Good Designs by Others


For their simplicity, ease, economy, strength, beauty, and elegance, I recommend the following designs/methods for shelter construction. (Speed measured in hours, days, weeks):

Self-Strutting Geodesic Plydome (weeks)
Steve Miller’s perfection of Buckminster Fuller’s design for a frameless sphere (now proudly hosted here!)

Conic Shelter (weeks)
Chuck Henderson’s sweeping, simple, brilliant, circled-square construction

Hexayurt (hours)
Vinay Gupta’s 3-hour, $200, portable pop-up shelter + autonomous infrastructure

Superadobe (weeks)
Nadir Khalili’s giant upside down coil pot shelters elegantly made from war materials

Straw Bale Dome (weeks)
my design for a frameless, superinsulated, catenary, corbelled, cheap shelter, based on superadobe

Cardboard Geodesic Dome (days)
I started work on improving this. See pics of Seattle and Sweden Domes here.

The above designs are all shell constructions. That is, they are frameless. Why? Because frames should not be used to hold up materials that can hold up themselves. There is no integrity in that approach. I mean I find it a shame to put up a frame, then hang on it a rigid or semi-rigid material which can hold up itself and the whole building. While this approach does have the advantages of requiring no imagination or economy on the part of the owner, builder, or designer, I have chosen frameless designs that embody: a dynamic elegance bordering on anti-gravity; simplicity any 5 year-old can grasp; and an economy any schmuck can achieve.

The two designs below are proper applications of the frame-and-skin method of construction. That is, there is a very lightweight frame that supports fabric or film, a thin, flexible material possessing only tensile, not compressive strength (nor their combination: cantileverage).

Pillowdome (pdf)
Jay Baldwin’s perfection of Bucky’s Skybreak concept: a very light, “ephemeralized” frame-and-skin geodesic dome, with panels of noble gas-inflated fluoropolymeric (teflon/ptfe plastic) pillows. This ultimately led to the gigantic greenhouses at The Eden Project in England.

Warmlite Tent
Jack Stephenson’s masterful 2-5 person tents. He and his designs have had a huge influence on all my design thinking since 1995. Can you imagine, he went from being an insulation engineer on NASA space rockets to designing camping gear! After 40 years, his stuff is still decades ahead of its time. Only a few of his ideas have started to be copied in the last 5-10 years. I used to talk to him for hours on the phone while buying his gear and materials. Great guy.


Tribal Wish
Adrian Wolfe’s obscure, 10-year old, growing collection of essays on his 30-year quest to live in organic intimacy with others. This effort evolved into Gooble Dell, his home (and mine a few times in the past) in Eugene, Oregon, one of the oddest human menageries around. If Willy Wonka were a homeless man who camped inside a house inside a public park (true) with his friends (and a couple Oompa Loompas), this would be the house.

EarthBirth Research
Finn Po’s site on his multifarious, irrepressible, transcounter-cultural activities and visions. I got my first experiences with both darkness and domes from Finn while living and tinkering together at Maitreya Eco-Village, Eugene, Oregon.

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