Books by Sim

Besides designing, consulting, and frequent public speaking, Sim has authored eight cutting edge books, including his latest, Design for an Empathic World—Reconnecting to People, Nature, and Self (2013).Other books include Design For Life (2006), Ecological Design (1996) with Stuart Cowan, The Toilet Papers and Sustainable Communities (1986) with Peter Calthorpe, The Integral Urban House, Farallones Scrapbook, Dorms at Berkeley: The Ecology of Student Housing, and hundreds of articles and papers in professional journals.

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In Design for an Empathic World, Sim shares his thoughts and experience about the design of our world today. With a focus on the strengths and weaknesses in our approach to the design of our communities, regions, and buildings he looks at promising trends and projects that demonstrate how we can help create a better world for others and ourselves. Architects, urban designers, and students of architecture will all enjoy this beautifully illustrated book drawing on a rich and revered career of a noted leader in their field. The journey described in Design for an Empathic World will help to inspire change and foster the collaboration and thoughtfulness necessary to achieve a more empathic future.

Gathering his most compelling essays and addresses from the last fifty years in one accessible volume, this book looks at the pioneering ideas that underpin Sim’s ecological design philosophy. It offers a unique decade-by-decade retrospective of the key issues in environmental design, beginning with the most recent years and looking back to the 1960s. With an introductory chapter and further recommended reading for each decade, this book is key reading for any architect or designer practising today, and students will find a wealth of knowledge with which to support their studies. The author’s beautiful illustrations, painted in a corresponding timescale to the chapters, offer further insight into the way he understands the challenges of humanity’s stewardship of our planet.

Design for Life: The Architecture of Sim Van der Ryn surveys Sim's work and principles. Sharing his years of experience as a teacher and using his building designs as examples, he shows us that buildings are not objects but organisms, and cities are not machines but complex ecosystems. Design for Life illustrates how Sim came to see the shifting patterns in nature and how these patterns profoundly affect how people live and work in the structures we build. He explores how architecture has created physical and mental barriers that separate people from the natural world, and how to recover the soul of architecture and reconnect with our natural surroundings. 

Ecological Design is a landmark volume that helped usher in an exciting new era in green design and sustainability planning. Since its initial publication in 1996, the book has been critically important in sparking dialogue and triggering collaboration across spatial scales and design professions in pursuit of buildings, products, and landscapes with radically decreased environmental impacts. Using examples from architecture, industrial ecology, sustainable agriculture, ecological wastewater treatment, and many other fields, Ecological Design provides a framework for integrating human design with living systems. Drawing on complex systems, ecology, and early examples of green building and design, the book challenges us to go further, creating buildings, infrastructures, and landscapes that are truly restorative rather than merely diminishing the rate at which things are getting worse.

This classic text is a practical vision of how different types of communities can make the transition to a sustainable way of life that balances production and consumption, reduces resource waste and produces long-term social and ecological health. Our old patterns of growth are built on isolation—an isolation from the environment, an isolation between activities and ultimately an isolation between individuals. Whether city or suburb, these qualities of isolation are the same. Buildings ignore climate and place, uses are zoned into separate areas, and individuals are isolated by a lack of convivial public places. Sustainable patterns break down the separations; buildings respond to the climate rather than overpowering it, mixed uses draw activities and people together, and shared spaces reestablish community.

The Integral Urban House: Self Reliant Living in the City is a comprehensive guide to achieving a completely sustainable urban lifestyle by creating a mini-ecosystem where residents grow their own fruits and vegetables, raise chickens, rabbits, and fish, recycle 90% of their waste, solar heat their hot water, and use a variety of other alternative technologies—all on a 1/8-acre city lot. Long considered the bible of urban homesteading, this book is the result of four years of living with and refining the systems of the Integral Urban House in Berkeley, California—a collaborative project which combined the collective skills of the members of the Farallones Institute to develop a center for creating and testing experimental, ecologically stable and resource-conserving living systems. With its vision of an intimate connection between the urban habitat and ecological principles The Integral Urban House will inspire and empower people to act within their own communities to create places where they can live more sustainably.

One of the favorite books of 1970s back-to-the-landers, The Toilet Papers is an informative, inspiring, and irreverent look at how people have dealt with their wastes through the centuries. In a historical survey, Sim provides the basic facts concerning human wastes, and describes safe designs for toilets that reduce water consumption and avert the necessity for expensive and unreliable treatment systems. The Toilet Papers provides do-it-yourself plans for a basic compost privy and a variety of graywater systems.