Man on a Mitzvah

I’m sure that many people, after reading this blog (among the others that I write or participate on)…

… shake their heads and reach for the Extra Strength Tylenol…  wondering “just who I am.”

Rather than “toot my own horn” or climb back up on the soapbox for a lengthy;

“It’s all about ME, dammit…” session…

I was recently re-interviewed by a journalist team working on a TV series that documents “New Roads to Old Places.”

This documentary is all about the return to “grass roots” architecture, and how it affects us, the “common man.”

Here’s what THEY said about me…

After reading it, you decide for yourself.


One of his most recent and beloved projects… his son Joshua.

Most people who know him will laughingly tell you that most of what can be said about Alex Klein is “unprintable.”

If you talk to his “old bosses” he’s a “loose cannon who doesn’t take crap from anybody.”

If you talk to the contractors and developer’s (we interviewed several) he’s worked with over the years, some will tell you that he’s a “genius and a tyrant.

While inspecting one of Klein’s recent projects, a recent client located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California called Klein “a cross between a Jewish MacGiver, and a psychotic Marine Drill Instructor.”

The State of Mississippi calls him “an Esteemed Affordable Housing Advocate,” among other things…

Senators and even a few Congressmen call him on the phone asking for opinions.

If you talk to those who congregate around him, his fans are people like SG Block‘s Dave Cross or visionary architects like California’s Peter DeMaria. Humanitarian Aid Functionaries like those providing support to the Clinton-Bush Haiti Foundation, call him a genius, a guru, a mentor, the “self-proclaimed Right Reverend of the Corten Container Church.”

He’s actually on speed dial with some of the most influential ‘movers and shakers’ in Environmental and Alternative Architecture in America and beyond it’s borders.

If you ask him, he dismisses the attention with a wave of his big hand and downplays it all:

He’ll tell you that he’s simply “a Man on a Mitzvah” and he’s not going to let anyone get in his way. He says that his obligation is to invest fully in each family he works with and not to redetermine or redirect public interpretation of  “the message he (and people like him) send to those receptive enough to listen.”

“You know what? My Building Families are the ONLY thing I really care about. It’s simply US (as we build), against THEM (who would stop us), those who would watch us fail.”

Like a famous artist, he is frequently “misunderstood”. Yet, strangely…  this actually gives him joy;

“Where the viewing public is concerned… if they’re talking about what we’re doing, then I’ve done my job. Dialog fuels evolution.”

Using lofty degrees in Architecture from UCLA and other prestigious “Halls of Learning” as a springboard, he apprenticed with one of the largest Architectural Firms in Southern California,  working on “monuments” – large commercial projects, landmark hotels, hospitals, and even theme parks.

Klein told us that the entire time he was doing this, he felt like a prostitute – selling himself over and over again and giving up a small piece of himself with each and every exchange.

After a heated argument with an “Architectural Industry Leader”…  one where he defended the position of visionaries like Malcolm Wells as they were maligned by the practices of “monument builders” like Robert Stern, he saw the light… and found the door.

Two weeks later, he began explorations of ecological design and interest by developing innovative structures and details in the mountains of Northern California… ironically out of the back of a 69′ Dodge Hemi Charger.

It was 1977 and the world was a huge oyster. It was Klein’s oyster. How ironic! Klein reminded us that “oysters aren’t even kosher.”

After a few years spent in what Klein calls “Exploratory Guerrilla Architecture,” occasionally interrupted by trips to “strangely exotic and foreign lands”… Klein found “his true path.” And he’s been walking that path ever since, one  or even three families at a time.

Coming out of “semi-retirement” after Hurricane Katrina, with well over a hundred projects under his belt, spanning seven continents and many, many countries, “Klein is finding his stride again…” at least according to the media. (After months of observation and interviews with his peers, we’re not certain he ever lost it in the first place.)

In the conservative architectural media’s eyes, he’s not a “crackpot” or a “whackjob”  in their eyes any longer, now, all of a sudden… he’s a “visionary,”  a “genius,” an “overnight sensation…” one that he laughingly describes as having only taken 30 something years to achieve.

The architectural world has finally gone full circle and now they realize that Klein was right all along.

He shakes his head and laughs;

“Isn’t that amazing? I have to laugh. And nothing has changed – except the tools have gotten better. We’re still doing things the same way, for the same reasons. We simple lead by example.”

Although perfectly at home in his design studio located in the mountains of Montana, this man has decades of field experience, including extensive time spent in some of the most hostile locations on the planet. You can actually see it reflected in his eyes and in his hands.

Now as the Senior Partner for “Container Home Consultants,” he continues to “practice what he preaches”;

  • Affordable,
  • Durable,
  • Energy Efficient,  and
  • Sustainable Housing…

…usually built by families with their own hands, as they grow stronger in the environment that they themselves create and sustain.

Klein would tell you that he’s move “weaver” than “architect” as he nurtures and reweaves each building family’s “tapestry”, he helps make the fabric of the communities that these families interact with that much stronger. Klein is simply reclaiming his world one thread, one  family at a time.

As an architectural advisor, he’s on the phone daily with architects and engineers scattered across America (and from our observations – the rest of the planet), finding solutions to hard problems, both domestic and foreign.

After all, his “deep understanding of a full spectrum of ecological products as well as innovative construction techniques grant him the ability to create beautiful environmentally responsible structures.”

At least, that’s what the guys at The Columbia University School of Architecture said about him.

When he’s not wielding a plasma cutter or a welder (of late continuing to do Humanitarian Aid for Haiti, the Philippines, Vietnam, just to name a few places)… he also writes a popular blog on Alternative Home building to an audience of over 150,000 subscribers, he writes books on ISBU (Intermodal Steel Building Unit) Shipping Container Construction, he lectures,  teaches workshops and  conducts classes and seminars in “The Lost Art of Green Building“…