Christopher Ives - The Vitruvian Van
Developing Toward Vanlife
I was never attracted to the American Dream or the western idea of success. As far as I can remember, I’ve never wanted objects or titles as much as I wanted to do something or go somewhere. I wanted to move and learn. The more opportunities to travel outside my comfort zone and meet new people and see new things; the deeper my convictions became. For me, success came through experiences; wealth and wisdom came with letting go.
“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone” - H.D. Thoreau
The way I see it, I’ve been preparing for vanlife since I was a kid. I grew up in a small town in New England — more cows than people; no chain stores or traffic lights — spending my time biking down dirt roads, playing in streams, and building forts in the woods.
During the summer my family would road trip down the eastern coast of the United States to Florida and visit my grandparents. There in their living room, I’d climb onto the couch and stare at a yellowed map with colorful push pins marking all the adventures my grandparents had taken around the world. My mind would wander and imagine other cultures and places. I’ve always thought of myself as an explorer.
As an adult, I went to college and studied philosophy and ecosystems. I wanted to know about everything and why it was what it was. “But… what are you going to do with a philosophy degree?” Folks would ask incredulously. I’d tell them that, I’d travel the world talking with the community about “the good life;” a modern-day Socrates. But most folks, even my professors, would shrug me off.
After graduation I lived in Perú, where I experienced aid work and international development first hand, and was saddened to see the failure of so many well-intentioned projects. Upon my return, I decided to refocus my philosophical energies on the questions of development. That is, “why are we developing,” and “what are we developing toward,” and perhaps most importantly, “Who is We?” I went back to grad school, then worked in the nonprofit sector for a number of years. I traveled to remote locations all over North America, living out of tiny spaces and vehicles, and working for various social and environmental causes. And yet, even while doing good work, for good people, in support of a good cause, I wasn’t getting closer to answering those questions. “Why are we developing? What are we developing toward?”
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” -H.D. Thoreau
Two years ago, I found myself at the end of a project, free-time on the horizon, and Thoreau’s quote ringing in my mind. And so I left my desk for a tool bench. Squirreling away in my father’s garage I began to plan a project of my own: The Vitruvian Van.
The Vitruvian Van — an homage to Da Vinci’s work linking humanity and nature — would be an artistic answer to the questions of development; a statement on human development’s connection to the ecosystem. It would be a minimalist’s home as natural as an animal’s nest; a movable cabin-in-the-woods where I could expose myself to the diversity and intricacies of life all over the country, and like Thoreau, see if I could learn what it had to teach. To this end, I built the Vitruvian Van from nature, using only the most durable, natural, and nontoxic materials on the market to create a dwelling that felt timeless, sturdy, and easily repairable and recyclable.
I designed the van with nature, employing natural geometry and the golden ratio to create the feeling of openness in a small space. I crafted custom, triple-insulated walls for comfort in all climates, and applied soft, ecological finishes that feel at home in natural settings, and provide relief in urban places.
And finally, I ensured that the vehicle was capable of bringing me deep into nature by selecting an easily serviceable, four-wheel drive, short height and wheelbase vehicle. This would allow me to easily participate in our shared ecosystem, come to know myself through that participation, and perhaps better answer the questions of development: What is the purpose of development? What is my role? What are we developing toward?
Like Thoreau, Leopold, Singer, and many of my other favorite thinkers, I believe that if we are to sustain ourselves, we need to better understand the ecological systems we are a part of and give attention and value to all its many parts.
The Vitruvian Van is my tool for this project; for sustainable living, for building resiliency, for social and environmental exploration; and for creating stories that inspire people to question deeply and examine their lives.
In many ways I’ve been nomadic all my life, from a child wandering the forests, to a young man traveling out of a backpack working for nonprofits, to an artist-philosopher living out of my self-converted eco-van. I’ve found no better way to examine life than to put myself squarely in it. To bring myself to the world with open arms and feel its truth first hand.
Today, living in my van full-time, I’m able to continue this self-work and expose myself to more of Life, see what it has to teach, and hopefully, to learn why we are developing, what we are developing toward, and how to do it together.
Thanks so much to Christoper for sharing your inspiring story with us! Our community can get in touch, ask questions and follow along with the adventures through the links below. Christopher Ives currently works as an artist and media producer, crafting immersive stories and thoughtful media project for nonprofits, artists, and conscious companies. Check out his website here: www.christopherives.com He lives on the road full-time in the Vitruvian Van with his insanely cute dog, Tulsi. You’ll find him at van gatherings, tiny house shows, up winding Forest Service roads, and jumping in rivers and hot springs across the country. He offers consulting and is accepting speaking engagements on ecological building and design for vans and tiny homes. All proceeds go directly toward supporting wilderness preservation initiatives. You can learn more about the van and get in touch via this website: www.VitruvianVan.com You can join his explorations via two Instagram accounts by clicking the buttons below.