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The Most Unusual Lost Prefabricated Building

The biggest advantage of using prefabricated steel buildings is that the principle of prefabrication provides the most for the least, and steel is one of the strongest and most versatile materials suitable for prefabrication.

This efficiency is not just found in the use of materials but also design and labour costs; setting up a kit-builT steel building needs significantly less time and fewer resources than conventional construction, and this can lead to dramatically lower costs.

As well as this, prefabrication offers the scope to create radically new designs that befit radically new construction methods, and one of the most unique examples of this was a building that fit in a tube that would unfortunately not reach full production and live up to its extraordinary promise.

Only one example of the Dymaxion House exists, but through it is a lost vision of a dramatically different kit-built future.

Dynamic, Maximum, Tension

With a design similar to a Mongolian yurt and inspired by Siberian grain silos, the Dymaxion House was the invention of Richard Buckminster Fuller, an architect and engineer best known for inventing the geodesic dome.

First devised in 1927, the initial idea was to take the assembly line mass production approach that had proven so effective in the world of automobiles and translate it to housing, with the belief that this would significantly cut costs to the point that a Dymaxion House would cost the same as an expensive car.

The term Dymaxion came from this idea, and was a combination of three words that summed up the prefabrication principle; Dymaxion would make the most from the least energy input.

This is not a new approach, and indeed by the time Mr Fuller worked on what would become Dymaxion House, entire catalogues existed of houses that could be purchased as a kit, although these often required foundation work and were typically made of wood rather than steel.

However, what was different, and something that is still largely uncommon with prefabricated buildings to this day was that it featured a hexagonal, later rounded, design built around a central supporting mast that housed all of the permanent utilities.

This meant that the space around the central necessities could be customised according to the needs of the family that lived within it, as well as an elaborate roof section that could allow for passive cooling or insulation depending on whether the “cap” was open or closed.

However, whilst a much simpler Dymaxion Deployment Unit was made for the United States Army in 1942 at a cost of $1250 per unit, at least until a steel shortage ended production, the Dymaxion House itself was never completed, at least not to Mr Fuller’s specifications.

The two prototypes made, the indoor Barwise and the outdoor Danbury, were both bought by an investor named William Graham, who put them together to create a unique housing extension.

Whilst the round structure and use of steel and aluminium would make it last a long time, both were energy-intensive materials, and the rounded design would need extensive retooling compared to a rectangular or hexagonal design.

Mr Fuller’s perfectionism also meant that he was unwilling to allow the design to be sold before its time. However, the prototype is housed at the Henry Ford Museum as a symbol of what could have been.


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