Shelter, originally published in 1973, is one of my favourite books. Large format, black and white, a celebration of hand built shelters around the world. I’ve had my copy for 20 years, and still pick it up and find new stuff in it. Tiny Homes is Kahn’s latest book, the fifth in the series of books that followed Shelter, and it’s a beauty. In full colour, it still carries the spirit of its predecessor, albeit in a more modern context.
Kahn places Tiny Homes in the context of how people are responding to the failure of the “pie-in-the-sky housing boom” and the emergence of a “grassroots movement to scale things back”. What strikes me over and over is how different the shelter people actually want to create is from what the market provides. Given the skills, the space in which to build, and some simple principles that enable you to make best use of the least amount of space, people build remarkably beautiful things.
Among its 216 large pages you’ll find gorgeous tree houses, strawbale cabins, cob cottages, one built by an all-female cob building collective called “Mud Girls”, caravans, houseboats, cordwood roundhouses, and much more.
The art of designing small spaces is to the fore here. For Kahn, there are simple principles that underpin this, and they haven’t changed since he wrote ‘Shelter’:
“Start small. Kitchen/bathroom back-to-back for efficient plumbing. Hot water from solar panels in summer, water heater coil in wood stove for winter. This is your core. You can live in it while you add on”.
How different would the world be if instead of expecting young families to try to survive in the private rented sector, they were instead offered the skills and training needed to house themselves? Tiny Homes gives a sense of the kinds of beautiful, artistic, curvaceous, sensual, delightful, intriguing homes that emerge when people are able to own the shelter-making process.
Give yourself a treat. Spend a few hours wandering through these pages, and you will never think the same way about what housing can be. We are a creative species, and we have a powerful shelter-making gene, but sometimes we forget this. Tiny Homes is as powerful a reminder as you could wish for.
Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter – scaling back in the 21st century. Lloyd Khan. Shelter Publications.