Re: Domes and Pattern Languages
From: Vinay Gupta (
Date: Mon, 21 Apr 1997 04:27:55 -0500
>>>[Do people not come up with round floor plans because of]
>prior conditioning and expectations about how houses are
>"supposed" to look.<<
>       Check out A Pattern Language and ask this question again.

I'm definitely feeling underinformed here!  I shall do some research
before coming back to this area.

>>>Wikkiups and Tepis both have round floorplans.<<
>       Don't know about Wikkiups, but don't tepis have very
>few rooms per building?  They were also working with quite a bit
>of land per family, so they could afford to waste some.  Further,
>weren't they basically temporary structures?

Yes to all of the above; the Mandan earth mounds, which I forgot
to mention, are actually most similar to domes in general shape, 
being both permanent and large.  And you're right: few rooms.

This isn't to imply that domes are usually openplan, however -
most floorplans are actually close approximations of the space
useage patterns you'd expect in a conventional house: various
bedrooms, main living room / lounge, often with ajacent kitchen,
that sort of thing.  Sometimes there is a large circular open
plan space on the top floor, sometimes not.

I think that some of the other dome companies on the web may
have floor plans on their sites: worth a look - I think you'll
find them to be much less unusual than you would expect.

>       Really?  Should we sacrifice good places for this?  Are

I challenge the implicit assertion that domes are bad places.

>unsuitable places which use less material (or whatever the advantages
>of domes may be) better than places which actually meet our needs?
>I'm not talking about opulence.  I'm talking about making the most
>of what you have by making the building actually function well.

The "function" of a building is a very interesting question.

Last year, before starting this business, I spent some time homeless
in the USA, riding freight trains and camping outside towns.  I didn't
spend long doing it, only a few months, and I did it by choice rather
than out of neccessity, but it has forever changed my views on what
a building is and is for.

I feel the first duty of any buiding is to keep it's inhabitants
safe and sheltered.  After that, that it should be a good habitat
for humans to live in and grow in, but that it needn't always be
more than that.  By which I mean that in the USA, people seem
to have forgotten that a house is a place to live, and not
the purpose and object of life.

>       You say later that domes are not suited for urban situations?
>Is it sustainable for even more people to move out of the cities?

The factors which make domes unsuitable for urban situations
are purely matters of conformity: in a community of dome houses,
a rectangular house would be quite unsuitable.  I think that's
the only hitch.  

I, personally, do not think I ever want to go back to living 
in the city.  I wouldn't want to deny any other person 
the right to leave such a place in search of another.  If
by making it cheaper and easier for people to set up their place
in the country, alone or in groups, I facilitate them moving towards
their goals and desires, so be it.

I think each person must decide, on the basis of desire and
conscience, where and how they will live.

>       The pattern "Long Thin House" is meant, fundamentally,
>to solve the problem of making a house feel spacious with limited
>resources available.  With a circle floorplan, you're stuck in
>the room next door to your housemates.  You can't go to the other
>end of the house if you need some time alone.
>       It might be worth a little more heat - or you could make
>up the difference with more insulation and build a smaller, yet
>larger feeling house.

Hm.  Again, I think there are some questions about aesthetics here.
To my eye, dome houses feel very large for the actual floorspace
enclosed.  How you and I "feel space" may differ.  I don't know
enough about the concepts outlined in the books you talked about
earlier to feel qualified to comment.

I'm actually rather in favour of small homes, particularly the kind
designed to be added to over the years.  The Frank Lloyd Wright houses
I saw in Wisconsin really impressed me because they had been thought of
as living buildings right from the beginning, and that really opened up
some new ways of thinking for me.  But they aren't the global solution
any more than dome houses are.

It's a diversity thing.

>>>Courtyards are even worse, maximising how much of the space is
>exposed to the elements.<<
>       If it triples the usable space in your home, wouldn't
>it be worth it?  One side of the courtyard could be a neighbor's
>house or a garage or something else, too.

Hm.  I *like* courtyards; as a kid I used to play in the shared
courtyard formed by the space between the local houses all the
time, and it was a great social space.  

In the design of community housing, I think the creation of
spaces which furnish such opportunities is vital.  But I'd
hate to do it at the cost of less energy efficient dwellings
and more costly housing all round.  Exactly how these things
are balanced against eachother is art, however, and not science.

I, personally, having contracted a healthy dislike of the
industrialised economy, feel it's important for people to
have the choice of living simply and with less hard cash
in their hands, that they may be freer to choose how they
spend their lives.  I feel a little proud to be taking
practical action, however small and indirect, to helping
others find new options and new ways to live, and I take
my work seriously.

>       Is firewood sustainable?  (Not that I'm against it myself,
>but historically, some countries cleared entire forrests for firewood.)

Agreed.  Solar is really the Big Winner, particularly passive solar,
and everything else is really also-ran in the home heating stakes.

I'd still personally take firewood over grid power, as long as the
wood was from downed trees or sane forrestry, but I can see it 
various ways and am not knowledgeable enough to debate without
putting my foot in my mouth <grin>.

>       We do agree, however, that domes are more suited for isolated
>situations than for high density, (though I would include cohousing as
>"high density.)

As a rule, yes, I think that's the case.

>       Alexander, incidentally, is against the use of timber for
>building houses.

Hm.  That's very interesting.  I rather like the way wooden
dwellings feel, but I suppose that's just a personal thing.

>       I think you missed the point.  I'm saying that although you
>say a dome costs half as much as a conventional home, I'm saying
>that since the spaces both inside and outside the dome are forced
>to comply with the shape of the dome, rather than vice-versa, the
>dome has less than half the utility (usefulness?) of a conventional
>home (in any application my narrow mind can imagine.)  You're paying
>less, getting less, and wasting land, another limited resource.

Hm... I think you're overstating the case to suggest that a dome
house has "less than half the utility of a conventional home";
I think that's quite unfair actually, and I'd ask you to reconsider
the criteria by which you judge the utility or usefulness of a 

To be honest, I've never thought of dome housing as being any
kind of panacea in the ways which a lot of dome booster type
people do.  I'd never suggest building a dome in a place
where adobe is the norm, nor for people who're interested in
doing ongoing building work on their home, or dozens of other
cases.  I think that dome housing is very, very good at meeting
a specific set of needs, and in that arena, near unbeatable.

For highly damage resistant houses, like beach houses in
tornado areas, domes are excellent.

For unskilled builders, they're excellent - even the fairly
cackhanded can get one together.

For people who are looking for an energy efficient building,
they're probably the best game in town (although a good
earth sheltered, passive solar house could certainly give
one a run for it's money).

For people who are building on a budget, they're really
quite splendid.  Either around half the mortgage, or
around twice the floorspace.... I mean... it's rather
hard to argue that this is something worth considering,
isn't it?

And from my standpoint, we're all on a budget: the wealth
americans enjoy is largely sucked from the third and second
worlds through unfair trade agreements and gunboat
diplomacy.  Earn less, spend less, live simply: you know
it makes sense.


Vinay Gupta
Worldview Livingspace

PS: if I'm getting off topic or otherwise out of line for
this list, please let me know - don't want to clutter your
mboxes needlessly.

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