Friday, January 17, 2014

Looking Back, Living in a Wooden Future

Walking through our School of Architecture yesterday, I noticed a display in the entryway that caught my attention.


Sacred Spaces Sweat Lodge
Design
This cool little building was designed by students in the PSU AIHI course series. A 15 point reciporical roof frame honors the 15 poles in a Northern Cheyenne TeePee. This building was constructed in one week, with the help of a great group of guests from all over the US.
Intended Use
A "sweat" is an important and sacred cerimony for many American Indian tribes. This building will provide protection for a sweatlodge that is shared by many tribal members, and graciously maintained by the folks at the Prayer Lodge on the Northern Cheyenne reservation.
Key Features
The building is 20 feet in diameter, and has an open skylight to let in light, and vent heat created during the ceremony. Glass beads and symbols designed by tribal members adorn this unique building.
- Professor David Riley, the Penn State American Indian Housing Initiative 
The lodge has an interesting architectural feature called a reciprocal frame roof, one that is created by overlapping three or more members supported initially by a center pole, which is then removed after the overlapped rafters are tied together at the top. Our classic American Indian teepees were built with skins, grasses, or bark covering different varieties of reciprocal frames. The resultant hole in the center was, of course, handy for allowing smoke from small cooking or heating fires to escape the lodging.

The reason I snapped the picture of the student project was that I had recently viewed the following video from a group called Living in the Future. These folks create and occasionally attempt to live in what they call Ecovillages, villages created in a minimalist way in order to create as small an ecological footprint as possible. The first line of the video had stuck in my mind...
"Reciprocal frame roofs have only been around for about twenty years..."
 Which goes, I suppose, to show that everything old eventually becomes new again.

Anyway, the video is interesting on many levels. Ancient construction design and techninques, implemented with modern tools. Tremendously inefficient division and utilization of labor, in the name of sustainability. The chicken sisters (6:40 of the video). The apparent belief that this group exercise of primitive communal living is the way of the future. And the short spiritual ceremony at the successful raising of the roof (13:40), once again confirming that people have an innate bond to things of the earth, to each other, and to a higher power.

Another way to Go Wood. To each his own.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Interesting. Old becomes new, indeed. This video took me back to 1969 and the Whole Earth Catalog, complete with chickens and the commune. At that time the "future" for politically correct architecture was the geodesic dome. Actually, I think the dome was a better choice, but the rustic poles of this structure probably fit the psychic comfort zone of this group.

Jerry Finch