The Barefoot Architect – Johan van Lengen

The Barefoot Architect - Johan van Lengen
The Barefoot Architect - Johan van Lengen

“The Barefoot Architect, in its evolution, came out a stunner. Not only in looks, but also in both usefulness and practicality in today’s world. We didn’t anticipate the timing, but the green movement matured as this book was being produced and it’s a perfect intersection. At a glance, the book may appear to be about building a house out of adobe and bamboo or other natural materials. Which it is. But it’s also about design, planning, integration with the natural environment, using the wind, sun, and water to ventilate and produce energy, and a host of other subjects for people interested in providing their own shelter, or setting up a small community.

In the ’60s, I started remodeling my house, and then adding on to it (with some ambitious first-time architect plans), so I had to learn to build as I went along. In those days I had a bunch of books on carpentry and building, but my favorite was Ken Kern’s The Owner-Built Home, which became the underground building bible. Not “architecture,” but building, and doing it yourself. Simple pen and ink drawings, easy to follow.

Johan van Lengen’s book is for builders today what The Owner-Built Home was for builders of the ’60s. 1000 wonderful simple drawings, easy to follow. A different way of looking at shelter. Earth conscious. Local climate. Local materials. Bio-architecture. (And using intuition and the right brain.) Interestingly, Johan has found a keen interest in his methods recently by people who are bailing out of high-stress jobs and seeking simpler lives, creating eco-villages.”

Source: Lloyd’s Blog
Lloyd Kahn is the owner of Shelter Publications and author of such classics as Shelter I and II, Homework: Handbuilt Shelter, Builders of the Pacific Coast and Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter.

5 thoughts on “The Barefoot Architect – Johan van Lengen”

  1. Book summary at (selling for only $12!!!)
    “A former UN worker and prominent architect, Johan van Lengen has seen firsthand the desperate need for a “greener” approach to housing in impoverished tropical climates. This comprehensive book clearly explains every aspect of this endeavor, including design (siting, orientation, climate consideration), materials (sisal, cactus, bamboo, earth), and implementation. The author emphasizes throughout the book what is inexpensive and sustainable. Included are sections discussing urban planning, small-scale energy production, cleaning and storing drinking water, and dealing with septic waste, and all information is applied to three distinct tropical regions: humid areas, temporate areas, and desert climates. Hundreds of explanatory drawings by van Lengen allow even novice builders to get started.”

  2. It does not cover earthbag in particular, Owen.
    It does give a good overview of creating adobe bricks – selecting the proper earth, how to make molds for the bricks, etc… Also give’s a diagram to take to a metal shop if you want to build a brick press, if you’d rather go with stabilized earth bricks, and it also shows an interesting process to create ferro-cement panels/roof shingles, which would work great for an earthbag house, as would the earth bricks if you chose to combine them with earthbags.

    It’s a very interesting book, which would go along great with your book, on earthbag building, because it covers so many important topics. Site selection, proper building orientation, building design based on factors such as climate, materials available, community design( great for an off grid group building together).

    The materials and construction section are very concise and interesting, the sanitation section is interesting for showing how to build a septic system and composting toilets, allowing you to choose, the energy generation part shows some diagrams if you want to try to build your own windmills, heat sinks( to heat & cool your house using some pipes running through the earth), and tons more.

    Sorry to spam you, on what should have been a simple reply on earthbags, but this book is such a good overview of the off-grid hurdles and way to overcome them, that I can’t recommend it enough. My copy was $17.95 plus tax, so you can see it’s reasonably priced for a book of some 700 pages.

    Another book I just got, which I suspect you’d love is Buildings without Architects, which has many types of earth buildings around the globe, although it does not restrict itself to earth buildings. Another $15, which would give the self-builders tons of ideas.

  3. Great book! I have it on my desk right now. This is the one that got me interested in alternative building styles, mostly rammed earth, straw bale and earthbag. What I especially liked was the way it explained the different styles of construction, depending on what climate you’re building in, but there’s much more to it. Best $20 or so you’ll ever spend.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.