Dome Building

Drop City Chicken Coop

Whenever the entwined notions of sustainability, green building, environmentalism and the lingering remains of the 60s counterculture address architecture and the places we live in, inevitably Buckminster Fuller influenced forms seem to just spring from the landscape like mushrooms after a particularly wet winter. Perhaps the idealism of folks interested in saving the world, especially do-it-yourself types, lends itself to visionary solutions. But these same dome building visionaries are also known for leaky, impractical, expensive and ugly geodesic domes draped in ill-fitting brown asphalt roofing material.

There are some basic problems with domes. The primary one is that, like it or not, building materials tend to come in 4 by 8 foot dimensions or some even numbered and square shaped variation. This makes Buckminster Fuller’s complex geodesic shapes very impractical to build, at least if you care about cost and wasted materials. The other problem is that people, especially Westerners are square. We sit, stand and lay down–for the most part all 90º activities. Our square and vertical beds, chairs and tables reflect this reality. Square people with their square furniture tend not to fit well in the round shape of your typical hippie dome. This is not to mention all those complex angles involved in building the damn things, and the fact that all of these intersecting angles will someday leak. And we can’t also forget the embarrassing possibilities of the whispering dome effect, where the shape of the dome acts as a sound reflector, bouncing intimate sounds from one end of your domed domicile to the other.

The Integratron

But domes have an undeniable beauty, a pureness of form and it’s no coincidence that domes are often used for religions temples and governmental buildings. Homegrown Revolution was lucky to be able to visit one of the more eccentric domes in the world, UFO contactee George Van Tassel’s enigmatic Integratron, located in Landers California. The Integratron, originally built as a sort of cosmic healing device or perhaps as a time machine, is a startling dome build entirely out of wood without a single nail.

So having spent a delightful hour in the Integratron, we thought we’d do a quick roundup of domes for all the DIY visionaries out there.

First off, Homegrown Revolution reader andrewed tipped us off to C.E. Henderson’s Conic Shelterâ„¢. Henderson has devised an attractive not-really-a-dome form that works with, rather than against the ubiquitous 4 x 8′ sheet of plywood.

The Zome dome is a geometrical form that also works better with standard building materials. It’s most popular in rural France, but there are numerous examples in North America, as well as a children’s toy that looks like fun. Passive solar guru Steve Baer is responsible both for the Zome as architecture and toy.

For those who want to get busy in the backyard and construct a simple dome out of scavenged materials, here’s a great resource.

And on also on the simpler end of the visionary spectrum we have this humble geodesic chicken coop.

The Tiny House

One of the ongoing struggles of eking out a living in any of the world’s big cities is the shortage of affordable housing. Houses and condos are out of reach of many, and apartments are expensive rent plantations run by greedy and evil landlords. Meanwhile, in rural America, most new housing consists of trailers, euphemistically known as “manufactured housing”. Trailers offer interesting possibilities, even for urbanites. But while it’s possible to pimp out an old trailer and make a decent living space, it’s hard to escape the fact that these structures were meant to be hauled down a highway and used for camping. Trailers often have a transient and less than homey vibe.

Between the extremes of conventional housing and trailers there is an interesting, and revolutionary alternative. In 1997 Jay Shafer took it upon himself to try an experiment in radical simplicity and create the smallest possible living space he could. Measuring just 100 square feet, his tiny house violated local building codes for the minimum amount of living space required for each occupant. So Shafer attached wheels to it and called it a trailer. But unlike a trailer, his house and subsequent houses he designed have an attention to detail, and a coziness not found in your typical Winnebago. His first tiny house has a kitchen, bath, and upstairs sleeping loft. Subsequent designs even have room for stacking laundry.

His passion for living on a very small footprint became a business, the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, which now sells both competed units and plans for do it yourselfers. We particularly like the look of the X-S and the X-T house.

While certainly not for everyone, we like the flexibility that these building have. Put wheels on them and you can move your house with you. They are small enough to fit behind someone else’s house allowing for the possibility of both renting a small space and owning your own building all in one cozy package. If you can find a vacant lot, such a small house could be the ideal start of your urban homestead, leaving plenty of yard space for growing your own food.

And these small building literally sip utilities making them ideal for hooking up to solar power and very cheap to heat and cool. They are also expandable as your needs or family grows. And perhaps most importantly, they prevent expansion of all the things we don’t need, the giant plasma screens, the inflatable Christmas decor and all the other clutter causing detritus of our consumer culture.

For more information on the tiny house movement, author Shay Salomon and photographer Nigel Valdez will do a free slide show and talk about their book Little House on a Small Planet as a part of local permaculture expert David Khan’s introduction to permaculture on Saturday January 20th 2007 at 10:00 am at the Audubon Center at Debs Park:

4700 North Griffin Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90031

Salomon and Valdez will also be appearing at the L.A. Eco-Village on Sunday January 21st at 8:00 p.m. ($10 sliding scale okay). For reservations for the talk at the L.A. Eco-Village call (213) 738-1254 or [email protected]
. The L.A. Eco-Village is located at 117 Bimini Place.

Clever Canadian Shitter

Way back in 1998 the Canada Mortgage and Housing association sponsored a “Healthy Housing Design Competition“. The winning house included this novel waste composting system as shown in this thrilling video. OK, so SurviveLA has a weakness for industrial video, but you just can’t beat the combination of rotating shit and peppy music–we just wish he’d drink the water in that glass.

Street Signs and Solar Ovens

If SurviveLA put together a museum show it would, pretty much, look like an exhibit currently at the Craft and Folk Art Museum entitled “Street Signs and Solar Ovens: Socialcraft in Los Angeles” which is on view until December 31st. Curated by the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, this timely show focuses on objects that demonstrate creative, low-tech solutions to the environmental and political mess we find ourselves in.

We were particularly struck by the display case full of soda cans transformed by LA survivalist Christopher Nyerges into a variety of uses including lamps and stoves (see SurviveLA’s earlier post on creating a Pepsi can stove). Nyerges also contributed two improvised solar ovens, one made out of a discarded pizza box.

Other highlights include a functioning still by Alison Wiese, the stunning knitted clothing of Lisa Auerbach, items from the Path to Freedom urban homestead and contributions from the fine folks at C.I.C.L.E.

So, get on your bike, head down to the Craft and Folk Art Museum, and see this provocative show!

Craft and Folk Art Museum Hours:
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 11am – 5pm
Thursday 11am – 7pm
Saturday-Sunday 12pm – 6pm

Museum Admissions:
$5.00 adults
$3.00 students/seniors
Free for children 12 and under
Free admission on the first Wednesday of every month.

Location:
5814 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036