The cabin is a metaphor for comfort — a feeling humans are always trying to maintain. No wonder we're obsessed with it.

Cabin in Bracebridge, ON. Photo: Sam Barkwell

Whether it's the warm glow from a fire or just the transformative feeling of an escape, no other man-made structure creates such a visceral connection to a sense of place and what it does for the soul. Their popularity is obvious with abounding "cabin porn" hashtags on social media and the phenomena of cabin mania on hospitality sites like Airbnb. But where did the cultural obsession start?

Abbot Pass Hut, Rocky Mountains, AB. Photo: Joanne Chui

Last summer, The Vancouver Art Gallery brought the outdoors inside with their Cabin Fever exhibition and took a look at why we are so drawn to the temporary allure of homesteading. The truth is, it's been this way since the first trees were slotted together; in fact, the picture of a log cabin is as much a part of the North American landscape as golden sunsets and open plains. From alpine huts, to modest retreats, writer's cabins and quaint cottages, the exhibition and hardbound book traces the typology in the aesthetics of ruggedness first notably romanticized in writings by Thoreau in the 1800s.

The Cabin Fever cover.

Like Thoreau and the many authors following him touched upon, the cabin pulls at the heartstrings of our most primal instincts and checks off at least four of the five Maslowvian human needs. Even writer Michael Pollan calls the cabin “the architecture of daydreams” hinting at the creative incubation encouraged by the clarity provided through isolation. After all, being alone with your thoughts go hand-in-hand with going off grid.

Cliff House, Tomlee Head, NS. Photo: Greg Richardson

In Cabin Fever, the ethos of escape takes the form of A-frames, ice fishing huts, geodesic domes, modernist tiny homes, flat pack vacation cabins and even the novel fire lookout tower. Tracing the history of twenty humble architectural forms, the book dives deeper into the timeline of the pioneering woodsman to the enduring mission to modernize even the most basic structure.

Together with the musings of the aforementioned authors along with beat poet, Jack Kerouac, American writer, Edward Abbey, architect, Rudolph Schindler and a host of other eccentrics dedicated to a life outside, the photos in the book provide a comprehensive look at our relationship with these dwellings. Cabin Fever deserves a place on everyone’s coffee table if only to serve as a reminder of what it feels like to chop some wood and warm yourself by the fire in deep communion with nature.

You can learn more, and purchase Cabin Fever here.

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