Hand Made Houses
Barry Smith's House Barry Smith's Sink
During the 1970s there was a plethora of writings which celebrated the skills of the non-professional designer/builder. Bernard Rudofsky's Architecture Without Architects, and his equally engaging The Prodigious Builders werecompanioned by Art Boerike's The Craftsman Builder, and Handmade Houses. In 1978, I was approached by Architectural Design Magazine (AD) to write an article on the subject for a special edition. This is that article. Looking back now, it is interesting to see how, even then, I was interested in design as an instrument of cultural identity - an interest that has grown over the years to embrace many different cultural forms. Beyond that, this was a time befor globalisation, before the so-called "Free-Market ideology took hold, before the commodification of life itself. These houses represent the embodiment of Paulo Freire's dictum, "In creating our world we create ourselves". They are houses that bhave been lovingly conceived and constructed in the best meaning of the term "Vernacular" in that they respond to personality, idekntity, site context, climate and an inate deesire to eschew institutiopnalised forms of building, culture, behaviour and life itself. They are the antithesis of the bureaucratic requirements of building regulations, planning laws and social conventions. They express what is best about the unquentiable zest that lies at the centre of the human spirit.
To download the PDF click Handmade Houses.
Barry Smith was one of my heroes. He lived in the small rural community of Canyon in Contra Costa County,, just over the hills from Berkeley where I worked. Barry had moved in and built his house before the area was populaed - before the suburban sprawl started to push up real estate values for fifty miles around. The house had no external walls - just a soaring series of plywood hyperparabolic structures set on poles over an enormous sand-filled firepit. His chickens, dogs and goats wandered freely thoughout his home. I asked him once if he ever got cold in Winter? "No" he said, "If I start to feel cold I just put on another sweater!"
The bathtub was suspended in the trees over a brazier that he used to warm the bathwater. The building inspectors and planning moguls hated him. Three times they had "red-stickered" his house (posted a non-occupancy and demoltion notice. Each time Barry had taken them to court and won. But they wouldn't give up. He was standing int he way of vast development profits from the potential subdivision of virgin redwood forest development and he couldn't be allowed to prevent "progress" from its inexorable advance. On an impulse one beautiful Autumn day I drove over the hill to visit Barry. As I drove up I saw that he was shepherding his goats and his dog into his VW campervan and that the roofrack was piled high with equipment covered in a tarp. "Hi, Barry", I said, Where are you going? Taking a Vacation?"
"I'm gointg to Russia," he replied, "across the Bering Straight. It will be frozen over by the time I get there!" I was incredulous. "Are you leraving for good?" I asked. "Yup! he said. "But what about your house?" I asked. For yeasrs you've been fighting to stay here and winning. Are you giving up?"
"Tony," he responded. "I've decided that no matter how much they want me to leave, this time I'm actually going to do it!". He recognised that he had become addicted to the fight and that his life had otherwise been on hold for over ten years. Without a backward glance, he got into his van and disappeared down the road, leaving me to wander bemused through the silent citadel he had created.