The Living Architecture Course has now been superceeded by The Sheltermaker’s Manual.

The manual incorporates the Handbook of House Design & Construction and the Design Programme as detailed below.

Sheltermaker Mentoring is available to those using the manual to develop their building designs.


Living Architecture - timber framed, cedar clad yoga studio

Living Architecture – timber framed, cedar clad yoga studio

The Living Architecture Course evolved from the original ‘Be Your Own Architect’ Courses, first staged in 1989 and from the ‘Course In Sustainable House Design & Construction’ which succeeded it. This 21 year evolution has required a deep exploration of the physical and psychological aspects of sheltermaking. In the process, ‘house design’ has revealed itself as the articulation of who we are, where we are going and how we intend getting there. The journey inherent in such a quest is deeply personal, human, life-affirming, liberating and satisfying.

When the process of planning, investigating, learning and decision-making has been completed, only then is the plan of a building together. This is in contrast to normal design practice where the plan is the first thing that is created. This can lead to insurmountable problems, as can be witnessed in many professionally designed homes.

Actual House

Cedar clad Actual House a few years after completion

Not certain if the Living Architecture Course is for you? Then try the Living Architecture PRIMER


The Living Architecture Course Material – in 3 Sections

This material forms part of The Sheltermaker’s Manual


Section 1) The Handbook of House Design & Construction


Part I ~ Introduction (Pages: 16)

“Vernacular styles of building exist all over the world. These styles are characterised by their simplicity, by their use of local materials and by the ease with which they can be constructed. The knowledge required for the creation of such buildings was long regarded as being common knowledge and freely available to all. The decline of the vernacular tradition with its simple forms and its accessability to people has resulted in the losss of the knowledge and skills needed to design and construct small buildings, especially the buildings in which people live – their homes.”

The above quotation was the subject of a question in the Irish Leaving Certificate Examination in 2003

‘By changing the way in which we look at the subject of human shelter we gain the potential to change our lives. It is this key factor – the incorporation within a home of the natural ability to change and adapt – that offers the power to change not only ourselves but, in consequence, the world. It is the need for such change that characterises all proposed solutions to the problems of global warming, pollution, toxic waste, food contamination, etc. The reason that house design wields such power is simple. Settled life is the basis of civilisation as we know it. Houses are the cornerstone of settled life, and, in consequence, underpin all the civilised values we revere. By thinking in new ways about how we design, construct, pay for and live in our shelter, we can change ourselves and the world of which we are all a part. This vital role that housing plays in civilised life is clearly reflected in the economic structure of the world where special status is ascribed to houses. Where virtually all other commodities fall in value after purchase, the opposite is true of houses which normally increase in value over the course of their lifetimes. This trick of accounting is a key component of the the market led economic system that now shrouds the globe.’


Part II ~ The Brief (Pages: 44 / Illustrations: 43)

Summary: • Write down a list of all the spaces you wish to have in your building. • Analyse each space individually under the following headings – Activities; Furniture & Equipment; Abstract Qualities; Location and Surfaces* • Analyse everyday activities. • Organise the design team, a place to work and a filing system. • Decide on a budget for the project and consider money matters • Give yourself time to think and feel everything through

‘The first step in the process of designing your own home is to set down in words the sort of house you wish to create. This is the foundation of the design and so requires careful consideration. As the design unfolds, all manner of things will be considered and written down, allowing you to gain an objective view of the job you are undertaking. This written information, considered as a whole, is known as The Brief for the project.

Start your Brief by listing all the spaces you want to have in your building. Include everything you can think of, including circulation and storage space. This list can be more generous or ambitious than you need or can afford but that does not matter. The Brief is a working document. You will be adding to it and changing things as you go along. What is imoportant is to write things down, to look at them, think about them, make decisionas and keep things moving. As long as you are working with paper and pen you can easily change your mind about any aspect of the design by crossing things out or adding things in.’


Part III ~ Measurement (Pages: 14 / Illustrations: 42)

Summary: • Get familiar with the Imperial and the Metric System • Get familiar with body dimensions, particularly your own • Begin taking measurements of items of Furniture & Equipment you wish to incorporate into your design

Many aspects of building design and construction are concerned with the sizes things are. In order to accurately communicate information about the sizes things are, measurements are used. The dimensions and measurements of the human form have always influenced the sizes of buildings and their furnishings.

‘The dimensions of the human body and their measurements have been the subject of investigation and study throughout the ages. Interrelationships have been discovered between these common dimensions, which key the human form into a system of proportion which exists throughout nature and in music. This proportion, is known as the Divine Proportion or The Golden Mean. Divine proportion is interesting in relation to buildings because it connects the number world, the human form and the natural world together.’


Part IV ~ Drawings & Models (Pages: 32 / Illustrations: 48)

Summary: • Obtain drawing equipment – pencil, eraser, sharpener and pen • Practice drawing • Make drawings of Furniture & Equipment • Obtain a scale rule and A4 metric graph paper • Make scaled drawings of items of Furniture & Equipment • Obtain white cardboard, cutting knife, steel edged ruler, sellotape and set square • Make scale models of items of Furniture & Equipment

‘Drawings are simple pictures. They communicate much more directly than words and they allow you to visualise an item without it being there in front of you. Drawings are also invaluable when you are communicating your ideas to others.’

‘Only two dimensions of a three dimensional object can be shown on any one drawing. To overcome these limitation, models can be made of three-dimensional objects. This makes it far easier to imagine what something will look like in reality.’


Part V ~ Space Mock-Ups (Pages: 32 / Illustrations: 50)

Summary: • Make Mock-Ups of the Spaces included in your Brief. • Draw plans and cross sections of each Space. • Estimate the overall floor area of your building or extension. • Estimate your building costs. • Consider how your house will get built. • Review your Brief. • Organise your material and information.

‘The exercise of making Space Mock-Ups has several functions. It immediatley makes apparant the three-dimensional nature of space. It also performs another important function in that it allows the size of the building to be estimated. The floor area you wish to cover can then be related to the budget figure to see if the project is financially viable.’


Part VI ~ Surveying (Pages: 38 / Illustrations: 60)

Summary: • Organise surveying equipment • Carry out a survey of an existing building • Survey the site • Carry out a condition survey • Make scaled drawings • Make a scale model

‘One aspect of surveying existing buildings that is rarely carried out is the examination of intangibles. These might collectively be described as the feelings within a building. If you are considering buying a building for your own use, it is important to become aware of the residual feelings within it that you will be buying as well.’

‘A building survey covers all aspects of a building’s construction, stability, condition and appearance, including it’s drainage, plumbing and electrical services. A further aspect of building surveying is the examination of the character of a building and of the quality of the spaces within it. Land surveying involves measuring and examining land, levels, boundaries and vegetation.’


Part VII ~ Structure (Pages: 36 / Illustrations: 83)

Summary: • Make structural models and observe the effects of vertical and horizontal loading on these • Consider engaging a professional engineer if structural calculations must be submitted with a Planning Application

‘The earth constantly exerts a force around itself called gravity. The effect of gravity causes objects to be pulled downwards towards the ground. This effect is commonly referred to as weight. The weight of a building can be quite considerable. This weight is made up of the combined weights of building materials, furnishings and occupants. Wind and snow can also add weight to a building.’


Part VIII ~ Environment (Pages: 20 / Illustrations: 20)

Summary: • Consider the world as a four-part harmony composed of the elements earth, air, fire and water • Consider the existence of radiation and magnetism and their effects on the planet • Consider the natural recycling process of our environment and how this contributes to order and balance on the earth • Consider the importance of a healthy environment in nurturing our well-being and the effects of environmental balance on the body’s immune system

‘The physical world we inhabit is made from the interacction of four majoir elements – earth, air, fire and water. These elements, of which we are composed and that compose all the natural world, exist in and around us in a harmony that is self-sustaining and benificient to life.’


Part IX ~ Heating & Ventilation (Pages: 52 / Illustrations: 83)

Summary: • Heat moves in several different ways – by convection, conduction, radiation and evaporation • Our bodies produce more heat than they need to survive • Because air plays such a vital part in maintaining an even body temperature, heating and ventilation are considered as a single question in building design • The design of any H&V system needs to be based on the way in which the human body functions and is clothed • Heat is lost from a building in the same way that it is lost from our bodies – by convection, conduction, radiation and evaporation. These losses need to be controlled to minimise energy usage. Convection heat losses also help to cleanse the air within a building • The sun, wood, oil, coal, gas, turf and electricity can all be used to supply heat to the interior of a building • Make preliminary calculations of overall heat loss from your building. • Decide in principle the type of H&V system and fuel you wish to use

‘The radiant energy of the sun can be utilised to contribute to the heating needs of a building. This is done by using glass, or some other translucent material, to trap the available radiation – the same principle as the glasshouse.’


Part X ~ Timberfile (Pages: 74 / Illustrations: 90)

Summary: • It is virtually impossible to build a house without using timber • Maintaining a reasonable Moisture Content is the fundamental principle of using wood for building • The ability of wood to absorb and release moisture is a distinct advantage in the creation of healthy living environments • Timber is a living material and must be appreciated through the senses • Timber houses are at no greater risk from fire than bricks and mortar ones • When used with care and sensitivity timber can last indefinitely • The practice of poisining timber to preserve it is dangerous to all forms of life • Air is the best timber preservative of all

‘Apart from its strength and versatility as a building material, timber displays certain characteristics that might best be described as its sensuous qualities. These qualities vary from species to species and distinguish one timber from another especially with their appeal to our senses – how the timber smells, how it feels and looks.’


Part XI ~ Materials & Products (Pages: 34 / Illustrations: 53)

Summary: • Choose building materials and products that will be good for your health • Use your senses to guide you • Use materials and products that have not demanded a lot of energy to produc. • Choose materials and products that can be reused or recycled • Select materials and products that are available locally • Economise wisely • Choose appliances and furnishings as carefully as you would choose materials and products

‘Buildings always have a strong connection to the earth. Inevitably they stand on it and usually many of the materials from which a building is made are earth materials – stone, clay, metal and so on. The earth is a vast recycling system and all earth materials have in their nature an inclination to return to the earth.’

‘It is vital to select Materials & Products at any early stage in the project. If the creation of a house is ompared to the preparation of a meal, you will get some idea what his is all about. To prepare a meal, you need to know what is available in the shops and how much everything costs. You also must decide on a menu and select the ingredients to make the dishes you have decided on. You also need to know how much of everything you need. So you make a shopping list, go out and buy everything, take them home and prepare them. If you are cooking on a tight budget you will select your ingredients carefully and keep waste to a minimum. You will also know that the time you spend putting the meal together will make the difference between success and failure. Now designing a house is not a lot different. You decide on your menu (the type of house you want). You find out what ingredients (materials) are available and find out how much these cost. You make your shopping list, buy everything and put all the ingredients together (build). If you are on a tight budget the more carefully you shop the further your money will go.’


Part XII ~ Construction (Pages: 36 / Illustrations: 46)

Summary: • Construction deals with the assembly of your chosen materials and products to create a sound, warm, weathertight, dry and healthy building • If you wish to design and build carefully you will be working within the aims of the Building Regulations • Generally all building structures consist of foundations, walls, floors and a roof• Timber Frame construction is the oldest form of building • Your choice of Construction System will be a balance of your design requirments, your budget, your builder and your site

‘Construction is the process of deciding how your chosen building materials will be joined together to form foundations, walls, roofs, chimneys, doors, windows, etc. This process has several functions. Firstly, these materials must be assembled so that the building will stand up and, secondly, this construction must be made warm, dry and weatherproof.’

‘The topic of construction is revealing in terms of what our homes really mean to us – a particular attitude will have already been declared by selecting particular types materials from which to make your home. This selection process will in itself have been indicative of the types of inrternal surfaces that you wish to surround yourself with. In other words, the selection of a particular construction system for your home will stem from choices that are rooted in in the sensuous attitude you have towards your home. If you want warm, natural materials as internal surfaces then you have to select a construction system that will allow you to create the type of internal environment that will be healthy, warm and clean.’


Part XIII ~ Building Services (Pages: 38 / Illustrations: 45)

Summary: • A house requires a reliable source of clean, drinkable wate. • Domestic water consumption should be carefully controlled to avoid waste • Building Regulations require that houses contain a bathroom and kitchen supplied with hot and cold running water • Solar energy can provide a large portion of domestic hot water requirments

• Domestic waste water is disposed of via pipes connected to public drains or a septic tank • Rainwater and domestic waste water must always be disposed of seperately • A distinction can be made between ‘foul’ wastewater and ‘greywater’ and the means od their disposal can differ • Septic tanks must be connected to a percolation area, a treatment plant or a reed bed to properly treat the effluent flowing from them • All wastewater disposal must be carried out in a way that is non-polluting.

• Electricity is a natural occurence. • The flow of electricity is always accompanied by electrical and magnetic fields – electromagnetism • Manmade electricity is generally far more powerful and dangerous to life than natural electricity • You can generate electricity with photovoltaic cells, wind generators or water turbines • The electrical layout of your home should take account of the effects of electricity on the body

‘Each year the sun pours 10,000 times more energy onto the planet than is currently used. This energy is very useful for the generation of low temperature heat and is especially good for the production of hot water.”Drainage systems take the waste water from a house and dispose of it either to a public drain or more likely to a septic tank. The outlet from the septic tank is then either connected to a percolation area, a reed bed or some form of treatment plant.’

‘Natural electricity occurs in a form known as direct current. Direct current describes the way in which the electrons flow – in one direction only. All matter contains some form of natural electrical charge. Our brains are electrically operated and our cells are all electrically charged.’

‘Flowing electricity is always accompanied by electrical and magnetic fields. Where electricity is flowing in a wire those fields can be imagined as a sort of wrapping on the wire. Electromagnetic fields, as they are called, accompany any movement of electricity whether natural or manmade.’


Part XIV ~ Planning & Building Regulations (Pages: 18 / Illustrations: 10)

Summary: Planning Regulations exist to cater for the so called Common Good • Local Planning objectives are published in the local Development Plan • Generally, all new buildings require Planning permission though certain types of development are exempt

• Building Regulations are legal requirments governing various aspects of building design and construction which must be complied with when carrying out any building work

‘The regulatory elements of Planning that need to be considered in any design do not relate directly to individual need but to the so called common good. These elements are documented and laid out in the local Development Plan.’

‘Building Regulations are a set of legal requirements the purpose of which is to promote good practice in the design and construction of buildings in the interest of the health, safety and welfare of people and buildings.’


Part XV ~ Site Selection & Analysis (Pages: 17 / Illustrations: 15)

Summary: • The design of any building is always greatly influenced by its site • If you are considering buying a site carry out a detailed Site Analysis and a preliminary design exercise … first!

‘The design and form of any building will be greatley influenced by its location. The physical conditions of the site will have a major bearing on the way the plan develops and should be assessed and understood from the outset.’


Part XVI ~ Layout (Pages: 58 / Illustrations: 50)

Summary: • There is never only one design solution to a building layout exercise • The Sun Path is the primary influencing factor on layout Form • The key to creating a workable Layout is to connect the individual spaces in the design together harmoniously

‘There is never only one design solution to any building layout. The possibilities are not infinite but they certainly are numerous. It is very easy to follow a particular line of reasoning in a design approach and for this to become final in your mind. If such an approach creates limitations as you work through the design you may become stuck. When you get stuck like this you may not readily see the way out of it. The best thing to do in these situations is to step back and try looking at everything in another way. Remember, The Brief is a document full of facts and figures about the house you are designing. It is your friend.’

‘When all the files in your Brief have been thoroughly updated detailed work on the layout of your building can proceed. This level of design is a little like juggling – keeping several balls in the air at once. This is why it is vital to have clear decisions and information in your files and why you should be able to get this information quickly and easily.’


Part XVII ~ Costing (Pages: 35)

Summary: • If you wish to have the building you design erected, it is vital that a clear notion of the cost of doing this is first determined • The matter of Financing building work has to be clearly and honestly tackled in order for your design ambitions to be realised • Mortgaging is based on the security of the home and the fact that people will strive to maintain it at all costs

‘Assessing the likely cost of your building is an essential exercise if you wish to realise your design in the real world. In other words, if you want to have your building built it is vital that before construction takes place a clear notion of cost is first determined. This exercise has implications not alone for your financila circumstances but also for the design itself and for the way and by whom it might be constructed.’


Part XVIII ~ Planning & Working Drawings (Pages: 20)

Summary: • It is vital that the building design you get Planning Permission for is the design you are going to build • Planning Officers should be seen as allies – not enemies • If you engage a draughtsperson to prepard drawings for you, you will be duplicating what most professional architects do anyway!

‘When the Cost Plan and the design have been harmonised – in other words when you have arrived at a satisfying design that you can afford to build – the project can move into its final stages. This involves obtaining Planning Permission and producing drawings with which to effect both the Planning Application and the construction process itself.’


Section 2) Course Worksheets
  • List of Spaces Worksheet
  • Space Analysis Worksheets
  • Sample Activity Analysis Sheets
  • Equipment Worksheet
  • Budget Worksheet
  • Furniture & Equipment Worksheet
  • Drawing Worksheet
  • Model Worksheet
  • Floor Area Worksheets
  • Environment Worksheet
  • H&V System Worksheet
  • H&V Calculations Worksheets
  • Construction Worksheet
  • Plumbing Worksheet
  • Drainage Worksheet
  • Electrical Worksheet
  • Site Analysis Worksheet


Section 3) Design Programme Steps
  • Starting Off
  • Drawing Up A List Of Spaces
  • Assembling Design & Style Information
  • Analysing Your Chosen Spaces
  • Analysing Regular Household Activities
  • Getting Organised
  • Setting Out Your Budget
  • Assembling Furniture & Equipment Measurements
  • Drawing
  • Making Drawings
  • Making Scaled Drawings
  • Creating Furniture & Equipment Models
  • Creating Space Mock-Ups
  • Estimating Total Floor Area
  • Surveying
  • Understanding The Principles of Building Structures
  • Distinguishing Between The Types of Building Structure
  • The Role of Foundations
  • Taking On Board Compliance With The Building Regulations
  • Environment
  • Introduction To Heating & Ventilation
  • The Role Of Air & Water In Heating & Ventilation
  • Heat Losses & Heat Gains; Thermal Mass & Insulation
  • Measurements & Calculations
  • Passive Solar Design
  • Fuels & Systems
  • Reviewing Your WorkUnderstanding Timber
  • Wood – The Facts
  • Wood – Technical Facts & Figures
  • Choosing Other Materials & Products
  • Choosing A Construction SystemServices – Plumbing
  • Services – Drainage
  • Services – Electrical
  • Planning Regulations
  • Building Regulations
  • Site Analysis
  • Brief Appraisal
  • The Sun Path
  • Circulation
  • Developing A Layout
  • Costing Your Design
  • Finalising Your Sketch Design
  • Creating Planning Drawings
  • Making The Planning Application
  • Preparing Working Drawings
  • Constructing Your Design
  • Living In Your Architecture


The Living Architecture Course has now been superceeded by The Sheltermaker’s Manual.

The manual incorporates the Handbook of House Design & Construction and the Design Programme as detailed above.

Sheltermaker Mentoring is available to those using the manual to develop their building designs.

NOT SURE IF THE LIVING ARCHITECTURE COURSE IS FOR YOU? Then try THE LIVING ARCHITECTURE PRIMER, which will allow you to embark on the journey of creating your own living architecture.