Photo caption: Peter Cowman on a recent visit to Iran where he was invited to teach his Living Architecture & Sheltermaking ideas.
What is your own background briefly?
I am an architect, eco-builder, writer and teacher delivering Courses & Workshops internationally on the subject of Living Architecture. I was born and educated in Dublin, graduating from the School of Architecture, UCD in 1976. Apart from my work as an architect, at various points of my nomadic life I have worked as a salesman, an art gallery director, a handyman and as a full-time parent.
I began teaching people how to design their own homes in 1989, a task which I still pursues as director of the Living Architecture Centre. Never having had a mortgage myself, I have a special interest in the creation of affordable, healthy, low-impact, mortgage-free buildings and have developed a unique timber framing system for cost-conscious self-builders.
I am the originator of the ‘sheltermaker’ and ‘living architecture’ concepts and my work has been widely publicised in both print as well as broadcast media, worldwide. I live in south Leitrim. My Sheltermaker’s Manual is published by Python Press and my website is sheltermaker.com
Does it seem like a logical background to what you do now?
Absolutely, though when I began teaching house design to people I quickly discovered that I did not know how to properly design a house myself! This revealed the fact that house design was never part of the architectural profession but belonged to an informal design and construction tradition controlled by people called ‘vernacular’ architecture.
This tradition went into decline as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution and its methodology, being oral, died out as a result. This demanded that a new methodology be developed to suit contemporary aspirations and needs. I called this design system Living Architecture and the application of its in respect of construction, Sheltermaking.
Healthy, stimulating and habitable buildings without a mortgage, Peter Cowman explains more
How was the last 12 months?
Interesting. I officially retired in June 2019 and, being in receipt of a pension, was freed up to delve even deeper into all aspects of Living Architecture and Sheltermaking. The deeper this enquiry penetrates the clearer it becomes that a fresh approach to the practice of house design and construction is required to cater for the contemporary range of lifestyles and the pressing realities of climate change and environmental breakdown.
1 min pitch for what you are doing now / what is living architecture?
At the present time I am exploring the dynamics of ‘invisible’ architecture which in essence is an examination of the strong links between architecture and consciousness. The basis of this exploration is the similarity between people and the buildings they inhabit – their homes. Both have material ‘bodies’ enclosing immaterial ‘insides’. In the case of buildings the material aspects mainly comprise of walls, floors and roof while their insides are comprised of pre-existing space which is enclosed by these material elements.
In the case of people their material bodies enclose an ‘inner world’ of imagination, emotions, thoughts, feelings, aspirations, dreams and so on. When such inner realities are consciously conveyed into the design process a context can be created within the space enclosed by the architecture for these inner aspects to be nurtured and to bear fruit in a persons life. That is what I mean by a ‘living’ architecture.
Why did you get involved with this area?
Because I imagined it must be possible to create healthy, stimulating and habitable buildings without the need to have a mortgage. The quest to realise this rapidly uncovered the deficiencies inherent within the entire housing field and the reliance modern economies have on mortgage debt as a means of stimulating consumption and growth. The development and application of the ‘living’ architecture methodology as a means of dealing with these perceived deficiencies revealed the potentialities inherent within a consciously and sensitively designed domestic architecture whether created with or without mortgage debt. Such insights and the practical realities which emerge from them are responsible in keeping me actively involved in this area.
How easy is it for people to learn about these technologies?
It’s all actually quite simple. As I tell my students – it’s life that is complicated and full of meaning. When that is understood and applied at the design stage of a project potential complications can be managed and resolved. This refining process means that the construction phase of a project can be straightforward rather than being muddled because potential complications have been consciously managed within the design stage. In essence, successful design and construction relies on a person taking conscious responsibility for their life and the creation an appropriate context for this to unfold.
Why do you think it is such a powerful idea / when are you next teaching these ideas?
The most ancient architecture design methodology is the Indian Vastu Shastra system which recognises similar dynamics to those revealed within the Living Architecture approach. The Chinese Feng Shui system shares similar goals while in Europe Sacred Geometry does the same thing. Unfortunately the modern architectural profession, with its reliance on rationale, has eliminated such dynamics from the practice of architecture.
I will be teaching LIVE Sheltermaking in Leitrim during the summer of 2020 and there are options to study Living Architecture online. Details available at livingarchitecturecentre.com or at sheltermaker.com
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How can people find out more about you personally & your work?
livingarchitecturecentre.com or at sheltermaker.com
Who do you get inspiration from?
Life, people and the experience of sheltermaking. The combined stimulus of these inputs appears to awaken our survival instincts which unerringly lead us in a direction appropriate to the living of a conscious life.
Vernacular and modern sheltermakers are all inspiring as are the cultural idioms that are revealed in the architecture they create. Archaeologists are also inspiring where they document the creative outburst of the first human to construct permanent shelters. My students over the years have also been inspiring where they grasp and apply the living architecture concept creating buildings that enhance and nurture their inner and outer lives.
What aspects of Yazd inspired you & your thinking?
The experience of visiting Yazd in Iran, the largest inhabited mud city in the world, reinforced my suspicion that the use of natural materials such as mud and clay stimulate our inner knowing regarding sheltermaking and thereby provide a nurturing context wherein our consciousness, in respect of the lives we have to live, can be creatively explored. This ‘life’ dynamic, in my experience, reveals itself once people understand that buildings are really only a container within which the complexities of life can be considered and consciously acted upon.
In the future do you think we will still have retirement, or perhaps something else, like people living blended lives, pursuing their interests in general, with some of it yielding an income and some not. OR do you think it should be just a complete cut off when we retire?
Retirement is a concept that arises from the world of work, a world which was responsible for the demise of vernacular sheltermaking. This work world demands the surrender of a person’s time in exchange for a wage thereby obscuring the opportunity to create one’s own home, oneself. As time and space are naturally conjunct, the selling of one’s time also compromises ownership of personal space thereby locking people into the industrialised economy and an architecture configured to suit the realities of this.
It can be difficult to escape such a built environment. Retirement appears to offer an opportunity for such an escape but if the home wherein this retirement is to be experienced is configured to suit a working life this can impose drastic limits as how a person spends their retirement time. Here I am thinking of how difficult conventional houses are to reconfigure to suit setting up a home business, engaging in hobbies, craft activity or pursuing other forms of creativity or dealing with changed family dynamics in a rapidly changing world.
It is also interesting that Men’s Sheds have sprung up in many places to cater for men in retirement when, as often is the case, they have made their territory in the workplace and discover they have neglected to do the same in their own homes!
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