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Malcolm Wells: Dreamer of an Underground Utopian Architecture

Regarding Malcolm WellsThe Earth-Sheltered House: An Architect’s Sketchbook: what looks at first blush like a collection of fanciful schematics turns out to be a bittersweet album of unrealized dreams, or maybe a hopeful blueprint of a future that might be. That’s according to

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The careers of architects are littered with buildings that never found a client or a budget and never emerged from the ground. Those buildings exist merely as dreams of what could have been — and dreams of the world they might have helped create.

Dream buildings sometimes leave architects amused, sometimes bitter. Rarely are they as entertaining and as poignant as Malcolm Wells, the pioneer of underground architecture. The Earth-Sheltered House, which has just been reissued by Chelsea Green Publishing, serves as both a manifesto for underground building and a review of Mr. Wells’s career, as recalled by the architect himself. Of course, underground building has not (yet) taken off as a popular architectural form, so the designs in the book are mostly unrealized — the clients did not accept the design, or ran out of money, or simply disappeared. The book feels very personal, very intimate. The text is written out in longhand, so Mr. Wells’s disappointment at failed projects, his confessions about faulty designs, and his zeal for sustainable architecture all reach out from the page to grab the reader. The tone is often one of self-deprecating humor, but also one of sadness at the unsustainable state of architecture and (from Mr. Wells’s perspective) at the fact that the world has missed its chance for a revolution in underground building.

Well, so far, anyway. Mr. Wells’s designs may remind readers of fashions in 1970s architecture and at the same time evoke visions of a sustainable utopian future — one of buildings constructed by a society that has both embraced advanced technology and returned to live among the trees.

Even though the book is called The Earth-Sheltered House, many of the featured designs were commissioned by colleges, like this dormitory that Mr. Wells designed for “a Catholic university in Minnesota” around 1978. (Given its fondness for good architecture, St. John’s University could well have been the mystery institution.) The building featured a solar greenhouse at one end, but “the great cross was not done consciously,” he writes.

Read the whole article here.

Overshoot, Collapse, and Creating a Better Future

In 2016, Earth Overshoot Day happened on August 8—the day when we’ve exhausted the planet’s resources for the year, and are essentially borrowing from future years to maintain our existence today.Perhaps you celebrated this day with a counter-solution: a vegetarian meal, telecommuted, or turned off the air conditioning. There’s a lot more you could be […] Read More

Save Energy & Money This Winter: Seal Up Your Drafty House

Unless you’ve taken special preventative precautions, it’s likely that on cold days much of your house’s heat pours out through your (closed) windows. Most houses—especially old houses—have drafty, uninsulated windows that do little to prevent heat from dumping out into the cold night. Even if your windows aren’t drafty, the expensive heat your furnace has […] Read More

The Limits to Growth and Greece: Systemic or Financial Collapse?

Could it be that the ongoing Greek collapse is a symptom of the more general collapse that the Limits to Growth model generates for the first two decades of the 21st century? Author Ugo Bardi (Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering the Planet) examines the correlation between what is unfolding between Greece […] Read More

Permaculture Q&A: Mulching Options for Your Garden

As Permaculture Month continues, we are making our expert authors available to answer your burning permaculture questions. If you have a question to submit, fill out this form. This week, Lottie from Florida asked if there are other garden mulch options that are as effective as hay. Josh Trought, one of our soil building and garden management […] Read More

Designing Your Own Solar Cooker & Dehydrator

In today’s world, nearly everything we use, from phones and computers to cars and kitchen appliances, requires energy derived from fossil fuels. Wouldn’t it be nice to offset some of that energy use by harnessing the renewable power of the sun? Josh Trought, founder of D Acres—an educational center in New Hampshire that researches, applies, […] Read More
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