When New Order’s Barney Sumner sang "When I hear a baby cry/When I see an old man die/Rock the shack, rock the shack," I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about a cozy tree house in the Swedish woods. But that hasn’t stopped the editors over at Gestalten from putting Barney’s cryptic lyrics to good use as the title of a new book on retreat architecture. Rock the Shack: The Architecture of Cabins, Cocoons and Hide-Outs, which came out last month in Europe and this month in America, is an unpretentious look at compelling design in places only Thoreau could love.
It turns out that wildly experimental architecture can also be quite serene. For example, there’s Sweden’s Tree Hotel, a collection of tree houses just south of the Arctic Circle, where visitors can check into one of seven one-room structures that hang suspended in the canopy. Or the remarkable Bridge Studio by Saunders Architects, a single-room office that juts off a rocky outcropping on the Newfoundland coastline. There’s even some warm-weather projects: a great photo essay by Leo Caillard that documents vernacular shacks built by Miami life guards. It’s "de Stijl revival meets friendly beach shack," the editors say.
The impulse behind the book (and the buildings inside it) is that in an increasingly urban world, we must look to lonely places to find calm—a sentiment I think almost all of us will find pertinent. Everyone addresses the claustrophobia of life in the city differently, of course. There are entire companies devoted to helping city slickers find themselves in the wild, while others choose to carve out a plot of land and build something beautiful on it. Rock the Shack’s editors explain the instinct with a Thoreau quote:
Before we can adorn our houses with beautiful objects the walls must be stripped, and our lives must be stripped, and beautiful housekeeping and beautiful living be laid for a foundation: now, a taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors, where there is no house and no housekeeper.
You can buy Rock the Shack, which will run around $60, here.