Happy Day on Happy Mountain

ext-nu-comp1aI had to steal this image from Urban Rancher’s blog. It’s a drawing of a cabin that became a reality, one of thousands of “tiny houses” that have been all the rage for the last decade or two. I note that this man’s plans include having a separate tool shed nearby (already built in 2010). In the future, he also wanted to add a kitchen/bathroom building with plumbing, etc. I was reminded of one of Chris Schwarz’s famous dictums (about workbenches, I think): “Invent nothing.”

It seems as if most of the the cabin porn floating around on the internet is placed there as if it were a modern invention. Researching Swedish design lately, I was struck by the downright organic progression that is commonplace in many “national” architectures—the transition from farm to manor house.

shed-kit-from-aboveOn tinyhousedesign.com, I note that some enterprising contemporary designer has come up with a “shed cluster concept”:

To make this little group of sheds habitable you’d probably want to build each shed to serve a purpose like a bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, family room, office, studio, etc. Some of your sheds could even serve a combination of functions.

I noted a similar design around a central patio for a mountain vacation cabin, implemented off the drawing board in Microshelters when I had that book out from the library a few weeks ago. Enterprising readers might note that we have a concept just like this already— it’s called the residential home.  The drawback noted by this designer is that the central area would make it difficult to traverse from shed to shed in inclement weather, making this design more suitable for temperate climates. A common roof for the whole structure might be more practical, but you’d have to worry about snow loads and whatnot—returning, of course, to the typical residential home.

Curiously, I had noted that English manor homes were often designed around an open courtyards, or they had courtyards adjacent to the kitchen for easier management of supplies and raw materials. The temperate climate idea made some sense, that is until I started looking into Swedish farm houses. The plans in the brochure I linked a few days ago had some intriguing configurations, buildings around a square (as drawn above) and also U and L shapes. I finally broke down and started typing the Swedish language words surrounding those drawings into a search engine with very productive results.


This is an example of a Sydsvensk gårdstyp; you might note the similarity with the “shed cluster” above. The Swedish Wikipedia page (via google translator) lists a source from 1922 for its content, noting that “The farms are characterized by a fully enclosed courtyard, normally [the] house is half-timber. Unlike the northern Swedish farms have the sydvenska traditional manure pile located inside the courtyard.” There are several listings for regional variants, somewhat corresponding the the types in the BuildLLc brochure.


The Nordsvensk gårdstyp looks essentially similar, but, as the above entry noted the manure pile is inside the courtyard. There’s more information, though:

In Dalarna, where the real inheritance principle applied, were also farm buildings in the square were missing, or siblings through inheritance broken up parts of the yard and started the construction of adjoining farm plots, which are partly assembled.

In the early 1800s begin to modern secluded rows of barns appear on the pastor farms, but it will take until the end of the 1800s before modern building techniques begin to break up the traditional courtyard pattern. Today there are almost completely preserved farm plots of heritage centers and cultural history museums, where they often reconstructed.

I noted in my reading, that the compound concept is often groups of families or friends bonding together with their tiny homes, like the Llano River Compound, aka, the Llano Exit Strategy or this vacation home outside Ontario. It’s a regular 12th century innovation. Dalarna, by the way, is also where the Larssons scavenged all their farmhouse furniture.

The oldest variant of the farmhouse compound concept in Sweden is the Centralsvensk gårdstyp. The clustered compound, from my readings on English manor houses, began as a defensive fortification strategy. The Centralsvensk gårdstyp lacks conspicuously lacks these features.

Harkeberga The caption for this photo is translated as:

Härkeberga chaplain farm from the 1700s is an example of a central Swedish gårdstyp. In the middle of the picture is stable that divides the courtyard of the manor house and farmyard.

So, rather than circling the wagons for protection there is a linear relation between the “manor” house and the farmyard, often with latrines and manure piles in the middle. Manor house, in the Swedish wikipedia entries, is defined as the house on a farm that is neither barn, stable, nor equipment storage. That’s a bit different from the English tradition; different social customs dictate similar structures, but different pathways from here to there.

To summarize, the Swedish farm house usually features some sort of outdoor “shared space” between buildings of differentiated functions—at the center, often, there was a pile of manure (both human and animal, latrines were usually located there as well). Excepting, of course, in the south where the manure is kept outside. Manure management is important.

Farm Inside Triberga , Hulter City parish , Oland in 1906. The farm burned down around 1925.

The impulse to “divide and conquer” by separating out functional elements is constant in human dwellings. Before the factory “assembly line” there was the farmhouse and manor house structures. Hermann Muthesius really explicates it nicely:

The most distinctive feature of any English house, even from the outside, is its domestic quarters. The continental observer may find that the residential quarters are not so very different from what he is used to, but the domestic quarters come as a total surprise. He knows the kitchen only from its insignificant status in the continental house and is now confronted by a full-grown domestic organism that amazes him not merely on account of its size but also its comprehensiveness. Whereas on the continent the kitchen is the room in which every aspect of household management takes place, the room in which not only the cooking is done but in which servants spend their time and take their meals and in which all the cleaning is done, in the domestic quarters of the English house the management of the household is broken down into a dozen different operations, for each of which a room is provided. (The English House (1908), p.95)

Obviously, for Swedish farms, manure management seems to have been the center of evolution; in the English manor house, it’s an army of human servants each fulfilling a different task requiring separate accommodations: the institution of service.

Leaving aside the complexity of the English manor house kitchen for the moment, let’s take a look at the way that Muthesius describes the evolution:

Part of the reason for this phenomenon lies in the historical development of the English house, which has largely developed out of the country farmhouse. In the Middle Ages the kitchen was always a separate building, usually centrally planned and standing on its own, whereas store-rooms were directly adjacent to the end of the hall where the entrance was. It was not until the great social changes of the fifteenth century that the kitchen was moved into the house, where it joined the other domestic quarters to form the domestic wing as it appears from there onwards. When Inigo Jones brought the Palladian house to England and abolished all practical considerations at a stroke, the domestic quarters were moved into the basement, where they had to get along as best they could. Or else they were torn apart and set down arbitrarily in outbuildings attached to the main house by colonnades. This period saw a complete break in the development of the domestic offices. So that with the arrival of Romanticism, when the English house burst the bonds of Palladianism, they extended and spread themselves with greater freedom. They surfaced once more from the cellars and were from now on grouped to form a self-contained set of rooms on ground-level. Indeed, as though by way of compensation or long years of neglect, the generation that was now at the helm treated them with redoubled affection, and the main contribution of the nineteenth century to the development of the English house may  almost be said to lie in its ingenious development of the domestic offices. (ibid., 95)

One can see echoes of Muthesius’s contention that the English were more regimented than continentals, in the way he describes the matter of “domestic offices.” In discussions of domestic architecture, virtually all writing of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries for that matter places the kitchen at the center of household architecture and management.

The Swedes, particularly in the mid-twentieth century, also had strong thoughts about kitchens. That’s where I’ll try to pick this up next time. The countervailing trend against to the urge to expand homes is one which simplifies and collapses things together.

The Invalid Corps

The Invalid CorpsI should not fail to mention, “resumed the doctor, “that for those too deficient in mental or bodily strength to be fairly graded with the main body of workers, we have a separate grade, unconnected with the others—a sort of invalid corps, the members of which are provided with a light class of tasks fitted to their strength. All our sick in mind and body, all our deaf and dumb, and lame and blind and crippled, and even our insane, belong to this invalid corps, and bear its insigns. The strongest often do nearly a man’s work, the feeblest, of course nothing; In their lucid intervals, even our insane are eager to do what they can.”

“That is a pretty idea of the invalid corps,” I said, “Even a barbarian from the nineteenth century can appreciate that. It is a graceful way of disguising charity, and must be grateful to the feelings of its recipients.”

“Charity!” repeated Doctor Leete. “Did you suppose that we consider the incapable class we are talking of objects of charity?”

“Why, naturally,”  I said, “insamuch[sic] as they are incapable of self support.”

But here the doctor took me up quickly.

“Who is capable of self support?” he demanded, “There is no such thing in a civilized society as self-support. In a state of society so barbarous as not even to know family cooperation, each individual may possibly support himself, though even then for a part of his life only; but from the moment that men begin to live together, and constitute even the rudest of society, self-support becomes impossible. As men grow more civilized, the subdivision of occupations and services is carried out, a complex mutual dependence becomes the universal rule. Every man, however solitary may seem his occupation, is a member of a vast industrial partnership, as large as the nation, as large as humanity. The necessity of mutual dependence should imply the duty and guarantee of mutual support; and that it did not in your day constituted the essential cruelty and unreason of your system.”

Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (1888) Penguin ed. 1986 p. 109-110

I started this book yesterday. I’ve always meant to read it, and prompted by a somewhat disparaging review of it by William Morris, I decided that now was the time. Morris called its utopian view “state communism” and I believe it is. In the future, i.e. the year 2000, the trusts and robber barons have coalesced into a giant mega-corporation which is the government. Curiously, for Bellamy, this is a good thing. Much more to say later, but I found it interesting that this “invalid corps” in the great industrial army (his description of the workforce) is rooted in the Civil War; the Union found its invalid corps in 1863, the confederacy in 1864.

The new system

modern-timesI have said that the eighteenth century perfected the system of labour which took the place of the mediaeval system, under which a workman individually carried his piece of work through its various stages from the first to the last.

This new system, the first change in industrial production since the Middle Ages, is known as the system of division of labour, wherein, as I have said, the unit of labour is a group, not a man,; the individual workman in this system is kept life-long at the performance of some task quite petty in itself, and which he soon masters, and having mastered it has nothing more to do but go on increasing his speed of hand under the spur of competition with his fellows, until he has become the perfect machine which it is his ultimate duty to become, since without attaining that end he must die or become a pauper. You can well imagine how this glorious invention of division of labour, this complete destruction of individuality in the workman, and his apparent hopeless enslavement to his profit-grinding master, stimulated the hopes of civilization; probably more hymns have been sung in praise of division of labour, more sermons preached about it, than have done homage to the precept ‘do unto others as ye would they should do unto you’.

To drop all irony, surely this was one of those stages of civilization at which one might well say that, if it was to stop there, it was a pity that it had ever got so far. . . .

. . . However, civilization was not going to stop there; having turned the man into a machine, the next stage for commerce to aim at was to contrive machines which could widely dispense with human labour, nor was this aim altogether disappointed.

William Morris, “The Hopes of Civilization,” News from Nowhere and Other Writings (1993) p.316-7.