Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Malcolm Wells…

Underground Architecture by Malcolm Wells

Underground Architecture by Malcolm Wells

‘In 1964, after 10 years spent spreading corporate asphalt on America in the name of architecture, I woke up one day to the fact that the earth’s surface was made for living plants, not industrial plants. I’ve been an underground architect ever since.’ Malcolm Wells

I didn’t notice until I saw mention at veg.itecture, but Malcolm Wells passed away last month at 83. Wells was the author of Underground Designs, one of the earliest books to advocate for underground buildings, green roofs, and what he called “gentle architecture,” architecture that would leave the land no worse than the architect found it. It was probably the first book I ever saw on green building, and one of the first, I’m sure, for many other people. As happens so often, his passing got me looking at his work again, and there’s a lot there, including some great water colors, drawings, cartoons, and quotes on his website. Highlights are an illustrated glossary of passive solar concepts and suggestions on how to celebrate the holiday he created, Underground America Day (think about moles, eat a parsnip or a radish, stay home from work and put some dirt on the roof…).

The Wells website has links to over a dozen obituaries, including the one he wrote himself. He clearly had a good time writing it, showing off a black eye in the photo and mostly talking about the people in his life. He ends with instructions that his last words should ‘tail off into a string of dots.’

‘But wait: don’t cut me off here. I haven’t told you about my two years in the Marine Corps – World War II – studying engineering at Georgia Tech and carrying a wooden rifle, of working with the Seneca’s, or doing a World’s Fair building, or designing a quilt, or never having touched a computer or a cell phone, or having done dozens, probably hundreds, of incredible designs and…


One Response to “Malcolm Wells…”

  1. December 31st, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    lostlandscape (James) says:

    I noticed an obit in one of the times (maybe LA, but more likely NY) last month. In perusing some of his designs I was struck by how many of them seemed to telegraph a lot of what I was seeing all around me. In fact I work in a building that had an essentially underground addition added to it a couple decades ago. It’s actually a pretty sensible way to build. And of course Wells’s designs themselves point back to all sorts of historical earth-sheltered design. Being called a “caveman” isn’t so bad!

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