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The Barefoot Architect
Johan Van Lengen
This manual is for those of you who dream of building a home. I will describe the relationship between a house and its environment: the limitations, and the possibilities. I hope that consulting this book will help you find solutions in realizing your dream.
The information presented in this book is mainly graphic. I believe that simple perspective drawing such as these convey information better than page after page of words. The Barefoot Architect is meant not only for individual owner-builders, but for governmental "sweat equity" programs that require the participation of owner/builders in the community.
I do not necessarily mean to persuade you to build your home in a vernacular manner. The world has changed much; often there are not suitable materials or the skills necessary for vernacular building. In many cases, adhering to resolutely to traditional building methods will prove frustrating. The manual is meant to answer the realistic challenges in present-day construction, and to suggest practical solutions by combining traditional and modern techniques. At the same time, I do not mean to imply that these proposed alternative methods will automatically produce a miraculous shelter; rather that a combination of these techniques will guide you in providing a harmonious living environment.
The phrase "barefoot architect" was inspired by the first architects, living in the distant past, who mixed adobe by treading mud with their bare feet. Barefoot architects produced the most incredible buildings of antiquity, such as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
The people who most inspired me to gather and share this building knowledge were those in rural areas and "low-rent" neighborhoods in big cities. Their faith in the possibility of improving their living conditions, in spite of the difficulties of their daily lives, became the inspiration for this book.
Obviously, I did not invent all the techniques cited in this book. Quite a few people shared their experiences, and among them I'd like to thank these marvelous people: Álvaro Ortega, Claudio Favier, Gabriel Camara, Gernot Minke, John Turner, Sjoerd Nienhuys, and Yves Cabannes.
The first Spanish edition, produced in Mexico, would not have been at all possible without the loving help of my Carioca wife, Rose.
I am grateful to Carina Rose, an architect from Canada, who translated and prepared the English version from the original Brazilian edition. Also, Aja Probola for her careful revision of the new layout, Veronica Flores van Lengen for taking care of the legal matters, and my sons, Marc and Peter, who gave their total support in testing the realities of the new concepts in the book. Thanks to all of you!
Johan van Langen
Rio, janeiro 2007