The School of Constructive Arts is assembling text, drawings, and images in an open online format. The constellation of thought collected here defines our field of study better than any description. We do not intend to promulgate a single idea of “the right way to build” but to provide an open, rigorous, non-hierarchical platform for knowledge exchange. We learn best by experience and by example. The examples here span many centuries and civilizations, connecting our work to an ancient question: How do we provide for our desires in healthy balance with the living world we are part of? We welcome anything that aids the pursuit of this question. A technical reference and an image that expands our notions of the possible are equally useful and welcome here. If you have anything to contribute please email

Building with Earth

Ancient Air Conditioning

ĀB ANBĀR | رابنا بآ
The ab anbar is a traditional water storage reservoir of ancient Iran usually submerged and covered with a double walled dome (yakchal). Persian engineers in 400 bc developed a way to freeze and store ice through the desert summer. Water from subterranean channels (quanat) was channeled to the shaded north face of a wall where it would freeze more quickly in winter. The ice was then stored in a nearby double walled dome (yakchal). Water channels (karez/quanats) and wind escapes (bagdir) were used in combination to substantially cool the submerged room. The wind passing the opening of the bagdir creates a low pressure due to the Bernoulli effect. Replacement air is drawn from distant inlets and is passed over the water in the cooler subterranean qanat. Contact with the cool walls of the qanat and the evaporation of water into the dry air cools the air as much as 27 degrees Fahrenheit.

Computational Fluid Dynamics opens new possibilities for the design of forms for passive heating and cooling. Credit: Bushra Obeidat, Hammam Kamal, Amal Almalkawi
Computational Fluid Dynamics opens new possibilities for the design of forms for passive heating and cooling. Credit: Bushra Obeidat, Hammam Kamal, Amal Almalkawi


Technology is anything that mediates between us and the world. An umbrella, a sentence, and a rifle are all technology. We do not want to live in a totally unmediated reality nor in a totally mediated reality.  Articulating that ballance is one of the most critical challenges of our time.

Agricultural Structures

Food is a more immediate need than shelter and agricultural technology likely preceded the development of cities.  It is not suprising that structures built for growing food remain some of our most advanced technologies of enclosure. Each design is the product of focused research and investment that outstrips any residential or commercial building project. Designs are deployed on a broad scale, in varying environments, repeated, and tried again. With so many test-cases - repetition, feedback, adjustment - designs have become extremely refined. The risks are lower than in inhabited structures, and there are no aesthetic styles to contend with.  Greenhouse structures are driven by economy; enclosing the maximum space with a minimum of material, allowing maximum light, maximum air, with the maximum degree of conrtol, and creating at lowest cost a structure which will endure for the longest time. Should not these be the same goals for the homes of today.

Open Roof Greenhouse

Because of the cost of fuel, most growers aim to regulate temperature using sun, wind, and evaporation alone. This leads to a multitude of operable components, shades, vents, sliding panels, louvers, etc. The most advanced in this line is that of the open roof structure pictured. This structure is able to achieve complete equilibrium with external conditions when temperate while providing complete enclosure from cold and snow.

Advanced solar shading in facade design from In Detail - Solar Architecure

Advanced solar shading in facade design from In Detail - Solar Architecure

Bar Joist

Spanning members made of steel angle and standard steel rod allow for long spans at light weight and low cost by using an inately structural ge- ometry. Can be utilized with typical steel post and girder framing or set on load bearing masonry walls.

Space Frame

Light weight two way spanning system capable of long spans. Derives its remarkable strength to weight ratio from it tructural geometry. Can be delivered as a kit of components and erected quickly in the field. Some space frames are being used as alternative building foundations distributing building loads over many points while touching down lightly and avoiding the heavy excavation and concrete work of traditional foundations

Ancestral Teachings

Windingo Notes
From Braiding Sweetgrass - Robin Wall Kimmerer

1. Windingo is the legendary monster of the Anishinaabe.

2. Shaped like an outside man 10 feet tall white hair hanging from its body, mouth raw where it has chewed off its lips from hunger.

3. Windingo is related to the winter famine. An insight from a people who knew hunger and starvation intimately.

4. Windingo myths proliferated especially during the fur trade, when over exploitation of game led to frequent and severe winter famines.

5. The myth reinforces the taboo against cannibalism:

“Succumbing to such a repulsive urge dooms gnawer of bones to wander as Windingo for the rest of time. It is said that the Windingo will never enter the spirit world but will suffer eternal pain of need, its essence a hunger that will never be sated. The more a Windingo eats the more ravenous it becomes.

6. The myth teaches self discipline over selfishness:

“Traditional upbringing was designed to strengthen self-discipline, to build resistance against the insidious germ of taking too much. The old teachings recognize that Windingo nature is in each of us… Anishinaabe elders like Stewart King remind us to always acknowledge the two faces – the light in the dark side of life – in order to understand ourselves. See the dark, recognize its power, but do not feed it.”

7. The Word Windingo is derived from roots meaning “fat excess” or “thinking only of oneself.”
- Basil Johnston, Ojibwe Scholar

8. “A Windingo is a human whose selfishness has overpowered their self control to the point that satisfaction is no longer possible”
- Steve Pitt

Psalm 17 (excerpts)

“My deadly enemies drawn around me their fat has covered their heart”

“And you’re protected ones—fill their bellies, let her sons be sated, and let them leave what is left for their young.”

“As for me, In justice I behold your face, I take my fill, wide awake, of your image”

*all images are credited where author could be identified. If you are the owner of any work shown here and would like to make chenges or have your work removed please contact us.