The rather whimsically-named Dymaxion (DYnamic MAXimum TensION - so, a word just as meaningless as the phrase it represents) House is the invention of Buckminster Fuller, one of his several additions to the historical curiogel.
After the end of the Second World War, there was a rather stifling housing shortage in the USA because the economy was geared towards making war machines of various types - aircraft, tanks, etcetera. Fuller, always looking for ways of integrating technology into modern life and to pursue his vision of mass-produced, standardised housing, saw how this energy might be channelled into fulfilling the requirement for housing and providing useful innovation at the same time.
Fuller believed that contemporary architecture had advanced the least in comparison to other industries and he differed from the majority of architects of the day (most of whom he considered to be "Exterior Decorators") in that he wished to see technology become a part of, and to facilitate, modern constructions. He believed that contemporary architects wished only to use technology as a way of making their designs come to fruition with less effort, rather than as something that could enrich their designs. In this sense he was more interested in the utility of his designs and how easily they could be manufactured, than the way they looked.
Fuller wanted to bring housing construction and design up to date. To do more with less. To apply advances such as those made manifest in suspension bridges, aircraft and automobiles. As suggested by the title, he wanted his houses of the future to be "machines for living". He designed them to be self-sustaining, light, mobile (he also thought that traditional houses were too heavy - presumably, for moving) and incorporating technological advancements that would be integral parts of the lives of the houses' occupants.
He had produced several iterations of his house design by the end of the war (it was first conceptualised and modelled in the mid 1920s). The first was a two-storey rectangular design suspended slightly above the ground, but subsequent designs increased the height and reduced the size. Most were one-storey hexagonal buildings, suspended one storey above the ground. All designs used a central supporting pillar, which contained all the plumbing and electrics the house needed. Each of the designs could be rotated to follow the sun and were made of prefabricated components, meaning it was possible to dismantle one and move it somewhere else in the same way as it was delivered.
Fuller envisioned an evolution of the construction industry, making it analogous to the automobile industry - the house components would be manufactured in a factory and customers would pick the one they wanted from a showroom. It would either be delivered fully assembled by helicopter or airship, or assembled on-site, where the customer wanted it (no mention of issues with planning permission is made in any of sources for this node). All of the designs weighed 5 tons or less in component parts (compare this to the 150 tons an average house weighs) and no individual part weighed more than 10 pounds, meaning all of the houses could be assembled by one person, by hand. The house would be either leased or paid off over a period of years, costing about $1500 (unadjusted) - the same as the most popular car of the time.
The final design ('final' as in the only one of the designs to be built full-scale) looked not unlike an aluminium UFO: it was cylindrical with a dome-shaped roof. The aluminium (as used in aircraft skins) outer walls enclosed 1000+/- square feet of living space and tall plexiglass windows were incorporated into the walls of much of the structure. As with its precursors, the house rested on a central support column which enclosed the essential services for the house - plumbing, ventilation and elastic trickery.
Notably this design dispensed with the upper deck - a feature common to all of the preceding designs - and sat at ground level, firmly rooted by a network of rods around the outside of the structure. A rather ingenious filtration system worked via the central column - a series of screens on the walls of the house could be opened to allow air to enter, and the central column allowed stale air to exit through a spiral horn-shaped outlet on the roof. This outlet was fully rotating and had a large baffle on either side that caught the wind, keeping the outlet facing away from it using the same principle as a weather vane. Fuller claimed this system completely replaced the air in the house every six minutes.
Inside were two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and one or two bathrooms. The whole floorplan was moveable - either through moveable dividing walls or having each room as a separate unit, able to move around the centre (sources don't mention which). This meant that, for example, the bedrooms could be shrunk to increase the size of the living room. The ventilation system of the house also served to keep it clean - not only did it filter the air but it kept it moving which, coupled with the total dearth of corners in the house (the walls curved to meet the floor), meant that very little dust built up anywhere it couldn't easily be cleaned from. Several innovations were built into the house to make the occupant's life easier, including shelf units that revolved behind the walls of the house ("O-Volving Shelves") until the desired items were accessible and closets fitted to the back of a section of rotating wall.
A Misunderstood Artist?
Fuller's designs did not get off to a good start as far as the architects community was concerned. The AIA opened its 61st annual convention - where he was due to exhibit his early designs - with a protracted rant against:
"a growing tendency to standardise architectural design"
A further report from the same stated:
"It is quite possible that certain functions of the architect may well become standardised, but what of the art of design? Can one seriously consider the standardisation of the drama, of literature, of music, or arts kindred to our own such as painting and sculpture? There is even now becoming evident in our work from coast to coast...a universal product made to sell."
...which was precisely the goal for Fuller's designs. The AIA's specific reaction to the Dymaxion House (according to Fuller) was quite spiteful:
"Be it resolved that the American Institute of Architects establish itself on record as inherently opposed to any peas-in-a-pod-like reproducible designs."
Undeterred by his detractors, "Bucky" continued work on his house designs and commissioned Beech Aircraft in Wichita, Kansas to manufacture two prototype houses of the final design in 1946 (within twenty years, they were supplying components for the NASA Apollo program). Around this time several promotional videos were made of the house to sell the idea to the public. It worked tremendously well, the attention was huge and over 37,000 unsolicited orders for Dymaxion Houses were received by the company Fuller co-ran with his Father-in-law. Beech Aircraft estimated it could produce 20,000 of the houses per year, and agreements were worked out with General Electric to provide the electrical appliances on a rental basis. It all looked so promising...
Unfortunately, problems with investors (who were required to subsidise the tools that Beech Aircraft needed to be able to manufacture the houses in quantity) ultimately forced the project to be cancelled and all the deposit cheques returned. The houses remained though, and were shortly bought by a Kansas businessman who installed the two of them in permanent foundations, one on top of the other, on the shore of a small lake. The houses were abandoned after a time and stood for almost fifty years, during that time surviving a tornado - which passed within a few hundred feet of them - undamaged.
In 1992 a group of volunteers from the Henry Ford Museum went out to Wichita and dismantled the upper house (the house that served as the lower floor was butchered for parts and was not usable) and transported it to the museum. There, they painstakingly cleaned and reconstructed it according to original blueprints. By 2001 the Dymaxion House was complete and on display, showing how far ahead of its time it was and probably still is.
- Fuller, Buckminster; "Inventions by Buckminster Fuller";
- Lefcowitz, Eric; "Retrofuture: The Dymaxion World of Buckminster Fuller";
- Baldwin, J; "Dymaxion Houses";
- Henry Ford Museum; "The Dymaxion House at Henry Ford Museum";
- Lorance, Loretta; " Buckminster Fuller - Dialogue with Modernism";
- Also cached:
- Durchey, Youg; "Buckminster Fuller: The World is Round";
- Wadsworth Publishing Co.; "The Little Individual";
- Carl Solway Gallery; "Inventions: Twelve Around One";
- (Author unknown); "Buckminster Fuller";