Posted in design and architecture, literature

Literature honoring DIY

I loved this post on GeekDad:

Somewhere along the line, some folks may have gotten the idea that Little House on the Prairie is “just for girls” and that the plot mostly involves Laura Ingalls running through the tall grass in a calico dress.

But I’m reading the book to my boys right now and there’s a lot more D.I.Y. than dresses.

Much of the book is about Pa building the house. This guy was a serious maker — to the point of being a little crazy: “A man doesn’t need nails to build a house or make a door.” Would it have been that hard to throw a box of nails in the Conestoga before heading West, Pa?

This is life before Home Depot. Basically, he’s got the few hand tools he brought on the wagon. No lumber, just trees. No bricks, just rocks. No cement, just mud. And so on and so on. And if he can’t get the project done before winter, it’s going to be one heck of a cold spell.

But Pa gets down to it. We hear in detail how he split logs into planks using a system of wood blocks, an axe and an iron wedge. We see the house go up log by notched log. And then the chimney stone by stone. See full post

I read the entire Little House series as a kid, and I too had forgotten just how much adventure and DIY there was in this book. The engineering required to build a log cabin is truly under-appreciated these days

There are less and less books these days celebrating the true pioneer spirit and DIY attitude.

One book I read recently, The Daily Coyote, by Shreve Stockton, also has a couple of chapters of DIY as Shreve fixes a half-finished log cabin up for a cold Wyoming winter.

I suspect these types of stories of pioneering engineering came up more frequently in old classic novels, although I don’t remember anything like this in Little Women. And I haven’t read Three Cups of Tea, which is about building schools, but to my understanding it’s more about the social and friendship building rather than actual building (which is awesome, by the way).

What are some good reads that truly celebrate the pioneering, DIY attitude?



Beth Kelley is an applied & digital anthropologist with an overall interest in how people engage with and are impacted by their environments and vice versa. This has manifested itself in many ways, by looking at creativity, playful spaces, built environments, and environmental enrichment, sustainability, design research, and integrative and collaborative models of learning such as through play and hands-on learning.