similar in the buildings of different cultures around the world. Beginning with the basic ways that human beings have sought shelter — beneath the trees and stars, under protection of a rock cliff or cave — this book traces the transformation of materials such as earth, stone, wood or bamboo, into shelter.”

What Yoshio Komatsu has captured with his camera, John Taylor has equaled with his pen-and-ink drawings. A Shelter Sketchbook: Timeless Building Solutions (also pictured above) contains more than 600 elegantly simple and practical structures — the accumulated wisdom of anonymous builders, all responsive to their immediate environment and the available resources.

Here’s a few more fun books from the Land Library’s shelves:

wonderfulw/o architects
Wonderful Houses Around the World by Yoshio Komatsu (a young adult version of Komatsu’s work, housed at our Waterton Canyon Kids Library), and our latest addition to our vernacular architecture section: Buildings Without Architects: A Global Guide to Everyday Architecture by John May.

And, here’s a true classic. We love this book so much that we have more than a few copies on hand:


Shelter, edited by Lloyd Kahn. With the oversize shape of a road atlas, Shelter is as infomation-packed as the Whole Earth Catalog, with over 1,250 illustrations. A true sourcebook of invention and inspiration.

new book


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