Thanks to the press attention that the unusual house received between October 1945 and February 1946, Fuller Houses — Buckminster Fuller's company — and Beech Aircraft received over 3,500 orders from across the country. At the time, it was announced that the Beech factory would produce 250,000 units annually, at half the price of a traditional house, and that production would be launched pending a few final adjustments
In reality, numerous questions awaited resolution, including construction details as well as logistics of production and distribution. The economic questions surrounding the sale of shares in the burgeoning enterprise were as yet unresolved and, with several additional problems, the adventure came to an abrupt end. Of the thousands of houses that were to be assembled in the months following, only two left the factory.
Fuller attempted to modify the original design to adapt it for military use. Several drawings testify to these changes; one can see the raised house with a garage underneath, or transformed into a multi-level field hospital with a crane-lift on the exterior facade. These models did not go beyond the drawing board, and the project ended for good.
It was as if the underlying concepts had reached a certain level of concretization that made it impossible to introduce any modifications to the base model without altering its intrinsic substance. The Dymaxion House had found its ideal form and resisted further change.
Dymaxion on Earth
The thick-draped house of the photographs and the prototype assembled by a few workers in record time were really mirages. They were in actual fact 1:1 models of an in-development project.
After the business folded, a Kansas investor purchased the fragments of the house of the future for one dollar. In 1948, he combined the components of the two copies at a lakeside site in Rose Hill, Kansas, finally converting the Dymaxion House into a real home.
The new owners of the dwelling — for once, a flesh-and-blood family — transformed Fuller's prototype into a vacation home adapted to their needs and preferences. Besides the peripheral stone wall, the access area was left unaltered. Seen from the lake, however, a second story seemed to be wedged underneath the house, opening onto a terrace overlooking the water.
Apart from the debatable architectural merit of the renovation by the new — or rather, the first — real owners, the modifications made to Fuller's inward-looking house deserve further analysis. Its smooth facade was left unchanged; there were no new windows added, no openings sealed up, nor any additional decorative details. Bet even if its exterior dimensions remained intact, the house was enlarged from below; a new floor opened and anchored the house to the landscape.
As if searching for the foundations it never had, the rootless house was finally fastened to the earth. In short order, the Dymaxion House became all that its author had avoided — stone walls and a heavy basement were added, interrupted by an expanse of glazing.
With these additions, the house revealed a set of contrasts that paradoxically favored the characteristics of the original model; in the process, however, it became a caricature of itself. The compact, change-resistant capsule was brought to earth and irreparably tied to the ground. The shell of the dwelling machine was transformed into the top of a subterranean construction: it became a cupola, a tank turret, the tip of an iceberg.
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Federico Neder teaches at the University of Geneva, is a principal of Amaldi-Neder architectes, and is editor of the architectural journal FACES. His research and published articles focus on the history of domesticity and on 20th-century "machines for living." Before settling in Switzerland, Neder worked in Los Angeles designing film sets and in Paris for architect Dominique Perrault.
This article is excerpted from Fuller Houses: R. Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Dwellings and Other Domestic Adventures by Federico Neder, copyright © 2008, with permission of the publisher, Lars Müller Publishers. Translated from the French by Elsa Lam.