Lloyd Kahn

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Lloyd Kahn at a 2004 booksigning

Lloyd Kahn (born April 28,[1] 1935) is the founding editor-in-chief of Shelter Publications, Inc., and is the former Shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog. He is also an author, photographer, and pioneer of the green building and green architecture movements.

Early life[edit]

Kahn became interested in construction at age 12 when working on his family's house in Central Valley.[2] He earned a BA from Stanford University. During the late 1950s, while serving in the United States Air Force in Germany, Kahn ran the USAF newspaper for two years. He returned to California in 1960 to work as an insurance broker and in 1965 quit his insurance job and began work as a carpenter, eventually building four houses.[3]

Career in construction[edit]

Kahn's first project was a sod-roof studio in Mill Valley, with succulents planted on the roof. The second was a used-wood, timber-frame Japanese/Bernard Maybeck-influenced design: a post-and-beam frame, with several 10-foot (3.0 m)-high poured concrete walls. Before these two jobs, he'd had little building experience, but quickly learned on the job. This is where he discovered the owner/builder perspective in learning to build. He tried to maintain this outlook throughout his publishing career, so he could explain building techniques to novice builders. He next got a job in Big Sur as foreman building a large post and beam house out of bridge timbers from a dismantled bridge; the main structural members were 30' long, 8' X 22" redwood beams. He then built his own home out of used lumber and hand-split shakes in Big Sur, developed a water supply, and terraced a hillside for small-scale farming.

Influenced by Buckminster Fuller, in 1968 he started building geodesic domes. This resulted in a job coordinating the building of 17 domes at Pacific High School, an alternative school in the Santa Cruz mountains. Experimenting with geodesic domes made from plywood, aluminum, sprayed foam, and vinyl, children built their own domes and lived in them. Jay Baldwin built a dome covered with vinyl pillows. When Buckminster Fuller visited the school in 1970, he commissioned Baldwin to build a replica of the dome on his property in Maine. The school received media attention.

Work in publishing[edit]

Kahn next worked for Stewart Brand as Shelter editor for the Whole Earth Catalog. In 1970 Kahn published his first book, Domebook One, followed the next year with Domebook 2, which sold 165,000 copies. In 1971, he bought a half-acre lot in Bolinas, California, and built a shake-covered geodesic dome (later featured in Life magazine). After living in his dome for a year, Kahn decided domes did not work well: he stopped the printing of Domebook 2 and disassembled and sold his dome.[3] He then went in search of other (non-dome) ways to build – across the U.S.A., Ireland, and England, and the book Shelter (1973) was the result.[4][5][6]

During the next two decades, Shelter Publications produced a series of fitness books, including Bob Anderson's Stretching (which has sold three million copies and is in 31 languages), Galloway's Book on Running by Olympian Jeff Galloway, and Getting Stronger by legendary bodybuilder Bill Pearl. More recently[when?], Shelter produced StretchWare, software that reminds you to stretch at your computer.

In 2004, Kahn published Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter. Home Work summarizes the best of his work over the past 30 years photographing buildings and interviewing builders, and includes numerous buildings directly inspired by the book Shelter.[7] The Septic Systems Owner's Manual, first published in 2000, was extensively revised in 2007. In 2008 Shelter Publications published the first English translation of Brazilian architect Johan van Lengen's The Barefoot Architect: A Manual on Green Building. Also in 2008, Kahn authored Builders of the Pacific Coast. Kahn authored a photo book about tiny houses, titled Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter published January 2012.[8] Kahn's newest book is Tiny Homes on the Move published in April, 2014.[9]

In keeping with his fitness theme, Kahn, at the age of 80, continues to surf, paddleboard, and skateboard (longboard). He lives and works in Bolinas, a small town on the Pacific coast north of San Francisco, California.[2]


Author, editor[edit]

  • Domebook One (author, 1970)
  • Domebook 2 (author, 1971)
  • Shelter (editor, 1973)
  • Symmetry: A Unifying Concept (editor, 1994)
  • The Septic System Owner's Manual (author, 2000)[10]
  • Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter (author, 2004)
  • Builders of the Pacific Coast (author, 2008)
  • Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter (author, 2012)
  • Tiny Homes on the Move (author, 2014)
  • Small Homes: The Right Size (author, 2017)
  • Pop's Diner (author, 2018)[11]
  • Driftwood Shacks: Anonymous Architecture Along the California Coast (author, 2019)
  • The Half-Acre Homestead (author, 2020)


  • Stretching (publisher, 1980)
  • Galloway's Book on Running (publisher, 1984)
  • Getting Stronger (publisher, 1985)
  • Getting in Shape (publisher, 1995)
  • Marathon: You Can Do It! (publisher, 2001)


  1. ^ interview with Lloyd Kahn, 12/02/2015
  2. ^ a b Brown, Patricia Leigh (2004-10-14). "If I Had a Hammer? What Do You Mean If?". New York Times. New York.
  3. ^ a b Solomon, Avi (July 31, 2016). "Making Shelter Simple: An Interview with Lloyd Kahn". Medium.
  4. ^ Kahn, Lloyd: "The Birth of West Coast Publishing", Whole Earth Review Winter,1988:15
  5. ^ Green, Penelope (March 11, 2020). "The King of D.I.Y. Dwellings" – via NYTimes.com.
  6. ^ Kahn, Lloyd; Easton, Bob (July 3, 1990). Shelter. Shelter Publications, Inc. ISBN 9780936070117 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Kahn, Lloyd: "Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter" 2004:243
  8. ^ Kahn, Lloyd: Shelter Publications Catalog of Books 2012:2
  9. ^ Publishers Group West Online Catalog
  10. ^ Kahn, Lloyd; Hulls, John; Allen, Blair; Jones, Julie (December 20, 2006). The Septic System Owner's Manual. Shelter Publications, Inc. ISBN 9780936070407 – via Google Books.
  11. ^ Kahn, Lloyd (July 3, 2018). Pop's Diner. Sheltter Publications, Incorporated. ISBN 9780936070797 – via Google Books.

External links[edit]