Dymaxion House – art and technology

The Dymoxion House is an extraordinary dwelling designed to be the strongest, lightest and most cost-effective housing ever built around 1946. The  remaining prototype is located in the Henry Ford museum across Ford Conference center in Dearborn , Michigan . The visionary and spiritually fulfilling architecture of R. Buckminster Fuller takes us thought “the house of the future.”Pierre-Ethier-Dymaxion-House

The 4-D Box

Dymaxion House prototype
Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House plan  uses prefabricated parts designed for easy shipment and assembly into modest-sized, single-family homes; though beyond that, the similarities dissolve. The Dymaxion House was round with a domed roof; the entire structure was suspended from a central mast anchored to a foundation. Cables spread from the central mast at the floor and ceiling levels like bicycle spokes supporting the building’s weight with tensile force rather than gravity. The exterior was clad in aluminum sheeting and never needed painting, like a durable silver onion.
At 1,100 square feet, the house was lighter, stronger, faster to assemble, and less expensive to manufacture or to own than a comparable conventional house. Fuller’s house weighed 3,000 pounds, 1/100th the weight of an ordinary house, and less than a mid-sized car. Structurally it was sound enough to withstand earthquakes or tornados that would level a normal house. Delivered in its own metal tube, it could be assembled in one day by six workers. Theoretically, it could also be disassembled, repacked, moved and reassembled, though in practice the process would have been inconvenient. The Dymaxion House was marketed for around the price of a luxury car—half the cost of a basic house.
dymaxion prototype #2
The round shape maximized interior space with a minimal amount of material. The floor plan included a living/dining room, kitchen, and two bedrooms with private baths. Energy- and water-efficient features included expansive windows for passive solar heating, a ventilation system for passive air conditioning, a gray-water system to reuse wastewater, a waterless “packaging toilet,” and a low-water “fogger” to replace the shower.

Dymaxion House floor plan

Dymaxion House floor plan
Fuller’s first drawings for the Dymaxion House appeared in his 1928 self-published manifesto 4D Time Lock. It was a speculative work of science, engineering, and spirituality that proposed reforms to what Fuller saw as the destructive inefficacies of modern industrial civilization.
At the most prosaic level, 4D is a proposal for a new type of small house that Fuller earnestly hoped would be embraced by the building trades, the financial industry, and the architectural profession… 4D is not really about houses, however; it is a spiritual meditation on time, the supramaterial fourth dimension of experience and the true measure of industrial society. 
Fuller sent his manifesto to leading scientists, planners, and industrialists of the day, hoping to find support for enacting his reforms on a large scale. At the time, he had little recognition within the architectural community. In fact, the AIA released a statement in 1928 that it was “inherently opposed to any peas-in-a-pod-like reproducible designs.”
Fuller would later claim that the statement was in direct response to the 4D house proposal. Whether that’s true isn’t certain, but it’s clear that Fuller’s plan broke with contemporary architectural dialects. In fact, prominent architects like Mies van der Rohe and Corbusier were already making extensive use of standardized industrial elements, but Fuller’s house plan went further in leaving behind familiar aesthetics of residential design. His vision was closer to the production of an automobile or an airplane than a durable building.
Corbusier wanted to make a “machine for living in” by using machine processes to achieve aesthetic results that would please the inhabitant. Fuller wanted a “machine for living,” a house that would function like a machine to improve the quality of the life of its inhabitants. (2)

Dymaxion House elevation by Fuller, 1927

The Dymaxion House first came to public attention through a display at Chicago’s Marshall Field Department Store in 1929. A public relations agent working on the display came up with the term “dymaxion,” combining syllables from dynamic, maximum, and tension, some of Fuller’s favorite words for the project. Fuller embraced the term and applied it to numerous projects throughout his career.

Fuller with Dymaxion House model, 1929

From the beginning, Fuller had wanted to put the Dymaxion House into mass production. But whatever interest the 4D manifesto or the Marshall Field display generated, it wasn’t until after World War II that he made progress towards manufacturing. Fuller saw the country’s military aircraft plants, facing slowdowns and shutdowns with the end of the war, as ideal facilities for manufacturing the aluminum Dymaxion House. He found interested investors and entered into a deal with Beech Aircraft to manufacture 250,000 houses per year. The house received attention in the press, and over 3,500 buyers placed orders by 1946.
Nonetheless, Fuller’s engineering acumen, visionary zeal, and big-picture efficiency weren’t enough to bring the house to the assembly line. Plans with Beech broke down over design and manufacturing details and the house never went into production. Maybe Fuller, for all his empiricism, wasn’t willing to compromise his vision for the technical production requirements. Maybe the house wasn’t really workable on an industrial scale. In any event, only two prototype Dymaxion houses were ever made. No one ever lived in the Dymaxion House as Fuller had envisioned it. The prototypes were eventually bought by one of the investors, who erected one as an addition to his family’s ranch style summer house, and kept the other one disassembled to use for replacement materials.

Dymaxion House prototype used as summer house addition

The family used the house until the 1970s, and eventually donated it to the Henry Ford Museum  in 1991. The Dymaxion House was painstakingly restored and has been on display at the museum since 2001, gleaming like a modern, industrial Faberge egg.
This final enshrinement at least dovetails with Fuller’s own ambition: he considered Ford’s assembly-line innovations to be one of the great achievements of the 20th century, and had included Ford on the short list of original recipients of the 4D Time Lock manifesto.

Dymaxion House at the Ford Museum.  © Werner Weiss, Yesterland.com

Dymaxion House at the Ford Museum. © Werner Weiss, Yesterland.com
 
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One comment on “Dymaxion House – art and technology

  1. . . .
    I love this guy, as I’ve been into inventing affordable housing in Europe in the early 70’ies, inspired by a visit to the highly creative university of Santa Cruz in California in 1969.
    .
    It all came to a grinding halt in southern France – when police ended my creativity – and I found out all about French law on housing, which turned out to be as suppressive as German law.
    .
    Despite fantastic materials, incredible effective tools and lots of space all over the place – BEFORE you are allowed to start creating and building a house – you need an official permisson – which you do not get, if you do not follow the lead . . .
    .
    That means BUROCRATS decide where, when and how to build your house, and your freedom whithin these boundaries is close to ZERO.
    .
    So you have two choises.
    .
    You make a lot of money and buy those BUROCRATS – or you try your luck and don’t ask anybody, while you hide your home as best as you can.
    .
    Or you buy a ruin, and fix it as it was . . .
    .
    But real creativity is immediately suffocated.
    .
    Otherwise Munich would be dominated today by an Elephant, 300 Meters high, and 30.000 Appartements inside, and only fully recognizable from an airplane at 20 miles away, or standing on the Zugspitze (highest mountain in Germany)
    .
    Wouldn’t that be a little different to the world trade center, and millons of similar houses all over the planet ?
    .
    A friend of mine (Waki Zöllner) build a ship that was round – and they forced him to cut it in half – I would have put five together, so from a plane it looks like the olympic rings, and could house all of the athlets for the olympics . . .
    .
    The people in power do not know what LRH found out – that man is basically good – so they are scared shitless, that anyone creates too much enthusiasm, and stop it all right from the beginning . . .

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