• Holding organisation: Living Architecture Centre
  • Status:
  • Financing: Largely self-financed (courses/workshops)
  • People involved in the project: Founder, Peter Cowman and local citizens attending courses/workshops
  • Public Partners: None
  • Private partners: Others working in similar/allied field
  • Creation Date: 1989
  • Contact Persons: Peter Cowman
  • Main project links:

The idea

The Living Architecture Centre (LAC) is an internet-based school of vernacular architecture operated by Peter Cowman. He is an architect, eco-builder, writer and teacher delivering LIVE and distant-learning Courses and Workshops internationally with a focus on the creation of affordable, low-impact buildings.

The LAC offers a wide range of resources to encourage people to re-engage with the ‘sheltermaking’ process through involvement in the design, construction, modification, extension and/or adaptation of their homes for sustainable living.

Peter Cowman’s Sheltermaker’s Manual articulates a unique and practical house design methodology which also offers people the opportunity to understand the hidden psychological aspects of ‘home’ and to discover ‘the dream house within’.

The EconoSpace Project encourages people to re-awaken their natural sheltermaking instincts by designing and constructing small buildings which do not require planning permission or permits and by encouraging people to work together in the sharing of the common goal of achieving a sustainable way of life.

The local context

When Peter Cowman dreamed up the ‘Be Your Own Architect’ concept in 1989 he quickly discovered that his university education had neglected to teach him the rudiments of house design!

With an emphasis on the positive, the practical and the affordable the Living Architecture Centre articulates what can only be described as the secrets of vernacular architecture, or, as Peter Cowman calls it, ‘sheltermaking’.

There are many hidden aspects to this process. People are invited to think of this ‘invisible architecture’ not just in terms of physical buildings but also in terms of their dream world and the lives they have to live. When we become aware of the power of this ‘living of one’s architecture’ we are presented with a dynamic tool for practical change in our lives.

The starting point

How did you begin your action? In 1989 when I decided to teach people how to design their own homes.

What were the decisive steps taken, e.g. core group formation? /resource mobilisation? /common/voluntary support (from whom)? I organised a series of ‘Be Your Own Architect’ evening classes in 1989 and began writing a book on the subject.

I was slowly drawn into projects which imparted a ‘living’ quality to work and fostered the evolution of what I began to call ‘living’ architecture – the idea that very fabric of a home is an intimate part of the life being lived within it.

Through this I discovered that by changing the way in which we look at the subject of human shelter we gain the potential to change our lives, offering people the power to change not only themselves but, in consequence, the world.

I next began to develop methodologies to allow people to directly engage in the sheltermaking process by making small sustainable low-impact buildings in their backyards as a way of engaging with the ‘living’ architecture process.

The work of the Living Architecture Centre is largely self-funded.

I received support from my local Enterprise Centre in 2002 to carry out a Feasibility Study of how best to set up the Living Architecture Centre. Further assistance was also forthcoming in respect to small equipment grants; mentoring; skills inputs; etc.

Sligo-Leitrim VEC Adult Arts Education department also extended grant assistance for the publication of Course materials.

How does it work today?

What are the practical steps to not forget? That the ‘living of our architecture’ is a natural and instinctive process.

What makes your action successful? Because it is a natural and instinctive process of re-engagement, with it awakens our ‘sheltermaking genes’ which unerringly guide us forward. People understand this instinctively and respond appropriately.

What enables it to be sustainable? Its foundation in our desire to maintain our aliveness.

Participation and Governance

Who is taking part in the project (local citizens, public/private institutions)? Local citizens generally, attending either LIVE Courses/Workshops or utilising distance-learning materials.

Please comment on your relations with the different actors. I also deliver Courses/Workshops & Talks through various Centres, Universities and other establishments.

I maintain a wide range of contacts with others operating in similar/allied fields to my own.

How is the project managed and how are the activities financed? I manage day-to-day operations myself, utilising specialist help when required accounts, web design, etc.

Financing are derived from the delivery and sale of Courses &Workshops as well as from book sales. Expenditures are kept deliberately low.

Who are the partners (if any)? I work independently but also develop and maintain working relationships with individuals, organisations and centres working in allied fields.

Added value of the project and making resources available

Is your project an enabling one for its citizens? Very much so. A frequent comment from Course students and from those attending Talks is that the work of the Living Architecture Centre is very empowering for people.

How are local resources and human potential valued and utilised? Living Architecture emphasises the need to utilise local materials, skills and expertise. The very essence of this process is to harness and nurture human potential.

What do you see as the added-value of your work for your community? Living Architecture offers unlimited potential for both individuals as well as communities to directly engage with the built environment in the quest to achieve a truly sustainable way-of-life. It also holds immense potential for young people to learn essential sheltermaking skills.

What resources are being used or reused? Living Architecture encourages the use of natural materials as close to their raw state as possible and the utilisation of salvaged and recycled resources. It further encourages the sharing of information, skills, resources and knowledge.


What are the main difficulties you have faced in your project and how have you addressed them? The main difficulties the Living Architecture Centre has faced have been psychological rather than practical. These manifest as people’s resistance to change.

What are the main societal challenges you have faced or are still facing in your project (e.g. concerning the legal framework, institutions, etc.) to ensure the sustainability and/or transferability of your project in other contexts? Again these have been psychological rather than practical. Once people overcome these resistances there is generally no stopping them!

Future perspectives

How would you like your project to evolve in order to better tackle the issues described above? Currently I am moving towards further development of my ‘Sheltermaker Theatre’. This is a device to help by-pass people’s psychological resistances by delivering material in a non-classroom environment and by communicating directly with people’s deeper selves.

What are the next planned steps for your project (expansion, creation of new projects, etc.)? Upskilling, particularly obtaining some theatrical training. I plan to attend a 5-day Theatre of the Oppressed Workshop in July. I also plan to embark on further Tours, similar to the recently completed Sheltermaker Tour of Ireland. It is direct engagement with people that has consistently proven to be the best method to develop the Living Architecture concept.

What are some of the desired improvements and_or changes you would like to make? To generate a little more income! To see a wider spread of these ideas. To see ‘architecture’ enjoy a wider exposure in order to stimulate debate, discussion and the fostering of new housing solutions.

Proposals for change

What could be done by citizens, institutions, etc. to overcome these challenges? Introduce sheltermaking into schools. Encourage awareness, debate and discussion on the affects the built environment have on people, both physically as well as mentally.

What would you do differently if given the chance to start up your project again? Nothing! The process has been challenging but also empowering, liberating, fun and successful.

Other valuable projects

Transition Towns and Permaculture are valuable movements with significant overlaps with Living Architecture.

Sources and links

Below are some videos which provide an overall idea of the work of LAC

1. Some videos relating to the 'Be your own architect' concept: 2. Courses in Sustainable House Design & Construction: 3. Some videos describing the Sheltermaking process: 4. 'Building on the Edge', a documentary about Living Architecture: 5. An introduction to Econo-Spacemaking: