Thatched roof cottage, Ireland

Rumor has it that as a species — Homo sapiens — we originated in Africa and migrated all over the globe. On a daily basis each of us requires some essential inputs like clean air, water, food, clothing, rest and shelter. See Viewing the Body as a Complex Machine. Shelter provides protection from the elements like heat and cold, the wind, rain, etc, and from daily and seasonal variation and their extremes. The nature of the protection required depended upon where we were living and on the materials that were available locally as well as the skills and tools of our ancestors. That is where our creativity as a species came into play. Using the resources that were available locally and their imagination, our ancestors created shelters to protect themselves from the elements. They were all different and beautiful. They included: Cave dwellings, TeepeesAdobes, Sod hutsThatch housesIgloos, and Log cabinsMany different structures evolved. Those are just some of them.  Aren’t they beautiful, artistic and creative? For a better understanding about what we would like to know about each of these shelters as works of art see Seeing Some Shelters and Clothing as Fine Art and Fine Craft.

old teepees

Now speaking as an economist, in addition to the materials, skills, tools and technology of the time, the communities required something else–the ability to create a surplus. That is, during the time it took to collect, produce and assemble the materials and to build the structure, there were other basic inputs that had to be provided: someone had to prepare and serve the meals and take care of the children. Not only must they do that for those who are building the structure but for themselves as well. If it takes more than one person and one family to create the structure it was also necessary to organize the collective activity. A good example of this is a traditional “barn raising.”

As the cultures developed the structures went far beyond the primary shelters. They included: Houseboats in Shanghai, ChinaBrownstones in ManhattanAirstream trailers, Frank Lloyd Wright houseDownton AbbeyThe KremlinThe White HouseThe Houses of God And those of dead Pharaohs — the Pyramids.


If I were young I’d go around the world and learn, in detail, what the shelters were like, what they were made of and how they were made. My art history professor at UNC Chapel Hill, Prof. Clemens Sommer, taught us that art is a product of the culture. So I’d want to understand the culture so I could view the shelters in their environmental and cultural context. I’d document them. I’d honor them and their creators. That would enable me to share that creativity and beauty with others. And, importantly, it would honor our brothers and sisters around the world who looked around them and figured out ways to protect themselves from the elements. That enabled them to survive and bring us to where we are today. Perhaps someone younger than I will take on that project.


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