Rapid initial Set-Up structures for long term use.


The goal of this work is to develop a new geometrical paradigm that can bring a natural order back into building. Bucky Fuller had a unique approach to architecture. A key feature of his work was geometry, which provided many advantages. This work follows that thread.

In architecture today, the green movement focuses mostly on the origins of material and use of energy. This work proposes that there is another way to be green in architecture, a way that focuses on process in building going beyond the factory. It is in geometry, with its repeating similar forms, and smaller similar parts that we find the advantages we are looking for. These include greater structural efficiency, manufacturing economies, easier handling, less specialized work force, and lower start up costs. What distinguishes this geometry from Fuller's is that it excludes the pentagon, instead focusing generally on the cube and the octagon, more specifically variations of a 3D checkerboard of cubes or "rhombicubes". When oriented in different ways, these cubes have provided for a veritable bouquet of new and different building types to sprout up using faceted geometrical faces that can provide a new and more natural look and feel to our buildings.

The functionality also becomes ornamental, with visible joinery illustrating the simple means of construction and assembly. These designs allow more interactivity for the user and foster a sense of creativity and unlimited possibilities, redefining structures in playful expressions of geometrical harmony.

COMEBACK CUBE SS-03 2008 models
March 2008, 3mm Ultra thin birch plywood.


This work started in 1972 with multi-module, 4' sq. plywood cubes. A second structure was a 9'-6" dia. plywood hut made with 4' sq. plywood panels (is there a trend here?). The next 20 years was spent on other versions of single module structures (domes primarily, both icosahedral and octahedral) except for diversions into octet truss space frames. Although significant time was spent with strut structures, the design kept returning to panel structures similar to the original octahedral based hut, in which plywood was used both as structure and surface element.

In 1995 , these simple little hut structures became multi-modular, as the connections and shape of the little hut magically morphed into a multi-module network all with the same connections. A scientist named Robert Wilson had chronicled the geometry of these 3D networks in 1968. He used paper models to represent the forms. By referencing the new structures against Wilson's work, it was determined that these were "rhombic dodecahedrons" (what I now call "rhombicubes") connected into 3D arrays. Since that time, experiments have refined the systems, including the development of the frame structure options.

Most all of this work consisted of the use of router cut birch plywood panels with integral slots and notches. And, though the plywood panel systems don't provide many of the features required in a building, they do provide structure and an interior skin which can be adapted to specific sites. They provide quality materials in efficient solutions and they demonstrate the effectiveness of a geometry which can also be used with other methods and materials.

The DH1 Disaster House 2006

In 2004, I redirected my work to the use of digital design and production. This allowed a higher level of detail, more rapid realization, and the ability to increase scale more easily. The DH1 project began in early 2006, at the insistence of Prof. Nathan Shapira, who was curating a show for me at the Pacific Design Center at the time and said it was something I could not do without.

The initial focus was to develop a solution for the homeless here in Los Angeles. A first solution was built in model form, full size would have been 14' square, intended to sit on asphalt parking lots at police stations or other facilities. Each of four roof surface sections was formed with two 4 x 8 sheets, supported by a sectional frame. A bit too fussy, perhaps, the solution was set aside more for being too uninteresting. The wall slope did borrow from the "rhombicube" at 19.5 degrees and this angle was carried over to the DH1.

A structural floor was added to the DH model and the roof and floor module became 5 feet. This simplified the framing and assembly. The 5' module is visible in the exterior in the pair of doors on each face and the roof panels. The corner wall assemblies are made with two vertical 4 x 8 sheets and a corner beveled part and provide both vertical and lateral support.

1972-2001 - Structural History Montage 

The full-size DH1 prototype was first cut for a show (SWARM GALLERY in Oakland Calif., June 2006), and assembled again for another show at the Anaheim Convention Center, also in 2006, both times by four people. The first time took 5 hrs. to assemble, the second time 3 1/2 hrs. after the design of the roof framing details were revised. Disassembly took about the same amount of time.

The DH1 is constructed entirely with slotted plywood, more specifically router cut slots in sustainable "Finland Birch Plywood" describing generally an exterior grade of (phenolic resin coated) solid birch plywood from the Baltic regions of northern Europe. The CNC router is the universal work horse of production shops worldwide. No other shop set up requirements.

Allowable Stress (psi): Extreme Fiber Stress in Bending 3,600. Compression in Plane of Panel 2,500. Rolling Shear Stress 100. Modulus of Elasticity 2,200,000 Other features of value about the DH is: It is modular (intra modular) with smaller pieces that can be handled without cranes or other means. Repetitive designs snap together without fasteners or other hardware, nothing to lose, less complexity in manufacturing. Although it is strong, it is flexible. Very safe in earthquakes, though it does need to be tied down for wind by some means. It was designed with a structural floor on four pier points for use in difficult environments.

The use of quality materials is intended to allow for the integration of the DH1 modules into the permanent solution for the neighborhoods in which they are deployed. The structure as it exists is intended to be initially insulated with indigenous materials such as straw and then wrapped with a canvas or plastic membrane, In a warm island climate just a rain fly might suffice.

The DH1 Disaster House 2006
3/4" Finland Birch




The DH1 is only one of several designs I have been exploring recently. Four schematic other models are shown at right. They are a variety of different interpretations of the same geometry, the orthogonal variations of the Archimedean solids, see above. These structures are inter-modular, that is the modules are designed to interconnect with each other.They are just as valid when it comes to something also described as "Rapid initial Set-Up structures for long term use" although more conceptual in nature.

The following images show three more highly developed most recent designs. There are two orientations, one that is square-octagonal, one that is hexagonal. There are two basic types of structures, one all panels, one with added frame parts. The first and last have been built 1:1, the second only as a model.


Shelter System 01 2006

The full size plywood sheet model made from 55 5' x 10' sheets of 3/4" European Birch Plywood. The plywood is cut into 276 panels or parts of 28 types. This amount of material provides 370 square feet in three rooms, two 9' cubes and a larger 15' wide beveled module. The cubes have a structural floor while the beveled module is truncated at 80% and open to the ground or slab surface. As in the DH1, the plywood sheet structure provided here is intended to be adapted to the requirements of the particular site or region in which it is installed. If sprayed foam is the insulating material of choice, then thickness would be dependent on climate. Exterior membrane would be chosen for compatible durability relative to the time of use, perhaps stucco or metal skin for a permanent installation, and fabric or plastic sheeting for more transitory. A big advantage here is that the structure is multistory capable as the enormous capacity of the Birch Plywood will support two stories without additional members or costs.

Of, course, it goes without saying that the structure also works in an island climate with only a canvas or other membrane cover, and when used inside a larger office or warehouse space it provides an elegant solution to the executive meeting room and spa.






TRINITY Shelter System 02 2007

The model for the SS-02 was first assembled in March of 2007. It represents 1000 sq. ft. of floor space in two levels. At full scale the floor to floor height is 9'-0", the modules are hexagonal and 14'-0" wide. It has a clearspan upper level roof and double skin walls available for insulation or other filler (concrete for energy storage, perhaps). Although it is not necessary that it remains without fasteners other than its slots and notches, this is a feature that insures rapid initial assembly. For a full size installation I suggest pre-attaching metal facing on the plywood sheet wall panels before cutting, then covering the connection regions and vertical corners etc. with more sheet metal channels, etc. This is a unusual and very beautiful model and I would very much like to see it full size.

 SS-01 2006
3/4" Finland Birch

TRINITY SS-02 2007 model
2-3mm Ultra thin birch

COMEBACK CUBE Shelter System 03 2008

The newest of the structure designs, a single COMEBACK CUBE debuted full size at Dwell on Design this year at the LA Convention Center. The design was explored in connection with
TRIENNALE MILANO though not finished in time for anything other than catalogue inclusion. The full size single cube module is made from 3/4 inch sustainable Finland Birch. It measures 9 feet by 9 feet by 9 feet, with 81 square feet of interior space and an 81 square foot rooftop deck, permit exempt (single cube).

It has many special features including: A roof deck access ladder, a roof deck guardrail, 36 inch wide entry door, 33 inch diameter side wall window openings, 48 inch square rear wall window opening, and a 7 foot by 5 foot entry landing. Other options include side wall extensions, 4.5 feet per panel, upper floor modules, 2 types of ladders, a spiral stair, and entry ramp access.

Some notes (that also apply to other structures): Indoor use; no special requirements. Exterior use; a phenolic resin coating renders the panel surfaces waterproof. Wall edges can be oiled to allow for intermittent contact with water (such as sprinklers and drizzle) or caulked; deck joints should be caulked or treated with an elastomeric deck coating to insure impermeability. Permanent installations can be finished of like any other house, with insulation, mechanical systems, and conventional exterior treatments, like stucco.

A quick and elegant temporary structure, backyard studio, guest house, or main house.

COMEBACK CUBE SS-03 2008 model
3mm Ultra thin birch


2008 Gregg Fleishman