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TitleRitual House: Drawing on Nature's Rhythms for Architecture and Urban Design
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Total Pages224
Table of Contents
                            About Island Press
Title Page
Copyrights Page
Table of Contents
Ch. 1: Sheltering
Ch. 2: Migration
Ch. 3: Transformation
Ch. 4: Metabolism
Ch. 5: Sheltering the Soul
Ch. 6: Settings and Rituals
Ch. 7: Boundaries and Choices
Ch. 8: The Solar Envelope
Ch. 9: The Interstitium
Ch. 10: The New Architecture of the Sun
Document Text Contents
Page 1





l h


advance praise

“Ritual House is easily placed among the most important books in

architecture in the past 100 years.”

—Don Watson, architect

“Knowles reminds us that we can connect to the temporal rhythms of

nature and weather in profound and sustainable ways, through the

very shelters we create to counter the elements.”

—Bruce Lindsey, head of the School of Architecture,

Auburn University and co-director of The Rural Studio

“My influences are many and varied, but during my years as a student,

Ralph Knowles may have been the most important. Only recently have

I come to understand that he was 50 years ahead of his time . . . I am

grateful that he continues to contribute to our built environment

through his intelligent analysis and synthesis of contemporary issues

in architecture.”

—Thom Mayne, founder and principal of Morphosis and

2005 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate

“Knowles was one of the first architectural thinkers to introduce mod-

ern architects to the sun. Now, in Ritual House, he shows us how to

restore dignity, meaning, and sensibility to the design of homes and

communities—by paying attention to the qualities of nature that are

essential for human well being and survival.”

—Sim Van der Ryn, Emeritus Professor of Architecture,

University of California, Berkeley

A R C H I T E C T U R E / U R B A N P L A N N I N G


ISBN 1-59726-050-9

781597 260503
Washington • Covelo • London
All Island Press books are printed on recycled, acid-free paper.

ritual house
Drawing on Nature's Rhythms

for Architecture and Urban Design

Ralph L.Knowles

The houses we inhabit, the citiessurrounding our houses, even the
clothes we wear—all are shelters we

erect against the elements. But they

are also manifestations of ancient rit-

uals, developed in response to

nature’s rhythms.

Modern culture has separated us

from those rhythms and traditions.

Now, Ritual House reawakens us to

our lost natural heritage.

The celebrated architect, Ralph

Knowles, professor emeritus at

USC’s School of Architecture, has

crafted an inspirational message for

architects, designers, planners, and

anyone seeking to reconnect to the

natural world through the built envi-

ronment. He deals with the intrica-

cies, showing what can be learned as

we watch a shadow, a wall, a stair-

case, or a door as it responds to the

natural cycles of heat, light, and wind.

He also deals on large-scale levels,

analyzing methods of sheltering that

range from Gothic cathedrals to con-

temporary Los Angeles. His most

far-reaching ideas describe how

tomorrow’s mega-cities can be

shaped through solar access zoning

to ensure that everyone enjoys sun-

light and warmth.

As energy usage increases, costs

soar, and resources diminish, under-

standing how the natural elements

affect our lives is more vital than ever.

High-energy systems have cut us off

from nature, but we can reconnect

through buildings and cities that honor

ecological balance and common-sense

solutions while limiting expenses and

energy waste. By engaging rhythmic

nature in our designs, we can create

shelters that are unique to their climate,

(continued on back flap)

(continued from front flap)

their region, and their relationship to

the sun, creating, in Knowles’ words,

“a haven for our souls, our minds,

and our spirits.”

Ritual House takes its rightful place

among those classic works that

become touchstones for the culture.

Knowles’ central theme may be sea-

sonally adaptive architecture, but his

ultimate aim is to describe a better

place for us all, one where the build-

ings we inhabit link us to a particular

place, enrich our built environment,

and add true meaning to our lives.

As a professor, researcher, and policy

and design consultant, Ralph L.

Knowles has had a long and illustri-

ous career in architecture. He is cur-

rently a professor emeritus at USC,

and his many books and papers,

including Sun; Wind; Water and Sun

Rhythm Form have received interna-

tional acclaim.

Jacket design: John Costa, New Orleans
Jacket photo: Rappahannock residence, Laurel Mills,
Virginia, by McInturff Architects, 2001; photograph
courtesy of Julia Heine/McInturff Architects.
Author photo: Mary Knowles

Page 112

French in 1763. During their brief tenure, the British settled con-
flict with the Indians by agreeing to reserve a large portion of the
area for Indian occupancy. However, within 2 decades, the British
defeat in the Revolutionary War saw ownership pass to a new
nation eager to expand. Indian rights were ignored as the Midwest
was opened to successive waves of settlers from the east.

American land companies in New England sowed the first
seeds of change in Ohio soil. In 1795, in meeting rooms far from
the wilderness, the Connecticut Land Company set down rules for
the orderly survey, sale, and settlement of land purchased in great
tracts from the federal government. Each member of the Com-
pany contracted for a different township.5

The contract for Ashtabula County was typical. The articles
allowed for “ a survey of lands to be made into [square] townships
containing each sixteen thousand acres [6,480 ha]; to fix on a
township in which the first settlement shall be made, to survey the
township thus into lots and to sell such lots to actual settlers only;
to erect in said township a sawmill and a gristmill at the expense
of the company and to lay out and to sell five other townships to
actual settlers only.”6

When the first settlers arrived, they found a land were water is
the most active force. Winters are severe with significant amounts
of snowfall. Summers are warm to hot and very humid. Over half
the annual rainfall occurs in summer, draining into Lake Erie
through short streams and rivers. In the spring and early summer,
the area is prone to flooding. The weather can change abruptly
from one day to the next and thunderstorms and tornadoes are

An 1815 account tells of a marriage postponed by rain and flood-
ing.7 The wedding of Reuben Mendell’s daughter was to take place
just north of the Ashtabula River in Sheffield Township. A friend,
Chauncey Atwater, was given the task of walking 8 miles south-
west to Jefferson, the County Seat, for the necessary license. He

s e t t i n g s a n d r i t u a l s 9 1

Ashtabula County: Divided
into townships.

Page 113

9 2 r i t u a l h o u s e

had first to cross the river, an easy task since the river was low. On
his return with the precious document in his pocket he got off his
course and spent the night in the forest. Next day, when he had
again found his way, he discovered that overnight rains had so
swollen the river that he was unable to cross at the same ford. He
had to take a roundabout course to cross the bridge at Kellogsville,
5 miles upstream. Meanwhile, the wedding party, including the
preacher who had come 3 miles on foot from Kingsville, waited an
extra day for Atwater’s arrival.

The abundant rains that so often cause river flooding also grow
rich pasturage. Early farmers planted corn, oats, wheat, potatoes,
apples, and garden vegetables in the clay soil, but it was grass that
grew best and without human intervention. Consequently, the
area became known early in the 1800s for its dairy farms and their
production of butter and cheese. Referring to her great grand-
father’s account books, Rose B. Lawrence, a long-time resident of
Ashtabula County, writes a personal account:

Once or twice a year butter packed in 100 and 500 pound

furkins or tubs was taken to Ithaca and New York cities, a slow

and tedious [trip] by canal, ox team and stage coach—the trip

being made in a week to ten days.

Today, much of Ashtabula County remains rural, spotted with
the occasional village or less often a town. The land is mostly open
with fields, pastures, and woods. However, there are fewer full-
time farmers, who may also be working part-time jobs in towns.
Wells are giving way to municipal water supplies. Regional shop-
ping centers and scattered housing subdivisions are beginning to
appear. Water is still a major force. It arrives in long summer rains,
carving its way through gardens and pastures before draining into
the Ashtabula River. In winter it lands as deep snow, yawning over
roads, tree trunks, barn doors, and people. The melting snow in
spring soaks the soil and overflows the river.

Page 223

2 0 2 i n d e x

Ubbelohde, Susan, 46
University of Southern California

Solar Studio, 146
Unlimited height districts, 122–23
Urban design and densities. See

Densities and urban design
Urban design for solar access. See

Solar-access zoning; Solar

Urbanization and growth
overview, 111
boundaries, value of, 120–25
isolation from nature and, 85–86
in Los Angeles, 111–18
solar access zoning, 123–25
worldwide, 118–20
zoning practices, 121–23
See also Cities

US Land Ordinance (1785), 122, 182

Val Duchesse palace, Brussels, 29
Venolia, Carol, 85

courtyards and courtyard covers,

toldos, interference from, 158
See also Wind

Ventilation stacks, 156–57
Verandas in southern India, 53

See also Porches
Vertical migration, 37

ceramic stoves in Hofburg Palace,

clothing in, 13
daily rituals in the Graben and

Stadtpark, 16–18
glass buildings, 70–71
Wandl Hotel, 18

Village greens, 98–99

American, 97–102
Prievoz vs. Petrzalka, Slovakia, 14,

siting of houses in, 121

Williamsburg chimney, 15

Vitruvius, 23

Walking and neighborhood rhythms,

daily rhythms of light on, 8–9
and orientation of apartment

blocks, 72, 145–49
See also Courtyard houses and

buildings; Solar envelopes
Wandl Hotel, Vienna, 18
Washington (state)

ritual door, Suquamish, 18

combustion converted to hot water,

farm wells, 94
in Los Angeles, 111–12
in Spanish patios, 50, 51

Way finding, 133
Weiss, Marc, 119
“Well-adjusted houses,” 43
West. See East–west orientation
Whitney Portal, 24
Wilderness rhythms, 103
Williamsburg, Virginia, 15

Bedouin tents and, 28
courtyard covers and wind flow,


in Gothic cathedrals, 80–81, 82, 83
opening and closing, 14
in solar envelope study, 141–42, 143
transformation and, 43–48
unopenable, 177

Yaroslavsky, Zev, 116

Zamindaar (landowner) houses of
India, 53

in Los Angeles, 137
solar access zoning, 123–25, 131, 157
standard practices of, 121–23
See also Solar envelopes

Zosaku system, 56–57
Zwingle, Erla, 118–19

Page 224

Victor M. Sher, Esq. (Chair)
Sher & Leff
San Francisco, CA

Dane A. Nichols (Vice-Chair)
Washington, DC

Carolyn Peachey (Secretary)
Campbell, Peachey & Associates
Washington, DC

Drummond Pike (Treasurer)
The Tides Foundation
San Francisco, CA

David C. Cole
Chairman, President, and CEO
Maui Land & Pineapple Company, Inc.
Kahului, Maui, HI

Catherine M. Conover
Quercus LLC
Washington, DC

Merloyd Ludington Lawrence
Merloyd Lawrence Inc.
Boston, MA

William H. Meadows
The Wilderness Society
Washington, DC

Henry Reath
Princeton, NJ

Will Rogers
The Trust for Public Land
San Francisco, CA

Alexis G. Sant
Trustee and Treasurer
Summit Foundation
Washington, DC

Charles C. Savitt
Island Press
Washington, DC

Susan E. Sechler
Senior Advisor
The German Marshall Fund
Washington, DC

Peter R. Stein
General Partner
LTC Conservation Advisory Services
The Lyme Timber Company
Hanover, NH

Diana Wall, Ph.D.
Director and Professor
Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO

Wren Wirth
Washington, DC

Isl and Press Board of Directors

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