R. Buckminster Fuller spent much of the early 20th Century looking for ways to improve human shelter by:
- Applying modern technological know-how to shelter construction.
- Making shelter more comfortable and efficient.
- Making shelter more economically available to a greater number of people.
After acquiring some experience in the building industry and discovering the traditional practices and perceptions which severely limit changes and improvements in construction practices, Fuller carefully examined, and improved, interior structure equipment, including the toilet (similar to the ones now used in airplanes), the shower (which cleans more efficiently using less water), and the bathroom as a whole. He studied structure shells, and devised a number of alternatives, each less expensive, lighter, and stronger than traditional wood, brick, and stone buildings.
He could do this, in part, because newer building materials were available, and partly because his structures use the principle of tension instead of the usual compression. About these homes, Fuller writes in 1928, "These new homes are structured after the natural system of humans and trees with a central stem or backbone, from which all else is independently hung, utilizing gravity instead of opposing it. This results in a construction similar to an airplane, light, taut, and profoundly strong." (4D Timelock)
The Dymaxion House in Wichita, Kansas
In 1944, the United States suffered a serious housing shortage. Government officials knew that Fuller had developed a prototype single family dwelling which could be produced rapidly, using the same equipment which had previously built war-time airplanes. They could be "installed" anywhere, the way a telephone is installed, and with little additional difficulty. When one official flew to Wichita, Kansas to see this house, which Beech Aircraft and Fuller built, the man reportedly gasped, "My God! This is the house of the future!"
Soon, unsolicited checks poured in from people who wanted to purchase this new kind of house, but Fuller was never able to get it into full production. This was due to many obstacles such as only union contractors were able to hook the houses up to water, power and sewers in many cities. However, because the houses were already wired and had the plumbing installed by the aircraft company, many construction trade unions made it clear that they would not work on the houses. There were also in-house differences between Fuller and the stockholders. Fuller did not feel the house design was complete; there were problems he wanted to fix. But the stockholders wanted to move ahead. However, the main obstruction was obtaining the financing for the tooling costs, which were
purposefully not included in the negotiations with Beech. No bank would finance the project with union problems and stockholder battles.
After the war, Fullerís efforts focused on the problem of how to build a shelter which is so lightweight, it can be delivered by air. Shelter should be mobile which would require great breakthroughs in the weight-reduction of the materials. Technology would have to follow natureís design as seen by the spiderís web which can float in a hurricane because of its high strength-to-weight ratio. New shelter would have to be designed that incorporates these principles and that was Fullerís intent.
Spherical Housing History