Saturday, May 8, 2010

George Bernard Shaw and The Marvelous Spinning Shed (LIGHT)

There is something very personal about a work hut. It is a place where first and foremost - work - is done. So right off the bat we need to consider what kind of work is to be done and what are the preferred working conditions of the - worker -.As an architect I tend to begin a project by getting to know the person I am working with before I begin to develop a design. I desire to find out what is important to the client. Through experience I have developed an understanding for what works in certain situations and what might be an aesthetic preference. With that in mind I appreciate the fact that each person is different and tends to - see - things differently. That is what makes every project exciting and can potentially lead to new discoveries and wonderful results.


Whether I design a space for an artist or a writer something as fundamental as light can take on a variety of meanings.
For instance, what type of light does a painter prefer. Does the artist paint from life? Do they prefer direct light or a diffused light. Does a writer enjoy the warmth of sunlight on her back? What time do they write? Do they want to sit in a room in which a wall has been bathed in sun - a warm wall? Is he amused or inspired by the way light dances through the leaves of trees? If so, what kinds of trees? Or, what kind of construct can simulate the memory of light dancing through trees ... (the subject of my next post). One natural element can have infinite design and experiential possibilities.

The fundamental way in which we experience light in the arena of - work - led me to examine this writing hut designed by writer George Bernard Shaw. The first time I read about the GBS writing hut was in a book entitled " A Little House of My Own : 47 Grand Designs for 47 Tiny Houses". Now let me just say that looks can be deceiving. At first glance this is just a simple box with a door and three windows; two of which are fixed. It has a sloping roof to shed rain and snow build up but there is a little secret hidden below. Literally. The hut is built atop a large Lazy Susan.

Now, Lazy Susans have been around for a while. Some even date back to the early 1700's. Vanity Fair advertised a Lazy Susan in 1917, but it took the creative mind of Bernard Shaw to see it's potential when combined with a writing hut. The idea was ingenious for a few reasons.

1. It allowed George to write in his hut without having to use an artificial light source. He would just get up (which was a good and healthy thing to do anyway) and give the hut a little turn towards the light.

2. It limited the windows needed for direct light to enter the space. This is important in cold weather. More glass in the cold months made for a cooler working space. By limiting windows to one side of the shed (with only one other window opposite the door) made it possible to work in the hut even in cooler months.

3.The direct sunlight entering the hut created passive solar heating within. Limiting the windows to the one side facing the sun also reduced the amount of heat loss.

4. Last but not least, Bernard was able to pivot the hut in the summer to create a shaded space (passive shading) whenever he desired to do so. Opening the only operable window opposite the open door created natural ventilation.

Shaw's hut is a beautiful example of function based on nature. It might not be aesthetically pleasing, but there is a beauty to it's functionality. For that reason I think it is an example of an honest architecture.


  1. Hi I'm a third year architecture student interested in this kind of work. Simple and functional. It's nice to see that a non-architect came up with the idea. It was interesting and I hope you write more. Is there any way to view a higher res image of the plan and elevations? I can't quite make out the dimensions. Is it really 6' x 6' or 8' x 8'?

  2. Hi Anonymous ... I'm trying to figure out how to post files onto this blog. Once I figure that out anyone with 3d software will be able to load the file (for this post as well as others) and examine the whole project. I think it will lead to a more immersive experience - now that I know at least one architecture student is following the blog.
    For now the dims are 8x8x8 - a nice cube. Thanks for the comment.

  3. What a fantastic work space! Do you know of any other structures that use this type of setup?

  4. Hi Caleb ... great question. I just did a search because I wasn't sure. Apparently there are quite a few kinetic buildings under construction or recently built. TreeHugger has an interesting article entilted "Seven Rotating Houses and Towers That Turn Our Crank" that is good reading. Hope that helps and thanks for the comment.


  6. As a child I remember seeing GBS's cabin at Henry Ford's Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. I beleive it is still there to this day.

  7. After a little trial and error, I figured out that you can see the above diagram with better resolution using this URL:

  8. Fabulous idea and beautiful workspace for writing. What a gem!

  9. As a child my fther built a shed for me that was just 8' x 8' but I spent thousands of hours in there making animated movies in the 60's as a child. A compact workspace is tremendously liberating, it sets the stage for focused work, everything handy, few distractions, but enough external contact (through windows) to be stimulated, but not distracted. Eventually just looking at the shed created an odd desire in me to get on with the otherwise tedious work of animation. Thank you for this article, This Autumn I will build a new shed for my Calligraphy work. I now remember that a shed is more than just a work room. Simply the act of going there, unleashes a flood of creative energy that longs to be expressed. It totally eliminates all the minor distractions that make a workroom in a house less able to focus my energy to the creative process.


  10. That's a great story S&F. I absolutely agree. It's wonderful how the shed you worked in became part of your work. From your post it seems the little shed helped you to focus but also gave you a bit of inspiration. Who could ask for more from a work shed. Do you have any photos of that shed posted anywhere? I would love to see your new shed when you build it. It would be great if you started a blog documenting the construction so people like me who only dream about these kinds of spaces can live vicariously through your experience. Thanks for the post.
    Oh, thanks Robert and Lisa for your comments.
    Thanks for that link Erf, I'm going to find and post the higher res today. I'm also going to try and figure out how to post a 'Sketch-Up' 3d model for those interested.

  11. This is soo exciting, we have had the passion for the small house for years! We absolutely love your site and will include it in our facebook. Keep up the great work and chat with you soon!

    Apolinar Storybook Homes

  12. I recently had difficulty finding a lazy susan mechanism for me and my lazy boy recliner. Where can one be found to handle the weight for the shed and people in it? Lyfe IsGoode

  13. As an employee of the Shaw Festival Theatre in NOTL, Ontario I am very interested in this post! I was just wondering if you know where the shed was built and when? We might include reference to this in our next internal newsletter!

  14. Hi Anonymous - in regards to when it was built I can't say exactly, although I know he wrote Pygmalion in the hut which dates it before 1913. Hope that helps.

    As for the lazy susan mechanism (Anonymous August 26) It was not a pe-built mechanism. The Shaw hut used a 1" diameter pipe embedded in concrete with a 7/8" diameter steel rod slipped into it connected to the floor base. If you're serious about building one I can sketch something out with materials you can find at a home depot to construct it yourself. Let me know - and yes - Lyfe IsGoode.

  15. Forgot to mention the location : Village of Ayot St Lawrence in Hertfordshire which is North of London.

  16. I’m surely coming again to read these articles and blogs
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  17. Thank you for this article, This Autumn I will build a new shed for my Calligraphy work.
    Sheds Fort Lauderdale

  18. Thanks Alvin, I will be posting some articles on smaller projects soon.
    Aryan, that's great. You obviously already know what you're doing and don't need my help but if you want to collaborate on a design I would be happy to work on some ideas with you - no charge of course. Either way, I would really like to know what you come up with.

  19. Hi Greg,

    Great post. I was planning on building a fourth 8x12 on our summer property next year but now thinking of adopting Shaw's 8x8 revolver. Would love to see the plans for the Home Depotable turntable mechanism...

  20. Hi HS,
    I haven't made any drawings yet but this looks like it's going to be the next Blog post. I'm going to make a trip to the Home Depot and see what they have available to recreate the shed. Let me know what you were thinking and I will try to incorporate your ides into the drawings - let me know what kind of climate you are in and where you plan to build - open area or wooded?
    Send me an e-mail with some specifics and I'll include that in the design.
    That said - a bit busy these days (so it might take a few weeks) but this will definitely be a nice little side project.
    Thanks for the kind words and taking the time to comment.

  21. The critical thing is the turntable. Old Bowling balls? What are we talking here? I love this


  22. SJ , wow thanks for the fantastic question. From what I've read it's a 7/8" steel rod embedded within the concrete pad below with. A one inch pipe in the floor slips over that rod for the pivot point.
    There is nothing I can find about how the pipe is capped - if it is - or how it ties into the floor framing. I'm guessing there has to be some kind of plate welded on top of the pipe so the pipe doesn't puncture through the floor over time.
    I can't find any information about the floor construction with that pivot. I also can't find any images of the floor which might give us a clue. As the saying goes 'There's more than one way to skin a cat". When I find out I'll post about it - If I don't find anything I can sketch my best guess.