HUMANIZING THE FACTORY PRODUCED HOUSE
This work proposes
a way to be green in architecture, a way that focuses on process
in building both in and beyond the factory. A key feature of Fuller's work was geometry. Geometry, with its
repeating similar forms, and smaller similar parts has 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
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, with visible joinery illustrating
the simple means of construction and assembly fostering more
interactivity for the user and a sense of creativity and unlimited
possibilities, redefining structures in playful expressions of
Bringing a natural
order back into building.
Place, circa 1973
This work started
in 1972 with multi-module, 4'
sq. plywood cubes for Play Mountain Place, a Culver City area
private alternative school. A 9'-6" dia. plywood hut followed,
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 (see the Play
Mountain Grounds), except for
a diversion into the octet truss space frame. Although significant
time was spent with strut structures, the design kept returning
to panel structures similar to the original cube and octahedral
based hut, in which plywood was used both as structure and surface
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. The design evolved either in 2"
scale models or at sizes appropriate for play
structures of which PLAYGODA is the newest. And, though the
plywood panel systems don't provide many of the features required
in a building, they do provide structure and a a 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.
Place, circa 2007
The DH1 Disaster House
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 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.
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
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
Four models are shown
at right. They are early versions of a variety of different interpretations
of these similar orthogonal variations of the Archimedean solids,
see above. As opposed to the DH 1 these structures are again
inter-modular, that is the modules are designed to interconnect
with each other.
The following images
show the 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
The full size plywood
sheet model (photo at top) is 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.
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 model (2007 assembly)
3mm Ultra thin Finland Birch
TRINITY 2007 model
2-3mm Ultra thin birch
COMEBACK CUBE 2008
The newest of the structure
designs, a single COMEBACK CUBE debuted full size at Dwell on
Design 2008 at the LA Convention Center. The design was explored
in connection with TRIENNALE MILANO though
not finished in time for anything other than purported 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.
COMEBACK CUBE 2008 models
March 2008, 3mm Ultra thin birch plywood.
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.
COMEBACK CUBE 2008
as it exists as of 11-4-2008
SEE THE ASSEMBLY