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  • How To Build Your Own Living Structures by Ken Isaacs
  • Atelier & Repairs

How To Build Your Own Living Structures by Ken Isaacs

How To Build Your Own Living Structures by Ken Isaacs

How To Build Your Own Living Structures is an out-of-print manual (PDF available here) by Ken Isaacs, who is known for an architectural career of radically deconstructing conventional notions of modernism. The DIY guide consists of a series of his Living Structures, all hand-made and affordable furniture and architectural units, that provide multifunctional use which challenged the way people work and live within their own homes and environments. Each Living Structure is larger than a piece of furniture yet smaller than what is traditionally and universally accepted as "architecture".

“Put traditional, separate pieces of furniture in a tiny shelter and you have a shack, uncleanable, crowded and impossible to live in. The old ideas of furniture have always interfered with the development of truly compact, ecologically correct homes."

Ken Issacs - Super Chair_Living Structures
The manual provides step-by-step instructions that are all designed for flexibility and mobility – they can be moved in and around each other, dividing and utilizing living spaces in creative ways. This populist form of architecture offered a clear departure from convention and challenged the consumer-laden values of the American Dream. His designs encouraged engagement from large parts of the population, due to their low cost and ease of construction. Furthermore, his designs are meant to interact with the natural environment in the least disruptive way possible. 

How to Build Your Own Living Structures_Ken Issacs

“When I was first discovering and applying the Matrix Idea I couldn’t help wondering why people had to shackle themselves to some kind of corporate clerkship for twenty years to get the money for a home in the country. Why wasn’t it possible to apply your best consciousness and information to develop a new shelter? It had to be compact and mobile using a minimum material list and buildable in your apartment with simple tooling. Fabricate the parts in winter. Slip into a van or wagon in spring and trek to a short-term leased spot on a farmer’s back 40 and set her up in a day. It’s kind of like “freedom now” instead of waiting until you can “afford” it. Living put off is lost.” 

These Microhouse designs were all founded on Isaacs’ concept of the “Matrix”, or total environment, and built using a three-dimensional grid. Isaacs later applied his Matrix concept to The Knowledge Box (1962), a multimedia information system with the idea to essentially replace the traditional classroom for an educational model that promoted the use of this total environment.


A 1962 article in LIFE magazine described the Knowledge Box as an invention that would either help humanity gain knowledge quicker and facilitate learning easier than ever before or lead down a dangerous road of too much information all at once, causing one to ‘find himself lost in it”. In essence, this invention (unintentionally) simulated the effects of the World Wide Web some thirty years before it was ever available to the masses.  

The Knowledge Box_Ken Issacs

To read about and create your own Living Structures:

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