[Please note: The following is taken from pp. 204-206 of "Buckyworks", by J. Baldwin. It succinctly sums up one of the primary goals of the Reality Sculptors Project: that of providing housing solutions for as many people as possible. It also lays out a possible plan for the development and deployment of Autonomous Houses and explains a bit of the underlying philosophy behind such a structure. - Patrick Salsbury]

A Global Dwelling Service

It took Bucky a while to understand why his designs did not revolutionize the building industry: There was no building industry to revolutionize. There still isn't. It's time.

We've had the technology to make Dymaxion Houses for about fifty years. Why can't you buy one? As Bucky found out with his Stockade blocks (see p. 4 [of Buckyworks - Pat]), the product is only part of an industry. He didn't have much luck dealing with marketing, distribution, servicing, customer relations, codes, zoning, environmental regulations, and all the rest of the infrastructure required to support a business. As we've seen, Bucky was a concept man.

There is also the matter of maintaining quality in a competitive situation. People tend to buy on price alone, giving little thought to the cost of operation over the lifetime of the product. Using clever advertising, the cheapest product with tolerable quality wins most of the market.

What sells best is not necessarily the best. Moreover, there is no incentive for manufacturers to achieve state-of-the-art. Styling and other superficial changes keep customers coming. The huge capital outlay for a big change can be put off as long as possible. (The outlay can be huge indeed: Developing a completely new model of automobile costs several billion dollars.) Major improvements come slowly, as the discussion of gestation rates on page 12 [of Buckyworks - Pat] shows.

Like any high-performance technology, a Dymaxion House would be optimized -- a goal that does not cross the minds of most architects, much less the designers of mobile homes. Optimizing results in a different class of product. For example, the automobile and the airplane are about the same age. A century after their inception, automobiles are nowhere near as efficient or reliable as they can be. The finest European luxury cares are conceptually identical to a Model T -- essentially the same except in detail.

Aircraft are built to be as efficient as possible. Reliable quality is a necessary goal -- you can't get out and walk if something goes wrong. The latest stealth bomber owes little to the Wright brothers.

A Dymaxion House owes little to past architects. It would be more akin to an aircraft than to a a car. Except in price.

Aircraft are paid off over many years of service. Autos don't last long enough for that -- they are prime examples of planned obsolescence. (Easily degraded conventional houses are examples of unplanned obsolescence.) The Dymaxion House would be close to the price of an auto -- recall that Bucky correctly calculated that a high-tech house should cost about the same per pound as a car, and could thus be paid off as if it were a car. But that would still make it far too expensive for the very people who need it most. Bucky had an easy answer to that dilemma. Lease it -- but not as a car is leased. Lease it in the same way that telephones were leased per month, before the breakup of the Bell Telephone System.

System is the key concept here. Alexander Graham Bell wisely concluded that he was not selling telephone equipment; he was selling communications service. He recognized that selling hardware would soon result in low-quality equipment that would degrade the quality of the whole system. Bell made its own phones at the highest possible quality to maximize performance and minimize the need for repairs. The company upgraded its owned equipment as technology advanced. Remember dials, "number please" phones, and the ones with a crank?

The monthly phone bill also reflected each customer's tiny share of the enormously expensive system of wires, poles, switching apparatus, operating personnel, research, and manufacturing -- all utterly unaffordable even to millionaires, if it had to be bought outright.

The scheme worked: The relative cost of calls has dropped every year since the company started, despite the company being a monopoly. In all but the poorest countries, telephone service is now available to everyone, at least on an emergency basis. Recent competition may or may not have reduced the cost of the system to the average user. Retail telephone hardware is certainly not as durable these days.

A Global Dwelling Service could take many forms. Complete Dymaxion Houses could be shipped assembled or as kits, with or without an Autonomous Package of some sort. They could be stacked to reduce land use and sprawl. They might be Garden-of-Eden climate-controlling shells that could be erected anywhere in the world to protect whatever was required.

Another scheme would ship molds and drums of molding compound instead of finished houses or kits of parts. Regional factories would then produce and service houses that were perfectly matched to local conditions and needs. Local industry could furnish the appliances and furniture, though the appliances would have to be of good quality and high performance to gain the advantages inherent in the Dymaxion structure.

Service would always be a part of the lease, and could include delivering supplies and removing waste. Appliances and the units themselves would be upgraded, replaced, or recycled as the technology improved. There would be a market for used houses and components.

Autonomous models would totally change the way people think of housing. House is architecture. Housing is a social matter. Widespread use could make cities obsolete in their present role as warehouses for goods and people. Bucky thought that, "Like a ship, houses will not be sold on a piece of land, any more than a ship is sold on a piece of water." Worldwide standards would be applied to manufactured Dymaxion Houses, International agreements would make codes obsolete, just as autos and television sets do not have to meet the quirks of local codes.

Houses could be moved or replaced with more appropriately sized models if necessary. Seasonal migration would be feasible. Because the houses would be light enough to ship by air, less-developed countries would be able to raise their standard of living without building expensive and destructive road networks. They would enter the new era with air travel as the principal mode of long-distance transport. Birds don't have to learn to run before they can fly.

Bucky saw a simple Dymaxion House as a replacement for the mobile home or prefab house, but there is no reason that deluxe models could not be developed. A worldwide market would demand the production quantities necessary to attract the capital and reap the benefits of mass production. It is an industry that has gestated long enough.

The first Global Dwelling Service consortium will be taking a risk, but they will also have the potential to completely change the fragmented way we build, just as the VW Beetle transformed a business dominated by fat cars.

Initial financing may come from industries crippled by the collapse of the Cold War, finally bringing to pass the "weaponry-to-livingry" dream Bucky tried to bring in with the Wichita House. There was enough money to build Cold War killing hardware; the same money can now be used for more humane purposes. Once they are available, Dymaxion dwellings will be accepted worldwide for the same reason automobiles have been accepted worldwide: They fill a need. A true building industry is ready to be born.


Patrick G. Salsbury


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