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"Why are your houses so heavy?"

Ah, retrofuturism.

The Henry Ford Museum is, alas, nowhere I'm likely to visit any time soon, but they appear to have a cracking permanent exhibition: the one surviving example of R. Buckminster Fuller's legendary Dymaxion House. (Note: Dymaxion is a portmanteau word Fuller used for a lot of his projects — the car, the house, and so on. Oddly, he didn't use it for the geodesic domes with which he is associated.)

Fuller is a fascinating figure, and well worth the study hours for any would-be futurist. TL;DR: he was fascinated with design from an early age, studied architecture, and in the early 1930s had a pivotal life experience and decided to devote the rest of his life to trying to improve the lot of humanity. This he did by way of a number of really interesting design failures, finally culminating in his wildly successful geodesic domes. Along the way, the Dymaxion House was probably the most fascinating of his failures, because it was nothing short of an attempt to revolutionize how we live.

Modernist architects of the 20th century generally designed two types of house: those for rich architects and other members of the upper classes to enjoy, and grimly regimented concrete cookie-cutter apartment blocks for factory workers. Fuller's approach to housing was cookie-cutter-esque, insofar as he planned to mass-produce Dymaxion Houses on converted B-29 Superfortress production lines after the second world war, and ship them to their owners in freight containers, but as far as I know it was radically different in conception, purpose, and design from any of the other modular homes of the period. For one thing, he was interested in portability and nomadism; while a concrete foundation with utility connections was necessary, Fuller's idea of moving house was that you could pack your house down into a container that would fit on a truck, drive it to your new neighbourhood, and deploy it again — the design influences of the traditional Mongolian yurt should be obvious. The Dymaxion House used aluminium sheeting for floors and structures, suspended by wires from a central steel structural shaft: saving weight was a priority. As he famously asked an architect on one occasion, "why are your houses so heavy?"

For another thing, he took an early interest in minimizing the human impact on the environment. The Dymaxion House had passive air temperature control and a pressure-triggered roof vent to survive near-misses from tornados (by releasing over-pressure inside the building so that it didn't rupture). It had a then-unique mist-spray shower and a grey-water system to reduce water usage; Fuller was also interested in non-flush toilets.

Finally, it was intended to be mass produced for $6,500 per house in 1946 money — the cost of a high-end automobile — with a design life of 30-50 years. Early development was funded by the Pentagon, for reasons that should be obvious: WWII generated unprecedented demand for accommodation on bases overseas and, later, demand for housing in war-ravaged regions.

The story of why we aren't all living in Dymaxion houses today is a convoluted epic of business failure (for one thing, starting up a production line for houses using cutting-edge aerospace technology was something that had never been done before; for another, Bucky's business sense was not, sadly, as good as his design sense) that has been recounted in numerous biographies. What interests me about it is that it's a far more humane approach to the problem of providing housing for the masses than his Brutalist contemporaries, whose designs tended to be fixed, immovable, made cheaply out of low-end materials, and built with high density mass housing in mind rather than low impact customizability. It was also way ahead of the field in terms of awareness of environmental constraints; while we could design better today, we'd be making incremental tweaks, whereas Bucky came up with the original idea of modular, lightweight, mobile low-impact housing ab initio.

Unfortunately, Fuller's attempts at revolutionizing the housing market collapsed in bankruptcy and ignominy; all we're left with today is the restored prototype in the Henry Ford Museum. Meanwhile, our houses are mostly the same boring rectangular permanent structures they've always been, whether made of brick-clad cinder blocks capped by tiled roofs or of balloon-skin timber and plasterboard. They're not light, they're not relocatable, they're not easily customizable (beyond the cosmetic level), they're expensive, and they're murderously hard to retrofit to meet new lifestyles.

So it's with some interest that I note recent progress on using 3D printer technology to print buildings — or rather, complete complex concrete structures on site (such as, oh, foundation and utility supply plinths for modular houses). And I'm beginning to wonder if this presages a new upsurge of interest in innovative housing technology.

232 Comments

1:

Chris Wise (a structural engineer who used to be at Arup, before setting up a consultancy - you will be familiar with some of his stuff) has a bee in his bonnet about this sort of thing.

My other half has just finished cutting together a short interview with him talking about the use of materials in buildings although, sadly, it's not up on the expedition website yet (altho' the film on structural failures she did is up there and is a fun watch).

He's not as radical as Fuller (who is?), but perhaps he'll be more likely to achieve something substantive thereby.

Regards
Luke

PS
Hope the links work, the crippled browser on this machine sees them as links but can't follow them for some reason.

2:

Great minds and all that. Just the other day on FB I lamented Bucky Fuller's absence from just about all alternate histories. He's too young for steampunk, but dieselpunk makes for a near perfect fit.

I envisioned President Teddy Roosevelt, in his 6th term (1925), naming Tesla as his Secretary of Science and Progress, and naming Fuller to his Presidential Commission on Urban Affairs.

I figure that probably gets us a network of high speed transcontinental rail tubes by the late 20's.

3:

This is really all you need to know about the design concepts in the Dymaxion house...

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jason0x21/4182268440/

The future doesn't appear to include the handicapped.

I will say that there are some interesting concepts inside the house, but the whole thing feels like an unwieldy recreational vehicle, rather than a slim machine for living.

4:

That 3D printer link is really cool. You could build some extremely interesting structures with that. I'm picturing neighborhoods with curves and mini Gothic cathedrals.

5:

The future doesn't appear to include the handicapped.

You've forgotten that the Americans with Disabilities Act was only passed in 1990; few buildings designed prior to the 1970s made any concessions to the disabled and Fuller wasn't ahead of his time in this respect.

6:

I'm not sure that in terms of built-in provision for wheelchairs, the UK is in any position to claim "bragging rights" here.

7:

I don't think Charlie was doing anything but pointing out that the conditions at the time in the place in question didn't lead designers to consider disabled-friendly ideas. Whether other places were any better or even worse is peripheral.

One would hope that any modern return to the concept would stop and address the problem. But that's also true of existing building patterns, especially given the ageing populations in he West.

8:

Indeed not, although we're playing catch-up these days. (Or were, before the Tories started swinging the axe ...) Most London Underground stations are still inaccessible to folks in wheelchairs, just for starters.

However, if the goal is to drive down the cost of housing and technologize it until buying a house is comparable to purchasing an automobile, I submit that houses with design features intended to support disabled living would constitute a separate market (just as cars with modifications to permit them to be used by the wheelchair-bound are also a separate market). Making public spaces accessible is one thing; requiring all private homes to be accessible is something else.

9:

Charlie, what's your take on the small movement to use used shipping containers for housing and buildings? Granted, after they've become a building, they aren't very mobile.

10:

I don't think that low population density is a desirable design goal for human settlements. Because a single block of flats can house as many people as a whole village, but has much less of an impact on the environment and is much more efficient in heating, transport, infrastructure etc. ... if only people would finally realize as much and keep in mind that if you build such a block, you're building a village - and that should always include public spaces and semi-public shared spaces for the "villagers" living in the block.

Almost any given village has a lake, a pub, some old big trees and some other shared places. But a block of flats is atomized with no shared places other than what is absolutely necessary (usually limited to staircases or elevators) - leaving no room for the creation of any sense of community whatever, unless there is some kind of coercion from the outside.

So far, I haven't heard of plans to just make large, high density, buildings more liveable - only of ways to avoid the like the plaque. Maybe one day this will change...

11:

Mr. Fuller once proposed a ginormous pyramid on the Toronto waterfront, as detailed in the book Unbuilt Toronto. That books which goes through everyone's crazy schemes for my city. I like what's built there now better, but I supposed back then it was just railyards.

Still, I think you may be having a "grass is greener on the other side" thing when you characterize the guy's ideas as humane. Brutalism had beautiful essays written in its favour too, about how humane and human-scale a medium concrete was, how wonderful a contrast it provided to the fascistic neo-classical edifices of before.

I suspect that the difference between the concrete we got and the aluminum we didn't is only that one happened and the other didn't. In an alternate reality, we'd be yearning for the humane touch of concrete.

13:

@fp1024:
Toronto has stuff in place to ensure high density stuff is livable, specifically bylaws to encourage mixed-use with commercial on the bottom and residential on top.

This is partly the legacy of Jane Jacobs, who fought very hard for mixed use zoning (as well as against the demolition of cities to cleave sterile expressways through them).

14:

Modernist architects of the 20th century generally designed two types of house: those for rich architects and other members of the upper classes to enjoy, and grimly regimented concrete cookie-cutter apartment blocks for factory workers.

Fuller is, of course, an extraordinary person, but what you wrote here is unfair to the modernists. Le Corbusier's program, for example, involved standard dimensions and modules. Designs for houses for wealthy clients apply the same standards as designs for collective housing, with the result that the houses seem modest and the apartments look generous: double height spaces in every unit, for instance. In fact, Corbusian apartment buildings were often deemed uneconomic: the Citrohan housing, for example. And those that did get built - such as the three Unités - are still very popular.

I'd cast the difference between BF and the Weissenhofseidlung modernists as one of emphasis on production. Buckminster Fuller is fascinated by production; units are to be fully fabricated in controlled conditions, then deployed. By contrast, most modernists are focussed on pattern. It's hard to argue that this is altogether misguided: patterns are cheap to transmit, and materials can be chosen as local availability allows. A Fuller house has to be transported as a built entity from somewhere, and perhaps quite a long way, so of course lightness matters. A Fuller house is also emphatically suburban. OK, there's a Dymaxion apartment building, but it's clearly a suburban apartment building. In a city of Fuller-designed residences, you're either going to own a car, or there are going to be miles and miles of tramway.

15:

Part of the reason for (semi-)detatched housing these days is the ability to play media at a volume that YOU LIKE without disturbing as many as 8 other residences (assumes flats built on a "pigeon hole" basis wither side of a central corridor/service well).

16:

What you're asking for is what Le Corbusier wanted to build. Alas, he didn't get to do it very often, but examples exist.

17:

Ahem: if you want loud music, you need late 18th/early 19th century construction techniques -- timber floor beams with 10-20cm of wood ash(!) as insulation between floors. It works a treat, and if only I could add cellular double-glazing I'd be happy. (Alas: world heritage site.)

18:

Other fun facts about the Dymaxion House (or Wichita House, as it's also been called): the whole thing shipped in a cylinder that could fit on the back of a good-sized truck. No single part weighed more than a construction workers could comfortably carry in one hand, so they could scale the (custom-fitted) ladder on the roof while carrying up the next workpiece.

I agree that detached single-family homes are not a great model for the future. Fuller also designed multi-level apartment buildings that he envisioned being transported by helicopter. This was a variation of his "4D house," which predated the Wichita House.

Of course, his most audacious concept for a high-density dwelling was a geodesic sphere 1 mile in diameter whose interior was covered with livable spaces all around. Because of the volume/surface area ratio, even a tiny amount of thermal gain would make them lighter than air. Flying cities.

Apropros to the concrete tents mentioned in #12 above and this post's subject matter, there are also monolithic domes, which are manufactured in a town just up the road from me. The concept is interesting: a custom ballon is fabricated and brought on site, where it is inflated. A layer of concrete is sprayed on the inside, then rebar is installed into that, then more concrete and insulating material are sprayed on. I'm not sure how Fuller would feel about that. I think he'd applaud the rapid and unconventional construction, but criticize the heavy materials used only in compression.

19:

Me, I'm fond of earthbag construction, but it ain't light.

As for the Dymaxion house, I don't know. If it had gone into production, I bet a whole "house-tuning" industry would have developed, for tightening and replacing those support wires. I suspect they'd also have gotten some sort of cladding, so that snapping house wires wouldn't decapitate kids or cats.

20:

'Your Private Sky' is an excellent (and very beautiful) book on BF, by the way. The chapter on the 'World Game' is perhaps the best. The idea was that visitors to the US pavilion at the Montreal Expo, 1967 (the pavilion itself being a geodesic sphere, obviously) would get to work with a giant computer to determine the optimum global allocation of resources. I think perhaps the aim was educative - every player would eventually arrive at one obviously correct answer - or else it was meant to be a form of crowd sourcing. The US authorities canned the World Game immediately once they realised what was up, and the expo visitors got some anodyne crud instead.

21:

Why it won't happen here (UK) - planning permission.
To get it for something other than a box like all the other boxes varies between impossible and nightmare.

22:

Absolutely; mass and vacumn are the 2 best sound insulation techniques known. A 20 foot air gap between properties works adequately though.

23:

My personal dream home, the monolithic dome.

http://www.monolithic.com/

Basically completely indestructible, highly energy efficient, and (sorry Bucky) _extremely_ heavy.

24:

Completly unrelated but... have you had any time to look at what is happening in Spain right now, Mr Stross? I would like to read your impressions, if so.

25:

Le Corbusier, IIRC did commissioned work for two equally unpleasant organisations:
The RC church, and the CP.
AND: he wanted people to live in brutalist blocks, and to "raze" existing cities.
Do I detect a bit of a megalomaniac give-away here?

26:

What exactly are you wanting me to look at in Spain? (Politics? Economics? Construction materials?)

27:

I think taking disabled people as a separate market is a bad idea. Universal design principles are a better starting point. With life spans increasing and medical technology improving, people are spending more of their lives old. While medical technology averts permanent impairment sometimes, it also often allows people to live through experiences that would have killed them. I've heard a little bit about the idea of "aging in place" -- people who are old or sick ought not to have to be relocated to special facilities. (My activist friends call nursing homes "prisons for sick people.")

Combining UD with quality, cheapness and sustainability is a challenge, but given the difficulty of that design task, I don't think taking a range of human types into consideration add that much trouble, when it's done from the start. Beginning with a specification that doorways must be x inches wide is much easier than chopping holes in walls to let wheelchairs through.

28:

FWIW, there was an interesting, much more humane approach to prefabricated housing here in the US, based on Prairie School ideas inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement.

That movement seems to me to have created a lot of very attractive and simultaneously practical living spaces, avoiding both the hazards of brutalism and frippery.

29:

I think plans for cheap, light and fast are excellent, especially in parts of the world with lots of people and lots of crappy housing. I think there also needs to be attention paid to the other end of the spectrum, though.

What do you think about building for permanence? I think I read somewhere that your building was built in the 18th century. Being American myself, there's not a lot around me that has lasted so long, and little that has a hope of hanging on into a second century.

30:

Eighteen inches of horsehair and plaster is pretty good too. That's what my parents' house uses between the "family rooms" down below and the "servant's garrets" up on the second (3rd for USians) floor.

The only sound, or indeed heat, to get through that comes via the stairwell.

Regards
Luke

31:

Those are much nicer than the concrete-poured form houses Thomas Edison designed. A few still exist in New Jersey:

http://flyingmoose.org/truthfic/edison.htm

32:

My take is that building disposable structures is bad, but permanent structures need to be designed to be more flexible than transient ones; there's an implicit trade-off between initial construction costs and subsequent adaptation and maintenance costs.

Yes, I agree about it being vastly preferable for old folks to live in their own homes rather than in nursing homes, and adapting houses to be accessible is in principle a good idea. But please recall that when the Dymaxion house was designed (the early 1940s) life expectancy wasn't what it is today: there are a lot of folks out there now suffering from chronic but manageable illnesses that were a short-term death sentence in the 1940s.

This apartment of mine was built circa 1826, as far as we can tell. It's not, and never will be, wheelchair-accessible, because its front door is up 64 steps from ground level and there's no way to retrofit an elevator. A stair lift isn't practical either (because not only is there no management company ownership of the stairwell -- you'd have to negotiate right-of-way with the other households -- but some of the stairwell walls are unevenly curved). The main bedroom is up another flight of stairs -- a zig-zag one that ascends at a steeper-than-25 degree angle (and makes installing furniture murderously difficult). This is not, however, an argument for demolishing the flat and replacing it with a modern 100% accessible block; rather, it suggests that it would be unwise for anyone who is over 45 or has mobility problems to buy such a home, and I don't expect to live in it once I pass 60.

33:

BF isn't the only one by any means to fail to bring innovative, modernist manufactured homes into the market successfully. One very big hurdle, as alluded to by dirk@19 is the restriction on building codes and planning departments. In the US, you would think that the prevalence of wood frame, single family homes would make it relatively easy to put in anything that you might want in terms of a replacement building. Not a chance. Even if your architect can satisfy local building codes, your neighbors can block you because it doesn't conform to the "taste values" of the neighborhood. Even the most cursory familiarity with modern designer houses shows that these examples are usually not in cities or suburbs of the US, or else in other countries, with perhaps laxer restraints.

Conformity of style (conservatism?) is a very strong cultural force in ensuring that houses look "traditional" on the outside. I remember all to well my Grammar School teacher back in London, who did a short course on architecture, wax poetical on how the High Street where we lived was so beautiful because the shop facades were kept uniform. The uniformity that many like, I see as dreary uniformity. It is one reason why the plastics revolution did not give rise to new forms ("The Plastics Architect", Arthur Quarmby), but rather cheaper replacement of existing forms, e.g. PVC siding, windows, drains.

The hope that modern prefab houses would shake this up in the US is a perennial desire, probably akin to hoping that someday airships really will be flying as economical transport.

I find it interesting that in a previous post, Charlie decried the shoddy building in the US, contrasting that to his ancient Edinburgh flat with Heritage listing. To transform our housing stock, we really need to think of houses more like cars: high tech, relatively inexpensive, ephemeral. That's probably a tall order, but, to get back on the question asked, 3D printers might help make this a reality, as construction costs, even for prefab houses is very labor intensive.

If you could print on site, and your neighbors knew that the house could be replaced with another design when you go (median residency is 7 years in the US, IIRC), there may be higher tolerance for novel designs. They would still have to conform to building codes (for old style construction and designs) which would still be a major problem.

The nearest historical examples of 3D printing is spray form housing. This was often suggested for emergencies, like disasters, war refugees and, of course, the military.

34:

The youth concentrating in the plazas asking for a change of political systems, against corrupt politics and rampant unemployement and policies-by-markets?

This http://www.marketwatch.com/story/in-spain-protestors-rally-a-battered-nation-2011-05-20?siteid=rss

(I said it was completly unrelated :-P)

35:

I heard a talk some time back from Howard Liddell, an architect who works on what he calls "ecominimalism". The refurbishment of a block in Edinburgh begins to match your requirements for semi-public spaces (behind the secured door to the outside world). There is a little about it at http://www.gaiagroup.org/index.php/project/view_details/23/ (which I can't get to load in Firefox but seems ok in Opera).

36:

Paws4thot - 20 foot gap? Hahahahahaa. Developers seem to delight in leaving about 6 foot between properties, each of which has a garden so small that you can whisper across it.
I was under the impression that paperwork and such notwithstanding, the biggest driver of modern (UK anyway) house construction was labour costs of the people putting it up, so naturally the developers want houses which are simple to build and don't require too much labour.

37:

> there's an implicit trade-off between initial construction costs and subsequent adaptation and maintenance costs.

See, that's why I want a dome home. The exterior wall/roof is fixed and terribly difficult to modify. But it is also the only load-bearing wall in the structure. You could gut everything on the inside and rebuild it from scratch. The same dome could be rebuilt repeatedly as a large studio, a regular multi-room home, duplexes, commercial or even industrial use, you name it.

Also, with basic exterior maintenance their usable lifetimes are estimated at upwards of 500 years. There's a subterranean dome home out in Texas that will probably be excavated largely intact by archaeologists a few million years from now.

38:

Arts and Crafts is nice. Our previous place was one of those, a two bedroomed terrace property (town house) in what's called the Brentham Garden Suburb in North Ealing in London.

Very desirable: the current price of some of those properties is apparently about £700,000, at least according to what my wife found in the local estate agency windows this week.

Sadly lousy sound insulation. When our neighbour's brat started her screaming tantrums, both we and the neighbours on the other side ended up moving out.

Nowhere to park: being very early 20th century, the only parking options were outside the houses, and there's not a lot of frontage per house.

(Also, single glazed windows that were almost impossible to replace without falling foul of the Conservation Area regulations.)

As it was, we had to move out and find a place with more space for book shelves closer to where we worked. In the event, we doubled our living space and had change left.

Nice place, London, cheap. Pick any two.

39:

You're damned right it's unrelated, and I haven't been keeping track of it.

My guess? The "Arab spring" was just the first major outburst of dissatisfaction with a world order that purports to be based on globalisation but which brings us repressive lack of opportunity for self-actualization at home, combined with the "shock treatment" of disaster capitalism and indirect rule by the paid shills of rich oligarchs.

I'd be highly unsurprised to see echoes of the Arab spring throughout the soft-underbelly of the Euro-zone first (Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland -- Iceland already has it but isn't Euro-zone), then in the UK when the Cameronian cuts agenda begins to bite, and finally in the US.

40:

Interestingly, Albert Speer had exactly the same idea - aluminium prefab housing built by the (presumptively) idled capacity of the Junkers aircraft plants in Dessau, just up the road from the Bauhaus, although by then its members had been scattered to the four winds, metaphorically for the lucky ones and literally for the unlucky ones.

In April 1945 he was actually going through his Rolodex tapping members of his staff from the GBI, the Todt Organisation, his ministry, and the aircraft industry he was going to offer jobs in his post-war architectural practice.

Also, what several people said about density. (Don't you live in the centre of Edinburgh, which must be one of the highest density city centres in Europe?)

Almost any given village has a lake, a pub, some old big trees and some other shared places. But a block of flats is atomized with no shared places other than what is absolutely necessary (usually limited to staircases or elevators) - leaving no room for the creation of any sense of community whatever, unless there is some kind of coercion from the outside.

The fella you need is Austrian architect Harry Glück, who said that he started including a swimming pool in every housing association block he did after he noticed that the ones that didn't have them never had anything or anyone in the communal facilities but the caretaker's snow tyres*

He built the wonderful Wohnpark Alt-Erlaa, whose German Wikipedia article badly needs translating into the English version.

*this is true. when I lived in a hypermodernist megastructure in Vienna, we didn't have a swimming pool and the common rooms were indeed used for storage/filled with crap

41:

Thanks! And if you start tracking it, let us know :-)

42:

Charlie, have you read Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn? Fascinating book on design and especially on flexibility and designing for change.

Among other things, he quotes the then RIBA president as saying that buildings are knocked down or massively remodelled at such a rate that we effectively rebuild London every 30 years. Architecture is as evanescent as dance - it just looks solid because of survivorship bias.

He's also very hard on domes - in fact he apologises for having encouraged people to build them in his Whole Earth Catalogue period. Notably, they are much harder to make watertight than you think, and they are incredibly difficult to add anything to, as well as not using space very efficiently. There is a great photo in the book of one that's up a pole. Looks very cool, until you notice the incredibly complicated, structurally massive, and hideously ugly fire escape they had to build later...

43:

If you ever do get over to the Henry Ford museum, I'd be happy to serve as a local Michigan guide!

Also, this reminded me of the Tumbleweed Tiny Houses: http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/

I looked at those a few years back before I bought my condo, just to see if they'd be feasible as a alternative to traditional houses. Not so much, but perhaps if they implemented a Dymaxion version...

44:
This apartment of mine was built circa 1826, as far as we can tell. It's not, and never will be, wheelchair-accessible, because its front door is up 64 steps from ground level and there's no way to retrofit an elevator. A stair lift isn't practical either (because not only is there no management company ownership of the stairwell -- you'd have to negotiate right-of-way with the other households -- but some of the stairwell walls are unevenly curved).

I'm hoping that when I'm of a certain age, Professor Farnsworth's walking chair will be routinely available. Seriously; some sort of six- or eight-legged spider-type arrangement that put the infirm at eye-level while sitting down in would do wonders for their mobility in situations like this.[1] Not to mention self-esteem :-)

I'm only being partially facetious - how come there isn't more effort being put into that type of robotics so that the handicapped have greater mobility? Wheelchairs and walkers just seem to be so 19th century.

[1]Think of Ng's monster "wheelchair" from Snow Crash.

46:
I'm only being partially facetious - how come there isn't more effort being put into that type of robotics so that the handicapped have greater mobility? Wheelchairs and walkers just seem to be so 19th century.
But aren't spiderchairs steampunk? ;-)
47:

how come there isn't more effort being put into that type of robotics so that the handicapped have greater mobility?

You mean like this?

48:
To transform our housing stock, we really need to think of houses more like cars: high tech, relatively inexpensive, ephemeral . . .

If you could print on site, and your neighbors knew that the house could be replaced with another design when you go (median residency is 7 years in the US, IIRC), there may be higher tolerance for novel designs.

Ah, an opportunity for me to work my perennial hobby-horse: infrastructure.

The biggest problem we have here in Columbia with the developers is not their insatiable demands to throw up cheap, overpriced housing that's going to look fifty years old in less than a decade; it's that whenever they do want to "develop" a so-called unimproved tract of land they labor mightily to shift the costs of building the necessary sewer, gas, electric, water and roads needed to service the development onto the taxpayers. Frequently justifying this as a necessary expense to attract more people for the city to tax, of course - their only thought is for the welfare of our good citizens. And the children too, of course ;-)

Anyway, it strikes me that maybe you could split the difference in the two philosophies. How about you make the infrastructure rationale, reliable, and long-lasting, while the houses themselves can be thrown up or torn down relatively easily? Each lot has a very good, long-lasting foundation on which to build along with a set of high-quality pipes that deliver all the necessities, water, electric, internet, etc. On top of that you can build your Dymaxion house, a brick bungalow, a semi-tranparent split-level tepee, what have you.

49:

charlie? could you put secondary glazing inside the existing windows?
does that fall foul of the powers that be?

50:

Are you aware of the research being carried out at Edinburgh University regarding Fabric Formed Concrete?

Basically, it's using fabric formers to shape concrete structures, rather than the traditional wood-and-metal boxes. It opens up the possibility of smooth organic shapes being quickly cast in concrete by relatively inexperienced individuals.

As a textile student with an interest in architecture i find it to be a quite fascinating area of research. Almost makes me want to go and do another degree once i finish this one.

Concerning Geodesic domes: meh.

51:

Yeah, yeah, that's pretty good . . . but spider legs that go up eight feet or more is what I'm talking about. Something like the Robot Spy from Johnny Quest, with the frail old guy sitting where the eye is. With his finger on the robot's taser-disk button ready to teach those young punks to show proper respect if they don't get out of the way fast enough.

More seriously, why are legs such a hard problem? I mean, sure, two is a challenge, but four or more legs ought to be inherently stable, right? And a lot more versatile. A, ahem, wheelchair with legs could go up and down steps, for example, and wouldn't need a ramp.

52:

In parts of California, the cost of infrastructure is often heavily borne by the developer, and certainly the homeowner. For example, during a home remodel, I was being asked to pay for upgrading the main sewer line and adding a fire hydrant. Fortunately it turned out this was all negotiable, as the costs were extortionate.

There used to be ideas of the sort you mention, e.g. high rises with plug-in housing modules (a sort of nomadic/trailer home in the sky).

In practice, I suspect that infrastructure is going to turn out to be difficult too. Water and sewage should be very permanent, but the associated high costs have left major cities like Lindon and New York with aging, crumbling systems that are extremely costly to repair. Conversely, communications technology constantly changes, so we see all that expensive copper wire being replaced by fiber (or stolen!). Then what about roads, public spaces?

Permanency often results in monolithic structures that are hard to change afterward. Charlie's flat with 3 foot think stone walls and limited access make modernization difficult, compared to more temporary structures. We see European city centers that can barely change (on the outside) without war damage, but modern buildings thrown up and replaced with relative ease.
Suppose that we stopped using flush toilets because some new waste disposal technology arrived. All that Victorian sewage system would become slowly obsolete.

To me, the bigger picture is this. If shelter and cities are the "machines to live and work in", how do we construct and maintain them to be most efficient in the use of materials and energy, and yet adaptable to meet the evolution of cultural and technology?
There are clearly some tensions here, but I suspect we might all have our expectations of the result challenged.

53:

Flexible fabric and plastic components of formers have a long history. While they change the surface features of a concrete structure, I haven't yet seen how they can improve the structural qualities and materials use.

Relating to Charlie's earlier thread on energy, concrete is a terrible material to use because of the high energy requirements for the cement (research into new ideas ins ongoing) and the difficulty of recycling.
Periodically there are projects with polyester reinforced concrete to reduce material use, but AFAIK, this approach has not become very common. Perhaps printing may change this.

54:

Nope, that's not allowed. (The downside of living in a world heritage site: about half the buildings in this part of town -- the new town conservation zone -- are grade one listed.)

I am hoping that within the next 20 years the drive towards energy conservation will deliver some innovative compromise solutions that can be retrofitted to buildings like this without damaging their appearance.

55:

A house that's easy to place on site, is manufactured off site, is small, sits on a concrete pad foundation, is as cheap as a car, and is made of aluminum?

Dude, we've got lots of those here in the US. They're in places called Trailer Parks. Oddly, modernist architects are not shouting the praises of the fine work of the trailer home manufacturers.

The wiki article about them is a lot longer than I expected. Inferring from that, it looks like you don't have North American style trailer parks over there.

People are not clamoring to live in trailer homes. They are damnably cold in the winter, and trailer parks are the rural equivalent of urban slums.

Circular or dome houses have a major failing. If you've got an 1,100 square foot house that's circular, where exactly are you going to put all your square and rectangular stuff?

I don't think the enterprise failed entirely because of Fuller's lack of business acumen. It failed because it was just as stupid an idea as putting New York city under a giant dome.

Since the topic has digressed into modernist architecture *SHUDDER* I feel compelled to share two links.

First, we have a hideous and unusable concrete monstrosity of an Arts and Humanities building at the University of Wisconsin that's slated for a long overdue demolition, yet there are people trying to save the thing.

Second, is this brilliant Subnormality comic: Paint it Grey which pretty much sums up my feelings on modernist anything.

56:

Jean Prouvé did some great work on prefab, interesting life too.

57:

Inferring from that, it looks like you don't have North American style trailer parks over there.

We don't.

While we have caravan sites, and some permanent caravans, they're basically summer seaside homes for holiday vacationers. Very few people live that way permanently; it's generally a symptom of extreme rural poverty and permanent trailer parks as such just don't exist as far as I know. Living permanently in a caravan is ... well, you folks don't have travellers to any great extent.

58:
Inferring from that, it looks like you don't have North American style trailer parks over there

The article is incomplete when relating to the UK. There are some: just not very many, and they don't have the same trash reputation so their presence is little remarked upon.

Also - remember that the major cost in the UK is that of the land. If a trailer home ends up only a few percent cheaper than a built house, it's going to have little to recommend it.

59:

I've advised more than one person on sound proofing 20th century trouble with the noisy neighbors type problems on Sound that do seem to have increased in severity since the '70s of the last century with the development of inexpensive audio/stereo entertainment systems. Stereophonic Sound was new way back then and, as far as I can recall. As far as I can remember the surround sound home cinema systems of now weren't anticipated in the science fiction of way back then.

Around about then, in the U.K.s building construction industry, in addition to Brutalized New Construction you saw lots of solidly constructed Georgian/Victorian era houses sub-divided into apartments/flats with varying degrees of proficiency and little regard paid to sound conduction let alone heat insulation. See here ...

http://www.soundproofingcompany.com/library/articles/flanking/


And your home. Ha! And also, Ho, Ho, Ho ..it mostly depends upon happenstance and the Builder who constructed any given Historical Home.Your home does sound to have been pretty well built...but then it was purpose built and not botched together by avaricious speculative builders.

A purpose built home in a conservation area of Edinburgh is of an order of magnitude different in quality to a botched together, subdivided into flats, from a Victorian Terraced house in a Northern City - and that can be yet more complicated if the Flat is in, say, a sub-divided house in Islington, North London - where a home like that which you own might cost a couple of million £ depending on its precise location.


The original owners of homes such as those now owned by you EXPECTED to be COLD in the winter.. September through to March up in the Frozen Wastes of Scotland ..unless they were huddled over a fire - a real Fire made of Coals just like the Good Lord Intended! We are less tolerant of the cold these days, or of excess of heat if it comes to that.

Consider the detail of the New High Technology Construction of not so very long ago. For example, Sash Windows.


The New Sash Widows of way back then ? They were commonly painted over and lacking replacement sash cords and weights by the time I worked out of an office in a Victorian Building in the late 1960s and thus they just didn't work properly with the new and cheaply installed heating systems even if you failed to take into account those of us who imported our own electric heaters that we might avoid freezing to death in the wintertime. But those sash windows were New Technology back when they were installed ..they provided the homes ventilation system when you positioned the top and bottom windows open just right each balanced from top to bottom with sash cords and weights that worked ..

" significant advantage of sash windows is that they provide efficient cooling of interiors during warm weather. Opening both the top and bottom of a sash window by equal amounts allows warm air at the top of the room to escape, thus drawing relatively cool air from outside into the room through the bottom opening."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sash_window


I envy you your Location in the Heart of the Capital City of a Great Nation, but ..frankly,it's cold enough where I live in the North East of England in a 1930s semi detached house that has been extended to twice it's former size and raised to modern 21st century standards of insulation and combi boiler powered central heating. I have just about the ultimate in insulation as demanded by building regulations and my own heating bills are bad enough without my suffering the penalties of living in a conservation zone of ultimately period authentically maintained and drafty historical preservation.

60:

Dymaxion reminds me of the story of Lustron, factory-built houses made of enameled steel, for post-WWII families to inhabit.

My brother-in-law Bill Kubota shot a documentary on the history of these things:
http://www.lustron.org/film.htm

Some Lustron homes are still inhabited today, though the endeavor itself died, in part, from US government corruption.

61:

In fact, here is one about half an hour from where we live.

62:

First, we have a hideous and unusable concrete monstrosity of an Arts and Humanities building at the University of Wisconsin that's slated for a long overdue demolition, yet there are people trying to save the thing.

If it isn't demolished, eventually it could become some sort of "historic" building, and then untouchable.

You've captured a microcosm of what eventually happens in many cities. Old, poorly functioning buildings that cannot be demolished because of "historic value" clog up the city.

The old, historic part of Venice is a classic non-functioning city. Effectively a ruin, kept afloat (pun intended) on tourist income. It is the equivalent of a future Hong Kong after capitalism 1.0 goes extinct and the bank buildings are filled with souvenir shops and eateries.

63:

Wheel Chairs are probably already Old Technology ...


" This weekend, a paralyzed student at UC Berkeley was able to walk across the stage to receive his diploma thanks to a metal robotic exoskeleton developed at Berkeley. It was an exciting moment for the student, and for the researchers who have been working on this technology for over a decade.
...

http://www.slashgear.com/robotic-exoskeleton-helps-paraplegic-student-walk-16152187/

Anyone remember the Exoskeleton from " A Specter is Haunting Texas ...

" This truly magnificent, romantically handsome, rather lean man was standing on two corrugated-soled titanium footplates. From the outer edge of each rose a narrow titanium T-beam that followed the line of his leg, with a joint (locked now) at the knee, up to another joint with a titanium pelvic girdle and shallow belly support. From the back of this girdle a T-spine rose to support a shoulder yoke and rib cage, all of the same metal. The rib cage was artistically slotted to save weight, so that curving strips followed the line of each of his very prominent ribs.

A continuation of his T-spine up the back of his neck in turn supported a snug, gleaming head basket that rose behind to curve over his shaven cranium, but in front was little more than a jaw shelf and two inward-curving cheekplates stopping just short of his somewhat rudimentary nose...

Slightly lighter T-beams than those for his legs reinforced his arms and housed in their terminal inches his telescoping canes. Numerous black, foam-padded bands attached his whole framework to him.

From A Specter is Haunting Texas, by Fritz Leiber.
Published by Galaxy Publishing in 1968 "

1968! It's been a long time coming hasn't it?

64:

Try a google image search for "+optoglass", that system has been approved for all heritage protected buildings in Denmark because it is basically a sheet of glass you will have a very hard time seeing at all. Don't know if it is availabele outside Denmark though.

65:

> Circular or dome houses have a major failing. If you've got an 1,100 square foot house that's circular, where exactly are you going to put all your square and rectangular stuff?

1) An 1,100 sq ft house is circle 18.7 feet in radius. If you put the corners of a 6-foot sofa against the outer wall, there will be a gap of 3 inches at the middle. A 3-foot wide end table would have a gap less than 3/4". Shelving and the like is trickier, but none of this is insurmountable or an eyesore.

2) Only the outer wall is round. The inside walls can all be regular framing.

The slope and curvature of the walls is really only an issue for very small domes or on the upper floors.

66:

I was ignoring that objection because it's dumb.

I have a bedroom that is perfectly circular and 5.90 metres in diameter. The widest chest of drawers that I've got up there has maybe 10cm of dead space behind it when the sides are up against the wall. It's trivial.

67:

I wonder if we'll ever see a practical version of Larry Niven's idea of a house sprayed onto an inflatable former, hardened, and fitted out internally afterwards. Niven did it with bioengineered coral, but something like concrete might be doable.

68:

In fact we'll have something sort of like that in the near future:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-13430747

69:

--Last I read there is a Dymaxion house is still in Kansas and lived in. One of the kids who lived in it said they drove their mom mad by twanging the cables. --His domes are all roof and are likely to leak. --He was wrong a lot, but he was in places nobody else dreamed of. --He started a group to fix what is now happening before they happened. It was de-funded to pay for Black Studies. --Something I still think is great (NEAT) is that the rule of square clicks in with domes. A really big round dome should float like a hot air balloon. And carry power cells over the clouds. With props to put it in place. --Heavy is good with homes.

70:

The iBot was a great invention; it may not be as freeing to a paraplegic as an exoskeleton, but paraplegics who tested it out compared it very favorably to standard wheelchairs1. Unfortunately, manufacture was halted in 2009, and as far as I know no-one has plans to make any more, ever.

1. One thing that stood out was the joy several of the testers showed when explaining that for the first time since being paralyzed they could carry on a conversation at eye height with an unparalyzed person.

71:

There's a lot of different work going on to provide technical fixes for mobility impairments, as noted above. (I know a guy whose got a new wheelchair with a lift on it so he can drink at the bar and not have to stay at a table -- engineers are awesome.) These are very cool tools, and they have the possibility of improving a lot of people's lives. They won't work for everybody, though, nor will everybody be able to afford them. It's much simpler to design accessibility into new houses.

Besides, for many purposes, wheels > feet. I am about to move, and I am very regretful that this apartment is not wheelchair accessible. It would be nice to be able to just roll things out of here.

72:

There are permanent residential trailer parks in the UK but they're usually in suburban areas or on the town outskirts, on pieces of land off to one side of the road and usually not too prominent as the local authorities tend to regard them as eyesores.

There were other "instant" home solutions in the UK after the war; cottages were made from prefabricated concrete panels assembled onto a standardised foundation, a bit like concrete-panel garages for cars. They were meant to last ten or twenty years to give the councils enough time to build proper housing for the returnng soldiers and their families but the ones in my home town were still in use in the 70s and 80s. I doubt their insulation was up to much to start with but they would have been solid enough to be retrofitted as times changed; they were built with coal fires for heating (we were a mining area with coal mining being the biggest employer by far) but I'd expect most or all of them to have been converted to electric or gas heating by the 80s.

The Dymaxion appears incredibly inflexible as a place to live in -- adding an extension or a connected garage is not really possible, and I suspect that aluminium wouldn't last quite as long as Buckminster Fuller intended, at least not without a lot of expensive maintenance to prevent corrosion. The "advantage" of being able to move your entire house isn't really that useful if the place you're moving it is already occupied by an identical building, assuming you want the concrete foundation there to be plug-compatible with your existing house.

73:
More seriously, why are legs such a hard problem?

It's not the stability, nor the timing control; those have been pretty well understood for anywhere from 1 to 6 legs for a few years now. The problems, AIUI, have been in the area of power: the need for much more concentrated power stores (batteries with more joules per kilogram), and the design constraints on the leg joints and motors caused by the highly intermittent power flows and stresses.

☤ In fact, pogo stick single-leg dynamics was investigated first in the 1980's, then multi-leg by putting pogo sticks together. Here's an MIT webpage on research on walking machines.

⍾ The number of possible gaits seems to be exponential in the number of legs. Six-leggers have something like a million possible gaits. I'm thinking combinatorial explosion for thoats.

⚡ Battery development has been slow enough that I've seen pictures of walkers powered by gasoline engines.

74:

Here's an interesting Brutalist church in DC. Later than this, DC allowed them to renovate the building.

75:
the ones in my home town were still in use in the 70s and 80s.

That is the curse of "temporary" buildings. I've seen whole US Army bases built of temporary structures intended for 10 years use, max, that were still in use 30 years later. Same for expansion buildings for public schools here in the US; it's cheaper to build temporary, and when time comes to replace it, it's an easy decision for an administrator or politician who isn't teaching in one to keep using it and put the replacement construction money elsewhere.

In fact, I think one of the primary reasons why the US in particular and Western Europe to a lesser degree has not spent much effort in developing new techniques and technologies for home construction is the quarterly-report, short-term corporate view that's taken over all of our planning. There's no time or justification for extensive design ("Make it like the last one, only in red.") or integration with the surroundings ("Cut down the trees and bulldoze the ground flat; we have to put drains in for code anyway so it doesn't matter if we increase the runoff") or even thought about how people will live in these buildings "Everyone wants a Great Room, it's this year's must-have.").

☔ "Infrastructure rot? What's that?"

76:

Why not take Fuller's lightweight construction ideas a step further and do away with roofs and load-bearing or load-sharing walls for homes?

Using the geodesic principles he was so interested in you could put up huge multi-home geodesic domes just a bit bigger than the ones in the Eden project greenhouses in England:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eden_Project

Individual homes would be "assembled" by the homeowners themselves who would simply connect super-soundproofed cubicle walls to organise their living spaces. In addition to soundproofing and privacy the walls would be also used in emergencies to support temporary lightweight panels in case of leaks in the overhead dome. Homeowners could rearrange both the external and internal walls to suit changing family size or changing careers.

Printing the individual lightweight soundproofed walls would be within the reach of 3D printing technologies in the near future. Printing an entire house, capable of withstanding external elements would require a bigger leap into the future.

77:

I was just having this conversation about historic district windows today with an architect. This is central North Carolina. What they have to do is repair the old single pane to original appearance plus make it air tight when closed. Then add another single pane no divisions (that you can see from the outside) that also seals tight but can be opened. This keeps the exterior looking "historic" while creating an insulation seal with the trapped air. Not cheap. But what they have to do to meet the insulation codes for major reconstruction.

78:

I just got an ad for this wheelchair accessible car/van. It's designed to be accessible, instead of converted like other vans.

79:

Quantico had the world's largest batch of Lustron houses, but nobody would take them for free.

80:

A paralyzed man is getting electrical impulses to his spinal column and can stand up, walk with support, move joints, etc.

81:

or even thought about how people will live in these buildings "Everyone wants a Great Room, it's this year's must-have.").

And that's the rub. At this point in time most folks do not want to live in a cube, aluminum tank, high density flat, etc... They just don't. So you can build them all you want but if people don't want to buy them, you don't have a sustainable business plan.

As to why this is so, I'm not sure. There are lots of issues.

People coming out of the depression in the 30s in the US wanted houses that showed they were not poor. Decidedly so. So a lot of houses in the 60s (the 50s don't count as much as that was the interim period between "we can buy a house" and "we can buy a house that we want.") So starting in the 60s and continuing on houses are in many ways a way to show off how well off you are. 3500SF. I've made it as a manager at Cisco. 3 acre yard, ditto. Member of a private swim and tennis club. Check.

Also in a different light, I was an avid reader growing up. Read anything with words on it. I read a LOT of Reader's Digest condensed books. And many of the true stories were about growing up in families in apartment complexes in places like NYC. And how sad it was to move out when they could afford more but move out they did. They liked the closeness of the neighborhoods but they also wanted to get away from busybodies, traffic out the window, noise, etc... and we glad to trade that all in for a place in the burbs. Even with all the problems. It was a common them with my parents generation and later generations still don't want to go back. Well no where near a majority in the US. They like their PRIVATE back yards for THEIR kids. They like a garage for their cars. Etc... Not that I agree with all of their thinking but until you change it the burbs are going to be with us here in the US. Being on the winning side in WWII and not having our industry in shambles and most of the men returning put a lot of money into peoples' pockets and one thing they overwhelmingly wanted was a "nice home in the burbs".

And Fuller's home wasn't it.

82:

A 20 foot air gap between properties works adequately though.

For values of "adequately" that don't include the girl two houses down. Sitting inside with the windows closed, I can hear her most of the way around the block. (Used to be all the way until I installed high-efficiency windows.)

The thought of having neighbours like her family is one reason I'm not looking at moving to a flat.

83:

I'd be highly unsurprised to see echoes of the Arab spring throughout the soft-underbelly of the Euro-zone first (Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland -- Iceland already has it but isn't Euro-zone), then in the UK when the Cameronian cuts agenda begins to bite, and finally in the US.

http://www.thestar.com/article/994354--olive-america-the-world-s-sweatshop

According to this article, lots of European countries are outsourcing production to the US rather than China now:

"But China is no longer the “off-shoring” jurisdiction of choice. With annual wage gains now averaging 15 per cent to 20 per cent, combined with stagnant wages in North America, China will lose its labour-cost advantage over North America in just four years time, according to a report this month by the Boston Consulting Group."

Olive discusses the reasons: laws in the American South that support crushing labour unions, lack of legal protection for workers, etc. Interesting reading.

84:

Why are our houses so heavy? one reason is that brick and concrete walls are reassuringly solid if you are worried about being shot at or bombed. Post world war two was, with hindsight, not a great time to propose homes that looked like a 0.22 bullet would go straight through.

And personal security is still an issue today, even among the well-off in Western countries. Irrational, sure, but quoting statistics won't help.

I suggest lightweight homes need something like an equally light Masai thorn fence barrier surrounding them. The TV ads will appeal to our inner hunter-gatherer by showing a tiger or lion prowling around in frustration and then wandering off to eat the neighbours.

85:

Remember the homes in the Planet of the Apes? I've yet to see all of it, but they were made by making forms out of cardboard, etc and spraying it with plastic foam. I had planed on trying it. Finding out how bad all plastic foam were in a fire stopped that. Things have been built with inflatable's covered with rebar and sprayed with concrete. And they do work. There is no room here for the things that have made good, cheap homes. I found that the cost of the building is not the problem. It's getting the loan for the land. Honest Abe Lincoln when he was still a lawyer, said something like "any thing that increases the value of property is seen as good, and the converse is also true." Banks and Zoning boards see anything that's different as endangering the value of everything. Lustron homes had no installation. I read they went down when the cost of steel went up. There now are newer steel homes for sale, but all steel frames leak heat a more than wood framing. After many years I still like bales. There are more ways to make good homes than there is room here. Everything in engineering is finding the right balance for the circumstances, homes to. Back when BF and other's mass made homes looked like the answer everyone was looking for, the architects declared war. They were "against any 'peas in a pod housing." One off by a member of their society only. Guess who the banks liked. Some guys who belonged to their clubs or some sharpies not from around here with something new that may fall apart before the mortgage is paid off. Also the Democrats were out, stopping government interest in newer ways to better, cheaper housing.

86:

Not sure it makes much sense to compare Fuller's Dymaxion house with Brutalist architecture, very very little of which was ever used in detached housing.

A better comparison would be the Dymaxion house versus the mobile home or, if you are looking at the traditional and still most effective way to build quality housing, then versus 2 x stick-built.

I've developed pre-fab housing and I'll bet you that in 50 years we are still building site-built stick construction (for detached and low-rise attached housing.)

I could go on at length but many people want to believe otherwise (e.g. that pre-fab is "greener") and so I'd waste my breath.

Yes, I love Bucky Fuller but when it comes to sustainability, it doesn't matter "how much a house weighs."

87:

While doing some research on the history of San Jose, California, I read about its second City Hall building, a Victorian gingerbread box built in 1887. In 1958 it was torn down and replaced with an ISO International Style Glass Wall*; at the time (this is during Eisenhower II, mind you) there were vocal protests over the demolition of such a lovely little piece of architecture, and many people still remember it fondly. I, too, felt some nostalgia for the lost piece of history.

Then, last year at a library sale I picked up a book written by a local newspaper journalist who reminisced about his days on the city politics beat from the 1940s to the 80s. In one chapter he took great pains to describe what it was like to actually work in such a building. The place roasted in the summer and froze in the winter, the center corridors visibly sagged from true by one or two feet, the plumbing tended to regurgitate from time to time, the city jail was located just below the municipal courtroom (and its occupants could be heard through the paper-thin interior walls adding their contributions to case law), and during the rainy season the offices in the lower levels ended up in the same condition as the bilges on a ship (i.e., ankle-deep in water). He closed by wishing they had replaced it earlier, and I found myself unable to muster any sort of counterargument.

So what I'm trying to say is...um, yeah. "Old" != "necessarily worth preserving".

* The glass wall was in turn replaced in 2005 by something that would probably serve well as S.H.A.D.O Headquarters if they ever reboot UFO.

88:

As I recall, the S.H.A.D.O. headquarters was disguised as a film studio. So they would just take the cameras outside when they wanted an exterior shot.

They do try to make industrial buildings a little more interesting to look at, but most of them are just very large sheds. Nobody is building anything like the Hoover Building.

89:

It is possible to use thin walled double glazing to replace every pane of glazing in your (assumed) sash and case windows. A cheaper and more energy efficient solution which doesn't need planning permission is to use thermally insulated internal wooden shutters. Most of the Georgian townhouses in the central belt would have origianally had shutters so there is a historic aspect to this solution.

90:

To be fair, they didn't ever build buildings like the Hoover building. [1]

It is the most beautiful factory ever.

[1] Sorry about the high building density in this sentence.

91:

And these days, it's the Perivale branch of Tesco, just the other side of the A40 from the Brentham Garden Suburb.

92:

Craig, I've investigated the thin wall cellular double glazing route. It's illegal in grade one listed buildings.

Yes, most of the windows in my flat have working wooden shutters. Alas, two rooms don't, and one of them is the main bedroom ...

93:

You can get double-glazed sash-window units but they cost megapennies and they're not as good as modern sealed window systems in keeping the heat in. In part this is due to the historical use of gas lamps, open fires and cooking ranges in 19th century houses -- they needed a constant draught of fresh air into the rooms to keep the home fires burning and so leaks were not just tolerated but encouraged. The home I grew up in was heated with open fireplaces (my father worked in the coal industry and got cheap coal as a perk of the job) I remember watching the fire flare up any time someone opened the living room door.

Heavy lined curtains would work quite well instead of shutters in your bedroom. Do you know anyone with a sewing machine?

94:

No, seriously: I could get them, but I'd have to refit the originals before selling the flat. Any surveyor/homebuyer's report is going to spot the illegal double glazing and note it, adding headaches to the process of moving.

(Yes, we have heavy lined curtains in the bedroom. Why do you ask?)

95:

Styrofoam sheets over drafty windows can help in winter, if you can bear the loss of natural light and fugliness.
The Kansas City area has a lot of artificial caverns, former limestone mines that could be a place to build apartments, HVAC costs would be minimal, relatively green and out of sight.

96:

Trouble would be finding people who

1) want to live underground, and
2) want to do so that near a major river.

I suspect you won't find many takers.

97:

You're probably right about the underground part, but the Missouri hasn't been THAT high for a very long time.

98:

A couple book recommendations:

Another plug for Stewart Brand's "How Buildings Learn"

and William Alexander's "A Pattern Language".

There's a big chunk of early seventies DIY stuff in "A Pattern Language", but it also has some very deft observation of how people actually live, instead of how architects and urban planners think they should live. Solid houses speak to the cave-dwelling primate on a subconscious level; I know hikers with decades of experience who still cannot sleep well in a tent.

The US has plenty of travelers: an estimated 1,000,000 RVs visit Quartzite, AZ, every year:

http://www.hcn.org/issues/42.5/mobile-nation

While many are vacationers, there's a significant number of folks who have moved into their RVs.

Dymaxion homes failed for lots of reasons. Too damn hot in the summer and too damn cold in the winter--bare aluminum looks nice but is wretched in sun. A front door that's available only from one supplier. Land prices and zoning are such that it's pointless to have a portable house in the US.

Fuller, while a brilliant designer and visionary, had a habit of answering the wrong questions.

99:

"permanent trailer parks as such just don't exist as far as I know."

You know, it's odd; I don't remember seeing them in other bits of the country I've lived in, but there are FOUR trailer park type estates in the Cambridgeshire village I live in.

They vary in size -- one has 6 or 7 spaces, one has 30.

They're not travellers; these are actually permanent residences. One (a double-width), is up for sale -- 2 bedrooms, garden, parking space and a lounge/diner. I kid you not; they're asking offers of 85k...

100:

"As I recall, the S.H.A.D.O. headquarters was disguised as a film studio. So they would just take the cameras outside when they wanted an exterior shot."

The building was taken over by the BBC and became some of their production offices. The other side of it was later used as the exterior for "Grange Hill", and is now in use as the exterior of "Holby City". The ambulances drive in past the Harlington-Straker entrance part and turn right, pulling up outside another doorway there[1]

Several of the floors were fitted out completely as wards, so they could shoot long tracking shots and 360s; the rest of the building is still production offices.

It's occasionally visible in the background of "Eastenders" exteriors as well -- "Albert Square" being on the same site.


[1] No-one's ever really offered an explanation as to how Holby City hospital apparently has two emergency departments -- the other being in the industrial estate in Bristol where "Casualty" exteriors are shot.

101:

Katie pointed out the fallacy of "permanent trailer parks as such just don't exist as far as I know."

Yeah. I've had relatives who lived in them, at least for short periods. Only in America, I guess.

We need to distinguish between Mobile homes (Mobile because they were prefabs made in Mobile Alabama, not because they were mobile) and things that drive away, often known as RVs.

Mobile homes have a bunch of advantages over something like the Dymaxion. They can be shipped mostly assembled on highways, so they get installed really fast. They can be modified ad infinitum, you can get double-wides (two buildings that are mated along the midline), and so forth. A rectangular design is more flexible than a dome.

There are lots of mobile home parks all over the US. In a sense, they're Fuller's idea made workable. Unfortunately, they also lead to a whole low class subculture, comments about "trailer trash," disasters every time a trailer park gets hit by a tornado, hurricane, or flood, and so forth.

102:

I suspect that one difference between the UK and the USA is the size of loads which can be moved on the highway without a big fuss.

I expect it varies by State anyway, though I recall a mention that Michigan had a pretty high weight limit. But I'm thinking more about maximum width, without special permissions.

103:

I've just come upon a piece on, " Homes For Cats " .. well that should have been the title ..

"The remarkable properties shared by nanotubes and graphene arise from their common structure: an atomically thin mesh of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern. Immensely strong carbon–carbon bonds produce an exceptionally high strength-to-weight ratio. Such is the strength of graphene, for example, that according to the Nobel prize committee, a hypothetical 1-metre-square hammock of perfect graphene could support a 4-kilogram cat. The hammock would weigh 0.77 milligrams — less than the weight of a cat's whisker — and would be virtually invisible."


http://www.nature.com/news/2011/050111/full/469014a.html

I'd love to see someone try to persuade a real cat to sit on an invisible hammock. Still, graphene could revolutionize building construction if it lives up to its advance publicity.

104:

Back when BF and other's mass made homes looked like the answer everyone was looking for, the architects declared war. They were "against any 'peas in a pod housing." One off by a member of their society only. Guess who the banks liked.

The banks liked Levittown and it's cousins. Not sure of your point. What banks don't like is radical difference. One off traditional designs are fine. One off looks like a scifi prop are not.

105:

Weight limits are dealt with by adding more axles.

As to easy damage. Yes. Our tornado 4 or 5 weeks ago did a lot of damage accross the county and state. But one of the worst was a 200 or 400 unit trailer park that had about 1/2 of the units made uninhabitable. Police closed the area off for about a week as they made it safe to just walk around. What gets me is I thought I knew the area fairly well but I had no idea there was a trailer park that size only about 5 miles from my home.

Of course this all leads back to Jeff Foxworthy's tag line.

You might be a redneck if ....

When you move into your new home your closest relatives all come over to help you take the wheels off.

106:

Banks are (when they're not playing trillionaire roulette in the derivatives markets) in the business of risk management. As in: people give them money to sit on, and they invest the money via loans to folks who they think are a safe enough risk to repay the loans plus a little bit of interest. So their core business relies on being able to sniff out the difference between a risk and a sure thing.

Variations on a traditional theme are easy to grade against the market because there's lots of them about. Whoopee fun high-tech experiments in 3D-printed plastic foam and titanium, not so much.

107:

Weight limits are dealt with by adding more axles.

And the bridge then collapses that little bit earlier.

I suspect that there are a lot of places one can't get mobile homes to for that reason - the road as a whole is fine, but there's a bridge that just doesn't have the weight bearing ability.

108:

Having more problems with hounds from a different dimension, Charlie?

Sounds a seriously cool room.

Re the domes - no windows, no thanks! Plus huge C02 footprint. I'd love to go for straw or rammed earth.

Here in California, we are infected with hideous tract houses, which are usually just two designs (one a mirror of the other) covering acres and acres in urban sprawl. I'd have thought wood frame would allow more variety, but the estate I lived on in England had 20 or so different designs, and looked far less monolithic.

Chris

109:

It's an insanely cool flat. Modulo certain drawbacks (like the planning regime). I mean, I've got two circular rooms -- so circular they each have a dead spot in the middle where you can stand and if you speak loudly the sound of your own voice takes on a weirdly flattened timbre because the reflected sound waves are cancelling out. That, alone, almost makes it worth putting up with the crap glazing and the street noise.

110:

In answer to the question at the start of the post: We built our house in an area that has the worst requirements for a foundation in the US. Our foundation is 450,000 pounds of concrete. It sits on 57 piers that are 1 foot in diameter and 25 feet deep with 30 inch bell bottoms. The portion above ground is concrete beams 3 feet high and 1 foot thick that span the space between the piers.

The house structure is made of structural insulated panels. Polystyrene foam insulation sandwiched between OSB. What we thought would be a 2 year project has taken more than 5 years.

The prime lesson is that if you want to build a house that isn't crap you have to fight the construction industry every inch of the way.

Charlie has pointed out the poor quality of American housing and he is correct. What may not be clear to those outside the US are the reasons why the US housing industry is the way it is.

One of my nephews is a house painter and when he started in the trade thirty years ago he joined the union as an apprentice and went to night classes to learn to paint. Over time the construction companies have pushed the unions out and switched to hiring untrained immigrants from south of the border.

This is the cause of the poor quality of construction and it also means that if you try to build anything other than the usual stick frame construction, you are hard pressed to find workers with the skills needed to adapt to new techniques.

111:

In those days of Long Long Ago and in attendance of Convention Planning Committees I did notice that friends who were hosting me in the Wintertime in Leeds ...What Madness IS THIS ! ...were one step up in wintriness preparedness from my Childhood spent in a Council house in the north East of England ...NO insulation as such and layers of ICE on the insides of single glazed windows in the Wintertime ... They had Curtains on inside doors of their terraced slightly up-market house.

Leeds Railway station was not a place that you'd want to spend two hours in in the wintertime.

So ..Bedroom Door and Window Curtains in ones modest flat even further UP North where it is really GRIM ?You have to be really ... How was it termed in that Modesty Blaise Novel ? ... a test of Hardness ?


http://www.amazon.co.uk/Night-Morningstar-Modesty-Blaise/dp/0285636154/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1306009040&sr=1-1

You have to be Really HARD to endure winter in Edinburgh without toughened perimeter defenses at windows and doors in the form of heavy curtains against the drafts.

112:

I DO so envy you that!


I mean I've worked in and from out of quite a few Victorian houses, and I once set up a TV studio in what must have, once upon a time, been a Victorian Gentleman's Bed room ..lighting Grid and all with theatrical lighting necessary given the deficiencies of early TV cameras as cathode ray tube was replaced by CCD cameras and students melted in the heat, but, Circular Rooms! Erie sound effects ? Strain on the Fabric of Space and Time! ... Ah, go on ..there is Strain on the Curtain Material of Space and Time in your Flat isn't there?

113:

Weirdly, Edinburgh in winter is usually warmer than Leeds, even though Leeds is 300km south. I speak from experience, having grown up in one and lived in the other for getting on for two decades. I think it's a local microclimate thing -- Edinburgh is on the Firth of Forth and therefore benefits from the eastern water mass, whereas Leeds is inland and gets the cold wind blowing in from the Atlantic across the Pennines.

The exception is the odd really harsh winter (like, oh, 2010/11) when everything freezes. But I'm going to declare that an exception and shuffle hastily on in hope that it doesn't recur ...

114:

Charlie @ 39
I believe that young people, dissatisfied with the (erm ~ 45%?) unemployment rate in Spain, are protesting RIGHT NOW.....

115:

So, what you're saying is that Gresham's Law applies to houses as well as currency? That's not fair to the unions, but I think the great lesson of the last 20 years is that unions only work when they keep fighting and actively work to keep from being subverted by dishonest interests.

As for your foundations, I've certainly seen similar foundations. Back at the height of the hosuing bubble, some idiots put up house at the toe of a shale slope. The retaining walls (10m+ deep caissons) was itself over a million dollars, and the house had to be cantilevered out over a dry stream channel just to give it enough floor space. Multimillion dollar house in a flood/earthquake/mudslide zone? People are living in it. I hope they survive the next flood.

116:

“But please recall that when the Dymaxion house was designed (the early 1940s) life expectancy wasn't what it is today.”

That's not quite correct. Life expectancy for American men at age 65 (which is the relevant figure) has risen from 78 in 1940 to 84 in 2007. That's not nothing, of course, but it's a huge jump to the conclude that the number of invalid elderly has jumped as a result.

In fact, given that morbidity has declined among the over-65 population, there were probably proportionately more disabled seniors in 1940 than there are in 2011.

117:

There's a good reason for making houses heavy, it's called thermal mass. Mass stores heat and keeps your house at a steady temperature. For our house, the mass is concrete and earth, right now the sun is shining in across the earth floor, the floor is storing that energy to release it later. It's heading towards mid-afternoon and the interior temperature has risen by a grand total of one Celsius above the average temperature. By first thing tomorrow morning, we might have dropped down to one Celsius below.

118:

There are 2 approaches to keeping temperature steady. Thermal mass, as in your property, or good insulation. Thermal mass works well when temperatures are such that solar heat during the day nicely "flywheels" the heat into the structure at night, and vice versa. In cold climates, like Edinburgh, the mass just becomes a permanent heat sink. English castles always have cool walls and are very difficulty to feel comfortable in, unless some sort of heat insulation protects you from irradiating to the walls and a local heat source is always "on". Highly insulated buildings are easier to heat as air has low thermal mass and the walls prevent losses.

Which is "better" depends on local climate conditions and construction costs.

119:

Come to Penguicon some year and a visit to the Dymaxion house will be an afternoon jaunt.

120:

I can't find out which governor it is, I think it's Gilmore, but a fairly recent Virginia governor and family moved into a very nice modular home while the Executive Mansion was being repaired and made accessible.

121:

Yup, you want the right amount of insulation, where "right" is locally specific.

The design process for a passively-heated solar house looks like this:*
1) Work out the variability of your energy input. This can mean the daily input from the sun or, in our case, the variability of the weather. Wellington gets storms coming in from the Southern Ocean, so we can expect three or four days without sun in a row.
2) Work out what thermal mass you'll need to store energy over that period and what insulation thickness you'll need to keep the energy losses berable.
3) Match your average energy input to the average energy loss but changing the size of the windows facing the equator.
4) Work out your peak temperatures if the sun does shine for a week continually and add thermal mass.

Match up those figures for every month of the year and, if you've got it right, then your house will be the right temperature inside and you'll never have to pay for heating ever again.

* Or rather, the design process should look like this, if architects though of houses as energy collecting machines, not monuments to their own egos.

122:

Aha! Someone born in 1940 might have a life expectancy of 78, but what was the average life expectancy of the people dying in 1940? I'd guess it was quite a bit lower -- antibiotics only began to trickle in during the 1930s and penicillin was still a rarity until the late 1940s. And we tend to forget (although we're going to rediscover it the hard way in the near future, unless we get very lucky) that prior to the deployment of antibiotics the mortality rate from fulminating bacterial infections was in the range 20-30% (with a few viral epidemics that we can vaccine against thrown in, however, which makes the actual figures a bit harder to check).

123:

I'm not sure if this was mentioned before, but isn't one reason for the failure of Dymaxion houses (and maybe other minimal mobile houses too) that for most people it doesn't feel right to live in a metal house? (Same goes for the plastic houses out of Ecotopia). Besides issues of optimal popuplation density (regarding social as well as ecological constraints).

Charlie - would you switch your vintage Edinburgh stone building with a Dymaxion metal tent?

124:

Been to Penguicon a few years ago. I'd like to go back, but it's a hell of a trek from Edinburgh due to the lack of direct routings -- it's a three sector flight.

125:

I'm not sure that's the near future, there are a lot of usable antibiotics at present.

126:

Jez Weston @ 121:

Of course, heat sinking works well for daily temperature change, but badly for yearly temperature change. We have a daily average of about -12 C in winter and +18 in summer, and the difference gets larger when you approach the pole.

Still, people manage to design and build sort-of passive buildings even here. There is actually quite a lot of automatic heating in a house where a modern person actually lives, the problem is more in getting rid of the heat in the summer. So, in the local paradigm of passive houses, running the air exchange machinery is not counted against being "passive".

(Of course, if you have half a meter of wall, air will only exchange through the use of machinery, and if you don't exchange air, you get problems.)

127:

Flexibility is not a virtue in housing. You are less likely to find money to run expensive infrastructure into an area whose houses can vanish within a few hours.

128:

Unfortunately that's not true.

Carbapenem-resistant bacteria have shown up in the New Delhi water supply and already spread to the UK; that's our last line of defense gone. Worse, the trait appears to spread horizontally via plasmid exchange.

Go and google on NDM-1. Our time just ran out.

129:

We've had antibiotic resistant TB in the US since the 1990's.

Part of the problem is that acute diseases are not attractive to pharmaceutical companies, so research into new A/B's is limited. This may change when the demand gets higher. Pricing is likely to be high too. Whether there should be public programs for public health is another issue.

The good news is that there are different approaches to bacterial control, which may prove much more problematic to traditional resistance development. I expect these approaches to be in the marketplace before the current A/B armamentarium becomes ineffective for a wide spectrum of bugs.

130:

How well does a Dymaxion cope with condensation? Or with 20 or 30 degrees C temperature differences, like we had this winter, between inside and outside?

131:

That's. Not. The. Same.

You may have MDR-TB in the USA but you haven't had XDR-TB. Nor have you had NDM-1 gram-negative bacteria. Trust me, these are much worse.

You're right about antibiotics not being attractive to the pharmaceutical industry due to the high cost of development and the way antibiotics are structurally unprofitable. This is a structural failure of the modern capitalist drug discovery system and unlikely to be addressed through it -- really, we need non-profit research if we're going to produce a new generation of antibiotics.

132:

To what extent is plasmid transfer between similar bacteria / similar species of bacteria, and to what extent is it between all bacteria?

133:

An additional problem here in the US is many doctors' unwillingness to accept that they have to be part of the solution; operating room hygiene has deteriorated drastically in the last few decades, and convincing the surgeons and anesthesiologists to improve has been a major (and to date, losing) battle. They seem to think that their social status makes them immune to carrying bacteria. A few hospitals have been quite successful in reducing the incidence of MRSA from endemic levels by convincing the doctors to scrub-up better.

134:

Oh, very cool. There aren't any corners where the many-angled ones could ooze through.

135:

I had surgery on my vocal cords about five years ago and since the Versad didn't work, I could see that the surgery was fine. But when the resident came with the medical student that evening to check the surgical area, he didn't wash his hands. I wouldn't let him touch me and pointed him towards the sink in my room and the sink immediately outside my room. He reached for a glove in his pocket that had that previously-inflated look, so he'd worn it before. I wouldn't let him use that, either. I told him I could call the nurse and then he went and washed his hands. When the surgeon came later, I told him about this and he threw his hands up in the air and muttered "Not again!" and thanked me for telling him.

(The surgery didn't work -- we knew it might be autoimmune, like so many of my other problems, but we decided to try the surgery, just in case.)

136:

It's not the individual dwelling per se vs. Brutalist Block; I wish I could AFFORD a brutalist block cell where I didn't have to get into my #*&!! CAR to go get a cup of coffee. Or Groceries...

(At least one where I didn't here the nightly "Let's make a drug deal")

I saw at least one reference to Jane Jacobs above; It is mixed use on a "Human Scale", not mixed use amongst the hydrocarbon behmoths.

137:

OOH- good point; But in the US you still end up with surrounded by acres of baking/freezing asphalt for all the cars.

Public space, what a concept. Nah, Wal Mart can't make any mondy off it.

138:

Yes, but in the rest of the US, the infrastructure of sprawl is underfunded; The Inner ring of big city suburbas are now hitting infrasturcture maintenece problems.

And I have a stretch of (Paved) road between me and my house that, well, it's one big pothole. OK

139:

US Manufactured Housing:
I Live in/Own one; Single Wide, at least I own the lot. But zonning put me five miles from town (The above comment about the road deteriotataion, the develooper put in the minimum, ten years ago);

Trailer Parks are another rip off of the poor; they may own the "Building" but pay horrible ground rents. Wish I owned a couple, they may be the future.

And most "trailers" are built cheaply, ie, very poor insulation. I have an HVAC system that is ALWAYS on, a combined furnace/AC (Arkansas, 90 degrees in the shade) (Theres a switch I flip). It's like living in your car, only withe a lot more space.

140:

You may have MDR-TB in the USA but you haven't had XDR-TB. Nor have you had NDM-1 gram-negative bacteria. Trust me, these are much worse.

I'm not sure I would characterize XDR as being qualitatively different from MDR. See this genomic analysis of MDR and XDR TB strains.
http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0007778
Of course those caught up in the differential mortality rates might beg to differ with me.

As a pharmaceutical research director once said to me: "once global warming brings tropical diseases to the wealthy nations, you'll be amazed at how fast those diseases get treatments".


141:

No no no --- Charlie, somebody who was age 65 in 1940 had a life expectancy of 13 more years. The figure is not life expectancy at birth --- someone born in 1940 had a life expectancy of 73.

Historical data (and future projections) are here.

I'm afraid you're operating under an incorrect assumption about health conditions in 1940, at least in the United States. They were worse, but not as much as the thread intimates.

142:

Of course, passive solar design doesn't work everywhere, although we're in a maritime climate here, similar to the UK and it does just fine.

For us, summer shading comes courtesy of eaves and deciduous trees. We haven't been in the house for long enough to say whether it will overheat in the summer, but that's why we have automatic windows at the top of a two-story space.

143:

Once the air temp gets into the 90s (F) passive tends to mean existing with a strong breeze or lots of body sweat. Many time both. And at 100 or more, well, you're just plain hot. And if the local relative humidity is in the 60s tp 90s, AC starts to be a requirement for most. Or a move to a distant place.

144:

tp1024@10: cohousing is one model for medium density villages. There's a lot of low-density coho, but some of the urban stuff is excellent both for environmental impact and livability. Doing at high density is harder because the optimum community size is 15-25 households, so bigger buildings need to be split up somehow and the extra cost of community facilities goes up. Flip side, in the UK they're experimenting with 8-10 story wooden panel construction that's fast, cheap and green.

For us, it amounts to turning some fraction of our apartment construction cost over to the community to build communal space. Which works really well for a lot of things - it's effectively timeshare access to a big kitchen/dining room or workshop, for instance. It means we can live in a smaller apartment than we would otherwise, without losing the flexibility and luxury spaces of a mcmansion.

In a giant tower you could divide a pair of floors off into a community, building a U of apartments around a double-height central common space that opened towards the sun (north for us, south for Charles). But even with reasonable space efficiencies you're still going to have a couple of million dollars of "open space" in each community that has to be paid for. Much cheaper to assume residents will use the pocket park on the shady side of the tower between the car parking and the major road.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cohousing

145:

Did my earlier response get eaten by the internet monsters?

146:

It seems that it did! Here it is again:

No no no --- Charlie, somebody who was age 65 in 1940 had a life expectancy of 13 more years. The figure is not life expectancy at birth --- someone born in 1940 had a life expectancy of 73.

Historical data (and future projections) are here.

I'm afraid you're operating under an incorrect assumption about health conditions in 1940, at least in the United States. They were worse, but not as much as the thread intimates.

147:

The whole point of insulation is to make sure that the outside temperature and the insider temperature are different. The point of thermal mass is to store energy from when it's available to when you want it. You can store heating, or you can store cooling.

This is nothing new, I've stayed in an old farmhouse near Madrid in summer where the air conditioning consisted of opening the windows, curtains, and shutters at night to bring in the cold; storing that cold in the thick stone walls; and then closing the windows, curtains, and shutters in the day to keep the cold inside, resulting in a temperature of just right.

Houses can be machines for collecting, storing, and moderating thermal energy. Or, you know, you can just build a big dumb box, bolt a heater or air conditioner onto that box and then pay through the nose for the fuel costs for the life of that building.

148:

I had never come across this idea till watching the news the other night and now in your post.

There is a company in Australia that is making modular homes and they have trouble with their clients getting finance.

149:

tp1024, regarding livable high density areas, see the "New Urbanism" movement. There's a great series of lectures by Andrés Duany on youtube. Andrés Duany designed the suburb featured in "The Truman Show".

Here in Melbourne, I can see the influence of new urbanism on a lot of new projects. Apartments built over shopping strips, garages in laneways so houses don't say "cars live here", etc.

150:

KILLING ANTIBIOTIC resistant bacteria. Antibiotics are very attractive to the pharmaceutical industry. At least next to vaccines. People keep useing antibiotics, Vaccines may not be forever but work too long for to make the most money. There is one antibiotic they have not used on me and they say they saving it for something big. Bacteriophage is any one of a number of part viruses that infect bacteria. Bacteriophages are among the most common biological entities on Earth.[1] The term is commonly used in its shortened form, phage.
Typically, bacteriophages consist of an outer protein capsid enclosing genetic material. They look like space landers and grab a germ and inject it's genetic material into it.
Phage are estimated to be the most widely distributed and diverse entities in the biosphere. The USSR huntted them in sewage and streams where ever they went. Their troops were given cocktails of phages. Phages are ubiquitous and can be found in all reservoirs populated by bacterial hosts, such as soil or the intestines of animals. They have been used for over 60 years as an alternative to antibiotics in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. And were used in the West before the coming of Antibiotics, little was know about keeping them alive so the drug comp. could not move to antibiotics fast enough. They are seen as a possible therapy against multi drug resistant strains. Phages kill all the bacteria strand they bred for. But a working antibiotic to keep you alive long enough for the phages to multiply and save you maybe needed. It was tried to get them approved for testing by our FDA. The FDA never found a way to test they said. From Wikipedia MOSTLY There is one antibiotic they have not used on me and they say they saving it for something big. I'd love to try a cocktails of phages. You can't get bad reactions from them.

151:

Buckminster Fuller Virtual Institute-HOME

152:

The trouble with antibiotics is that they're not profitable. One course of treatment lasting 5-10 days and the customer is cured, and probably won't come back for years. Compare with chemotherapy agents (months and months of treatment, repeated annually for folks with metastatic cancers) or anti-depressants (hooked for life).

The way intellectual property law is currently structured, a pharmaceutical manufacturer has got 20 years from the moment they patent a new molecule to (a) get it through the regulatory hurdles and (b) make enough money through sales to recoup the initial R&D costs and make a profit. At T + 20 years and one day, as soon as the drug comes out of patent, generics manufacturers can start mass-producing much cheaper medications using the same drug. This is a good thing from the public interest point of view (cheaper meds) but over the past four or five decades the larger companies have, by means of regulatory capture, ensured that it takes 12-14 years and hundreds of millions of dollars to get a new drug through the regulatory framework -- this freezes out competition from start-ups (good from the market incumbents' point of view) but means they need to show a profit really fast on top of around $400-500M in development costs (which is bad from everyone's point of view).

The result is that the cost of new medicines at launch has inflated enormously, while there's an active deterrent to developing new medicines with a usage pattern that is non-profitable (i.e. one that cures the condition it's used to treat).

Commercial antibiotic R&D ground to a trickle during the 1960s and then all but halted by the mid-1980s, after the development of beta lactamase inhibitors (first generation anti-penicillinase drugs). We've pretty much mined out the seam of antibiotics that work by suppressing gram-negative bacterial cell wall production -- a very useful mechanism to exploit, because humans and other mammals don't have cell walls so such drugs are relatively free of side-effects.

What we need is new antimicrobial strategies, not more drugs that use the same pathways that the bugs are already good at blocking. Otherwise we're going to be forced back into using cytotoxic agents that interfere with DNA replication in a desperate attempt to kill fulminating infections before the treatment kills the host.

Meanwhile, farmers have been using antibiotics to improve the growth and health of livestock, which makes for a fertile evolutionary workshop for resistant strains of bacteria: let's expose as many bacteria as possible (human pathogens and zoonotic pathogens and random other shit) to as many antibiotics as possible and play survival of the fittest! (It's a great idea if you're a crazy who wants to exterminate the human species, as the Invisible Hand seems to be when turning its activities to agrobusiness.)

There are some countries where antibiotic resistance is well under control (read: almost unheard-of). They're typically ones where antibiotics aren't legally sold as agricultural feedstock additives and aren't prescribed by GPs, but are reserved for use in hospitals treating patients with serious infectious diseases (and where traditional disinfection protocols are standard in medical settings).

But the overall picture is bleak, because our current pharmaceutical industry appears to be unfit for purpose (when the purpose is developing effective antimicrobial agents), our hospitals have forgotten how to manage infection control, and the rampant use of antibiotics in agriculture and inappropriate settings (e.g. as a placebo for parents who present their GP with a four year old with a head cold) has more or less destroyed our arsenal.

(And the next time you see someone who doesn't believe in evolution, refer them to an XDR-TB clinic in South Africa ...)

153:

Should antibiotics be open-source? Typical success factors for OSS: large project, wide range of use cases, rapid evolution, large development team.

154:

Should antibiotics be open-source?

I think the answer is clearly "no". I'm generally in favour of OSS as a development model wherever possible, but ...

OSS success factors include low/no cost of entry to volunteer developers, low cost of failure to participants, and the presence of a benign dictatorship at the centre to merge changes.

Firstly, I wouldn't characterise "has access to a pharmaceutical factory and either an animal research lab, or a hospital, or both" as "low/no cost of entry". Secondly, the cost of failure to participants is potentially astronomical -- see for example the TGN1412 disaster. Finally, there's a physical product at the end of the pipe with non-trivial manufacturing, quality control, and distribution costs -- and a rivalrous outcome for folks competing to sell it. (Moreover there's an incentive for counterfeiting, which is illegal and potentially lethal.)

What there is an argument for is development on a collegiate/academic basis with government funding and productization and distribution on a non-profit (or minimal profit) footing. We need antibiotics, they're clearly a public good, and they represent a particularly dangerous market failure at present: meanwhile, it's a great area of opportunity for academic pharmacology and microbiology research. The most expensive aspect of development is clinical trials, and these obviously require a source of funds, but any single-payer health system has a clear requirement for functioning antibiotics and the hospital in which to conduct human clinical trials. Successful medicines could then be specified in the various national pharmacopoeias and licensed for manufacturers to produce competitively (but within the existing regulatory framework for generics).

155:

#36 and #82 - Do I really have to put YMMV on everything I "say"? ;-)

Those figures were based on my friend's detached house (rear access to adjacent properties both sides, plus neighbour's garage on both sides and their own on one).

156:

#44 et seq - The traditional problems with "robot walkers" in real life have tended to be achieving all of acceptable ride comfort for the occupant(s), speed and stability. Maybe recent research is improving this, but all I'm saying is that the issues are non-trivial, ok?

157:

What there is an argument for is development on a collegiate/academic basis with government funding and productization and distribution on a non-profit (or minimal profit) footing.

This is rather what I mean and rather closer to some OSS projects' reality than the platonic-ideal. The secret sauce in a lot of them is university, research council, or corporate R&D funding.

Also, the point about the manufacturing side is surely that Cipra or whatever generics firm will be delighted to run off a few zillion as part of their low margin, high volume core business.

158:

Re: animal antibiotic use.

Isn't this is in the best interests of drug companies? For the same reason that planned obsolescence is in the interests of vehicle manufacturers - they get to sell the next one.

159:

Yes.

Which is one of the reasons why we don't and shouldn't have a free market in medicines: there are lethally dangerous externalities so a regulatory regime that restricts inappropriate usage is highly desirable.

See the Elixir sulfanilimide mass-poisoning for an example of why we regulate the development, production and use of medicines.

160:

...farmers have been using antibiotics to improve the growth and health of livestock, which makes for a fertile evolutionary workshop for resistant strains of bacteria: let's expose as many bacteria as possible (human pathogens and zoonotic pathogens and random other shit) to as many antibiotics as possible and play survival of the fittest! (It's a great idea if you're a crazy who wants to exterminate the human species...

As per "Guns, Germs & Steel", we were doing quite a nice job with that w/o antibiotics. But yes, this is an appalling situation, where agribusiness demands have trumped public health, at least in the US.

The relatively recent issue of vaccine shortages in the US is another example of economics and the production model being unsuited for public health needs.

The trends in the pharmaceutical industry seem to be to create either very expensive drugs for medium term term treatments, or fairly expensive drugs for chronic and "lifestyle" illness. I think it is fairly clear, based on the declining NCEs registered and the rapid pace of industry consolidation, that the current chemistry approach to disease control is coming to an end. It looks like an industry that reached it's peak within a century and is now in decline. What comes next is still very unclear.

161:

This is nothing new, I've stayed in an old farmhouse near Madrid in summer where the air conditioning consisted of opening the windows, curtains, and shutters at night to bring in the cold; storing that cold in the thick stone walls; and then closing the windows, curtains, and shutters in the day to keep the cold inside, resulting in a temperature of just right.

Again. This is all great if the local climate supports it. When it stays above 80f 20 hours out of 24 there just isn't much "cold" to store. Any many folks think 60% is a tough relative humidity to deal with. Passive is just a tough road when it is 3AM and the temp is 95f and the humidity is 95%. Been there. Hard to sleep. And those areas in India where it's 120f during the day and 100f at night? Little humidity but still a bit hard to take.

162:

Such is the strength of graphene, for example, that according to the Nobel prize committee, a hypothetical 1-metre-square hammock of perfect graphene could support a 4-kilogram cat. The hammock would weigh 0.77 milligrams — less than the weight of a cat's whisker — and would be virtually invisible

Wouldn't strands that thin and that strong cut right through the cat? Put the 4 kg cat onto this hammock, it falls through in a bunch of hexagonal pieces.

WRT original post -- why exactly did Fuller think mobility is so important? And given his ahead-of-time environmental concerns (passive air temperature control, grey-water system), did he not see that aluminum contradicts that?

163:
Wouldn't strands that thin and that strong cut right through the cat?

No; it's a solid sheet. Just one that's so thin it's almost invisible. You probably wouldn't even be able to give yourself a papercut on the edge; it isn't going to be nearly as stiff as a sheet of paper, so it would fold rather than cut the skin. You might want to give it some kind of thicker edge to make it easy to find, however.

164:

why exactly did Fuller think mobility is so important?

I don't think he did. The Dymaxion house was designed to be manufactured and transported to a site, which would be permanent. Controlled quality and economies of scale are the hallmark of mass production. Automobiles rapidly declined in relative price to houses. This is what he was probably aiming for.


And given his ahead-of-time environmental concerns (passive air temperature control, grey-water system), did he not see that aluminum contradicts that?

Is that rationale contradicted by aluminum? It is lightweight and durable. The Dymaxion house is in effect a large, high quality, Airstream caravan.
If the walls were well insulated, it would be energy efficient. Contrast the energy used to make aluminum with that used for concrete or brick, and then transport it to the site.
As noted above by someone else on the thread, steel homes were also tried (e.g. Lustron) and many designers had a shot at steel designs as the steel industry was looking for new markets.

165:

Is that rationale contradicted by aluminum?

Aluminum is the very opposite of insulation.

166:

The Dymaxion house was designed to be manufactured and transported to a site, which would be permanent. Controlled quality and economies of scale are the hallmark of mass production. Automobiles rapidly declined in relative price to houses. This is what he was probably aiming for.

Yes. It still takes 3 or 4 people about 3 months on site stick build a 1500 to 2500 sf house. Give or take. You CAN compress the time with more people and especially if you are building a bunch and have the foundation guys rolling down ahead of rough framing ahead of plumbing and so on. But there are limits. 270 people can't build a house in a day. But if you want to build them faster you have to do some or all of it off site in a factory. BF seemed stuck on the airplane as a model of how a modern house should look.

167:

We had a discussion on whether US houses tend to fall down. Look here.

168:

I'm $101.10 away from the donut hole and it's not even halfway through the year. The only good thing is that Congress set up Medicare so they have to pay half price of the brand name meds. I have two generics that are very expensive and I hope my HMO will continue to just give me the basic generic copay.

169:

I take so many meds that my doctors look them up before prescribing them (there's computers in every exam room) to make sure there won't be problems. Plus, I don't mind not drinking alcohol, but not eating grapefruit? Waaaaa

170:

There's been a lot of criticism of that book.

171:

I don't mind not drinking alcohol, but not eating grapefruit

Miss pineapple too?

172:

BF seemed stuck on the airplane as a model of how a modern house should look.

So did a lot of people at the time. Raymond Loewy was similarly affected. The stream form look of aircraft was a leitmotif of a lot of products of that era, especially cars (all those fins!) and caravans (Airstream). Even fantasy spaceships looked very aircraft like - c.f. early Dan Dare ships that looked like B-29's without wings.

173:

Aluminum is indeed a superb electrical and heat conductor. But you might want to ask yourself how is it that you can be so warm in the aluminum skinned cabin of an aircraft flying at 550+ mph through freezing air at 30,000 ft. (I know it is hard to recall flying without hundreds of other bodies packed in the space emitting ~100W apiece, but a few of us can still remember those flying days. And it was still warm in the cabin).

174:

Brit scientists spent a lot of time in your feed lots and found Bacteriophages for cattle. Anybody tested them to see if they pack on weight like antibiotics. I would think they could/should. Your feed lots are so clean they don't need the amount of antibiotics that we, in the US, do for bacteria. Is anybody using Bacteriophages? In the Third World you may not need prescriptions to buy antibiotics. The drug stores have sales. People who can pay for them may take them just in case. And pimps give them to their girls to make them look healthy while breeding antibiotics resistant bacteria. I believed there would be something like AIDS. Only as a antibiotics resistant bacteria. The factory farms here handle the waste like nature intended. It's dumped it on fields to improve them, inches deep. Then it either dry's out and is blown away as dust or runs into streams. There have been antibiotics resistant bacteria outbreaks around big feed lots. The big Wall St companies doing this are working to get laws passed in the States protecting them from "harassment" law suits over this. Some small farms are using methane digesters to get rid of the waste safely and are burning the gas and selling the power. The Wall St farmers want the government to pay for them.

175:

Aluminum is indeed a superb electrical and heat conductor. But you might want to ask yourself how is it that you can be so warm in the aluminum skinned cabin of an aircraft

Or how liquid nitrogen can keep so cold in those aluminum dewar flasks.

I think the answer is that in spite of being a good conductor, aluminum is also a great reflector of radiant heat. So as long as you and your air aren't touching it directly, aluminum blocks thermal transmission pretty well.

176:

The Dymaxion house also was expensive. $6500 in 1946 is around $70k in today's USD, and the average house price, which includes the land, was around $5000 in 1946.

There are a bunch of companies today that have good quality partial-prefab houses for sale. Take a look at Sunset magazine, for example.

177:

Ooh, I'm glad you mentioned the Henry Ford Museum - it just so happens that I'll be at the World Steam Expo a couple of miles from there next week. I will definitely have to try to get photos and such.

178:

After WW-2 there were a lot of aluminum smelters and it was cheap. Later the steel industry gave huge subsidies not to use Fuller domes on big projects. Bucky called for aluminum not steel. I think he would be better known if not for that. I still love looking at his dreams. But I never believed in the little ones them the the way Brand and the rest did. When you are first, you get the arrows in your butt. You need cranes to put up prefabs. They are being used in housing developments. For one house, a good crew of carpenters is cheaper. Thanks to the anti-union war, putting one together may not be possible. Bucky made his parts one man sized. You may want to INTER-NET Buckminster Fuller Virtual Institute

179:

"Miss pineapple too?"

Why? My ACE inhibitor carries a warning against eating grapefruit. I know that plant sterols do too. I've never seen or heard a similar warning about pineapple with either.

180:

Again. This is all great if the local climate supports it. When it stays above 80f 20 hours out of 24 there just isn't much "cold" to store. Any many folks think 60% is a tough relative humidity to deal with. Passive is just a tough road when it is 3AM and the temp is 95f and the humidity is 95%. Been there. Hard to sleep. And those areas in India where it's 120f during the day and 100f at night? Little humidity but still a bit hard to take.

Which is why in the arid and sunny interior of India you find very similar construction techniques as Spain, with thick walls and shutters. On the cloudy and humid coasts, you get a totally different design, with large eves to block the sun, and wide windows to enhance internal airflow being the priority to speed evaporation of sweat. The key point being to design your building to maximise what benefits you can extract from the environment, rather than plonking down a brick bunker and filling it with air conditioning.

181:

The criticism is predominantly of some of the ethnic assumptions, not of the agricultural ones, and most criticism is almost nict-picking within the various fields, while GGS covers a fairly wide range of disciplines.

That, and the addition of antibiotics as agricultural supplements only dates back fifty years or so, while GGS refers to selective breeding for resistance to disease.

182:

Inhibitory effects of fruit juices on cytochrome P450 2C9 activity in vitro.

"However, since pineapple juice showed very strong
inhibitory activity, we think there is a possibility of
food-drug interactions caused by pineapple juice in vivo."

It is an in vitro study, rather than in vivo, but the activity on the Cytochrome system that metabolizes drugs in the liver is clear.

You may wish to look into it further.

183:

tl;dr

But anyway pineapple juice is notoriously one of the strongest commonly available fruit juices available: it's full of interesting enzymes, such that it is used as a meat tenderiser. It's going to have pretty drastic effects in vitro. Whether it has any effect in vivo is another matter: enzymes, being proteins, are not guaranteed to survive the digestive juices intact.

184:

#182 and 183 - Thanks guys. I was a bit surprised by Alex's OP, because, as I say, there are several drugs that say "no grapefruit (juice)" but none I knew of that said the same about pineapple (and I like pineapple rather more).

185:

Passive is just a tough road when it is 3AM and the temp is 95f and the humidity is 95%. Been there. Hard to sleep. And those areas in India where it's 120f during the day and 100f at night? Little humidity but still a bit hard to take.

Which is why in the arid and sunny interior of India you find very similar construction techniques as Spain, with thick walls and shutters. On the cloudy and humid coasts, you get a totally different design, with large eves to block the sun, and wide windows to enhance internal airflow being the priority to speed evaporation of sweat. The key point being to design your building to maximise what benefits you can extract from the environment, rather than plonking down a brick bunker and filling it with air conditioning.

Sorry but going along with such construction in India and in the US in the south in the past these passive methods seemed to require a servant class that did all the hot sweaty work while those actually living in the main buildings got to avoid much which would generate body heat. And even then it's incredibly uncomfortable much of the time. The building techniques you mention just don't make a bad situation worse.

And of most of the people I know I'm about the only one who can deal with 95F at night and sleep. Likely because I grew up in it. But given the choice I'd flip the switch and turn on the AC.

186:

NIH doesn't say anything about pineapple. (It does mention low thyroid and kidney disease, both of which I have, but it hasn't affected them.)

187:

The two meds they're using are an NSAID and one for diabetes. Not a cholesterol med.

188:

I don't understand the relevance of this comment. If paws4thot takes drugs that require avoiding grapefruit juice, because grapefruit juice affects the cytochrome system, then other fruits which affect the same system might be a problem too. The reference suggests that pineapple may similarly affect that system, not just in vitro, but in vivo. I'm not making the claim that pineapple will impact the cytochrome system, the authors are. It may be a false claim, but it may be worth looking into further, especially if paws4thot enjoys more than the odd chunk of pineapple.

My initial comment was a result of being told of the pineapple connection when I worked for a company doing extensive gene expression analyses on compound dosed rats. Obviously it is not widely known and may not even be a valid claim. Then again, maybe it is.

189:

#186 thro 188 - I take an ACE inhibitor that requires avoiding grapefruit juice, but I don't actually take plant sterols (my blood chloresterol is "normal"). It's just well known that they require the avoidance of grapefruit!

I don't actually eat much pineapple, but do actively enjoy it occasionally, unlike grapefruit!

190:

To each their own.

As somewhere that does passive cooling (and insect resistance) without servants though, look into the Queenslander design, from Australia.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queenslander_%28architecture%29

Good condition older houses sell for very good money these days as the costs of living in them are significantly lower than many of the modern efforts, and modern versions are now spreading up the coast.

191:

A design like that could make a Kansas City summer more bearable.

192:

Occasional pineapple (even grapefruit) is fine. To add yet more complexity, the grapefruit warning assumes that your body does not adapt over time. I suspect that this assumption is untrue. For example, chronic alcohol users rapidly increase their ability to break down alcohol.

193:

No, the report is that they're testing the fruit juices with meds that are different from the ones that have problems with fruit juices.

194:

With regard to liquid nitrogen or liquid helium dewars: aluminized mylar sheet in multiple layers cuts down on radiative heat transfer. Vacuum space around the rolled mylar film eliminates convective heat transfer (except for out the top). Aluminum provides structural strength for the vacuum space, but there needs to be a solid insulating material to connect the inner fluid tank to the outside. This is done with fiberglass. Glass and plastic are noncrystalline insulators which leads to give low thermal conductivity.

195:

On homes only. And a Bucky Fuller good idea. The 1972 book THE DYMAXION WORLD OF BUCKMINSTER FULLER by Fuller and Robert Marks is a good look at Fuller and his ideas. In the book is a idea that was working in the 1920s. Called the Stockade Building System. In 1972 one was still in use. Between 1922 and 27 240 buildings were made with it. The system was sold to the Vcelotex corp. and is used for acoustical wall and ceiling material. It was fibrous material, like straw, bonded with bug and fire proof magnesium-oxy-chloride. For the size used, one man to pass it up and one man to put it in place, it provided insulation like four inches of cork. It had a cheap, simple to make reinforced concrete frame. The Wall system is USA patent 1,633,702 and it's blown manufacturing patent is 1,634,800. Frankly I am writing all this in the hope someone will take it up. It worked then. I don't see why it will not work now.
Homes can be boxes that power is put into to make them livable. A lot of power. Unless they are hyper-insulated, and hyper homes do not cost that much more to build. Heating them so cheap solar is not needed, not now. Here, close to the true middle of the USA, I was in a group run out of a engineering school. This was before the Fossil Fuel party came to power. Homes types were wired up and monitored. With a solar home it's not that hard to keep warm for three days if it's done right. That's the standard here. Heat is usually needed then and if it's electric, some power companies have a higher rate then. If there are too many homes hitting the juice at the same time, that's understandable. With deep, long cold and hot humid summers some power will be needed unless you want to live like monks. A Trombe solar wall's heat can be used to heat and pull new air into any home, but it could be very humid much of the time. In this part of the country a partially under-ground seems best. This is high dirt burm walls with windows that are about normal and a well insulationed roof. And they are fairly tornado proof. Anybody wanting to know about more kinds of homes than they ever dreamed of need to find THE OWNER BUILT HOME, by Ken Kern. Know that he was killed in one of his new way homes. After a mud slide.

196:

High mass, low temp heat storage, Usually used in solar is is usually in the basement or under the floor. Queens lander homes are in up in the air. Heat storage would cost more, if it could be done and stay a Queenslander.

197:

There was a guy making solar homes with aluminized mylar sheets, I think it was in the mid 70's. He said they worked great. But he was using government surplus and could not find more. I don't know what it would cost new. It burns very well. A plane had a fire in the cockpit from it and there was talk of finding something else for airplanes insulation. OK, I'M DONE FOR NOW.

198:

We should design for humans, not for Daleks. This stark statement is not intended to denigrate those with disabilities, but there should be an awareness of the opportunity cost of insisting on 100% accessibility for new projects.

199:

Er, no.

There's no excuse for cutting corners that will cost you a chunk of your market. Designing scissors that can't be used by left-handers, for example, or right-handed (rather than ambidextrous) computer mice, or street layouts that exclude some categories of the traveling public. The latter, in particular, is important: you know that 49,000 pedestrians died in road traffic accidents in the USA in the past decade? And that the overwhelming majority were killed by being struck by powered vehicles? And that the commonest contributing factor (after driver negligence) was a lack of safe crossings and sidewalks?

It's not about "designing for humans, not for Daleks", it's about designing for all humans, not solely for SUV drivers.

200:

One insulation method I don't recommend is that used by Thomas Holloway in the construction of Founders Building, Royal Holloway College (Univ of London). A beautiful building, Holloway noticed that a lot of the fine stonework arrived packed in crates stuffed with straw. So, for insulation, he used oil-soaked straw. Yep. Can't see any problems there.

I've heard it said that Founder's Building is the second biggest fire hazard in Britain.

201:
And that the commonest contributing factor (after driver negligence) was a lack of safe crossings and sidewalks?

The trend here in Seattle (reportedly driven by federal highway regulations) is to simply remove crosswalks if too many auto drivers run over pedestrians there.

Apparently, the thinking is that the problem is the pedestrians: they naively believe that drivers will stop for some mere painted lines, signs, and flashing lights, which is patently untrue. So in the interests of safety, such crossings should not be allowed (except by able-bodied individuals prepared to sprint between cars, of course).

Personally, I would install hydraulic steel ram barriers around the sidewalk. If you can't drive safely... Sadly, that costs more.

202:
There's no excuse for cutting corners that will cost you a chunk of your market.

That only makes sense if there are no benefits to cutting the corner in question. Otherwise you're arguing that no-one should do straight-to-paperback book publishing; after all, some people prefer hardbacks, so it costs you a chunk of your market.

But usually there is a benefit to cutting the corner, at which point the question is how you do the balancing act. If my local council has to choose between making all their (mostly old) buildings fully accessible to disabled people, or providing transport for disabled people to the new one that was constructed with access in mind and spending the rest of the money on, say, replacing knackered equipment at the community theatre, or hiring somewhere a bit more modern to act as a youth centre, I'd rather they put me on the bus, because the greater good ought to prevail and they can't afford do all of that.

or right-handed (rather than ambidextrous) computer mice

Except that handed mice are much easier for people with certain kinds of disability to use. (I basically can't use ambidextrous mice at all without crippling pain. Trackerballs and some types of handed mouse allow me to actually use GUIs.) So if you insist that all mice must be ambidextrous, it "costs you a chunk of your market" - and a chunk who don't have many other options, at that.

203:

Naah: speed pillows, chicanes, and speed limit signs that say IF YOU TRAVEL ABOVE 15MPH YOU WILL PAY FOR A NEW SET OF SHOCK ABSORBERS EVERY THREE MONTHS.

Much cheaper than hydraulic rams.

204:

When the substructure and then upper items are designed to be accessible before they're built, they're rarely very expensive.

For example, when I bought my condo, there was grading, but no street, sidewalk, condos beyond the end of my building. I wrote a ramp, handicapped spot, zebra stripe, and curbcut into my contract and when the foreman came to talk to me, he asked me if I wanted my spot in front of the building (I'd get two out of the six parallel parking spots) or wait three weeks and get one in the next section where they'll be head in. Clearly it would be better for him to just build the curbcut in, but he would have to take out part of the sidewalk to put a curbcut on the parallel. For my reasons, I took the head-in (I actually back in, which is much better for me).

When the city increased the number of handicapped spots in multi-unit developments, the builder still owned more condos than any other person, and he had the foreman put spots in next to the existing ones. He didn't have to deal with a new curbcut or zebra stripe, all he had to do was spray the wheelchair icon and put in a sign.

I can't visit my brother because he has steps going in and inside his house. He didn't build it, but he bought a house like that, even though that area has a lot of houses with accessible entrances and insides.

(I'm spelling and using the wrong words badly, if I didn't get them all, please excuse me.)

205:

Maryland has put red flags at some crossings to see if that will help. There's containers of red flags at the ends of the crosswalks and you take one and wave it before and while you cross. On the other side, you put it in that container. I haven't heard results yet.

206:

It's the same with accessiblity inside a house. If you build the features in to start with they don't add to the cost but adding them later is expensive.

We built our house with all doors at least 36 inches wide for wheelchair access. The master bathroom is designed with adequate maneuvering room for a wheelchair. All of our electrical outlets are 36 inches above the floor. Convenient even for the non-disabled.

207:

I remember reading an anecdote by J. Baldwin about how the Dymaxion's were intended to be leased, along the same lines as Ma Bell leasing phones. The reckoning being that spreading service over a wide population kept costs down and the customer got improved equipment when it was ready to be deployed.

And that seemed pretty neat-o to me. Of course, you can extend the analogy for some parallel world where Ma Dymaxion eventually runs into deregulation and suddenly there's a glut of deployment companies handling service, with disputes over boundaries and so on.

And maybe this deregulation didn't happen until the Dymaxions were fully spimed and talking to that world's Internet, and instead of just one data line running to a home you'd have several, on top of phone service...That might be an interesting world to visit.

208:

It's the same with accessiblity inside a house. If you build the features in to start with they don't add to the cost but adding them later is expensive.

Sorry but that is just not true. Wheelchair access requires a certain amount of room over and above what works if you don't allow for wheelchairs. And that extra room costs money. About $200 to $300 per square foot in North Carolina. Less maybe in Mississippi. More in New York. But it does cost extra.

And are we supposed to eliminate all multi-story dwellings? No more basements? No more multiple living floors?

No townhouses allowed? (In the US this typically means a basement and two stories per unit with 4 to 10 units sharing a foundation with fire walls between them.)

And elimination of outside steps in all situations means a lot of terraforming in many parts of the US.

I'm all for accessable housing but let's be real about what it will cost.

209:

Given that the city's policy of upgrading city streets with safer and more visible bicycle lanes was described by an import from Texas at my office as "The Mayor's war on car drivers" and as grounds for him to be removed from office, I shudder to think what people would think if the city dared to install speed bumps or other traffic calming apparatus on their precious thoroughfares.

Better by far to simply pretend that pedestrians don't exist...

210:

My grandparents bought a house in 1948, stick-built, detached, on a small lot in Kansas City. Two stories of living space plus garage-under-the-house and big attic, and I think it was four bedrooms but I remember downstairs better. It was either $4000 or $8000; I forget which at this point, but I think the story was they splurged and bought the more expensive one, in spite of him being a university professor and her being a high school teacher. It was very much not handicapped-accessible, which became a serious problem in their later years; it was on a hillside with the garage at ground level and the front door also at ground level but with ten feet of steps to get down to street level.

So the Dymaxion cost about as much as a full-sized real house including land, in a big city on a streetcar line. And if you look at Fuller's more famous housing design, yeah, geodesic domes leak. And Frank Lloyd Wright's houses need lots of maintenance and leak (except FallingWater, which needed lots and lots of maintenance to avoid leaking fast). And Eero Saarinen who did Big Glass Box office buildings and airports? I worked in one, and it leaked, though it was gorgeous.

211:

I've never been in a city where a pedestrian did not have to act like a mouse. If they are wise they always will. Most places here have right turn after stop red lights. And a pedestrian never enter many drivers minds.

212:

Well, that's your problem, then. Right turn on red (or left turn, it would be over here) is flat-out illegal and will get you a fine plus penalty points. Pedestrians have absolute right of way over powered traffic except on motorways (the equivalent of interstates) where they're not supposed to be in the first place. And you can forget your nice regular city block structures that permit rapid driving with brain switched off -- our cities mostly predate automobiles and are not designed for their convenience.

This makes for a better quality of life, believe it or not.

213:

speed pillows, chicanes, and speed limit signs that say IF YOU TRAVEL ABOVE 15MPH YOU WILL PAY FOR A NEW SET OF SHOCK ABSORBERS EVERY THREE MONTHS.

I think you might be underestimating the creativity of sociopathic drivers. I know I used to. When they put in speed pillows in front of my children's school a few years ago, I liked them at first. Most of the drivers did indeed slow down significantly. On the other hand, many seemed to feel that they had already done their bit by slowing down, and were less inclined to actually stop for children at the zebra crossing. What really made me dislike those speed pillows, however, was when I saw somebody drive around them rather than over them, which required him to drive half on the road and half on the sidewalk, but didn't require him to slow down at all!

Can you ever be sure that the cost of going too fast is significant, the cost is borne by the driver, and that the optimal path actually becomes safer?

My suggestion for improving road safety is to get peer pressure involved, not (only) money. We need something that impacts everybody a little bit, not just a too-large-but-small minority fatally. We could introduce a number of car-free days proportional to the number of traffic fatalities and injuries. 40 road fatalities per million inhabitants last year? 40 car-free days this year. 500 heavily injured? 500 car-free hours on top of those 40 days. Anybody who wants to argue about the rate of proportionality is welcome to. If the debate is framed in terms of how many fatalities are acceptable, the debate is already won.

214:

I think you are talking about the way humans are hardwired. That's just not going to change much. Pedestrians had better always act like a mice.

215:

Yeah, I always think that if money falls from the sky, I won't make a house much bigger than my condo, but hallways and doorways would be wider, I'd use pocket doors, and lower level prep and burners in the kitchen. Plus, a wall oven where the door goes to the side. I've lived here almost 20 years and I can't use the oven because my balance is too bad and I'd probably fall on the inside of the oven's door. On the other hand, it is extra storage and I do have a really good toaster oven.

216:

In the US, each state has their own rules (if you travel by car, look the rules up). Here in Virginia, right turn on red, watching for pedestrians, is legal. The sign that goes up is "No Right Turn on Red."

217:

What makes you think humans are hard-wired for anything?

218:

Well, I certainly think we are. The autonomic systems, for example. And I've been told that sucking is entirely instinctive, at least as a newborn.

Can you be hard-wired to learn? With certain kinds of things being easier to learn / more likely to be learned?

219:

David you are ignoring that I specified accessibility inside a house. $200 - $300 dollars a square foot is the price of custom built housing in this area. People who are in that price category aren't worried about the cost of a feet extra square feet. Tract houses are in the range of $85 - $90 per square foot.

Paying attention to layout will minimize the cost impact of making a house wheelchair accessible and is precisely the kind of thing that can't be fixed after construction. Putting extra studs in the bathroom walls to support handrails costs an extra $15 during construction but is a major expense to retrofit.

We did most of our own design work and hired an architect, who turned out to be worthless, for the finishing touches. We came in at about $125 a square foot. An example of care in layout is the fact that we have only about 40 square feet of hallway in the house. We were motivated by an earlier house we lived in that was on 5 different levels and had several hundred square feet consumed by stairways and hallways.

By the way, in Texas I would bet that not one house in a thousand has a basement. A third of all Texans live in manufactured housing (mobile homes) and something like the Dymaxion house would be a step up.

Your argument against accessibility strikes me in the same way as those who argue against energy efficient housing because it is more expensive. We have a green homes tour here in Austin every year and one of the most efficient homes ever on the tour was a Habitat for Humanity home. It was the cheapest home ever included in the tour.

220:

in Texas I would bet that not one house in a thousand has a basement.

Agreed. But then again Texas is not the only state worth mentioning. No matter what Texans think. :) My wife works in Texas 5 days a week and her sister and now her mom lives there so we have some experience with that particular state of mind called Texas.

Your argument against accessibility strikes me in the same way as those who argue against energy efficient housing because it is more expensive.

I wasn't arguing against accessibility. Just against people who do not seem to recognize it has a cost. Not astronomical. But a cost. And not everyone wants the design compromises that accessibility entails. Some people want 3 stories and stair cases an that tiny broom closet with a toilet in it in the utility room.

I like my split level but I'm also very much aware that its utility while our kids were grown up may not apply when/if I'm having trouble walking at some point in the future.

And yes building a split level house in central Texas would first entail finding a hill. ;)

As to costs. I suspect much housing in Texas is cheaper than in NC due to labor and other issue related to geography and land costs.

As to building green in Austin, I'll leave that debate to another blog post. :)

221:

Habitat for Humanity will only do stick homes. Believe me I know. One of my problems is that I can't do math. And the calculator with all the places is long dead. But think about this. Texas has 172,044,800 acres. America has 310,300,00 people, give or take. So how much space would every American have to put a Autonomous house? And no I am not saying do it. As for hardwired humans. Well I did not invent the term, but I do believe in it as some kind of behaviorist. I see now there is a lot on Google about it. Humans are not complete meat puppets. But...they are not free agents of pure intelligence. Think about how the church tried for a two thousand years to make a Christian man, and the Nazi ands Communists did the same. They ended up with pretty much the same people as before. A lot of human behavior is much like that of chimps who are not big on thinking. There have been many studies that show how little we think about what we do. Like chimps. There may be two kinds of people. But they are descended from the ones who climbed the tree before they thought about if that was that a wolf or not. People who did not leap to a conclusion were eaten sooner or later. So who are we descended from, the thinkers? Computer gaming tests have shown we all do what's bad for us, because it feels right. And paper IQ has little to do with it. Even when we do think, it can't always be trusted. If we do not like a fact we will do a lot to find a way not to believe it. Some years ago a physiatrist wanted to show how lower IQ made people bigger suckers. Using the paper IQ scores of his students he found instead that the higher the paper IQ the more nonsense they would believe. The test may have been flawed. But if the smarter could be fooled a little bit at the start and believe, they would keep using their use their brains and logic. No matter where it went. The lower IQ ones must have thought it was all BS. I truly hope the test games that show things like you are more likely to win if you do not stab people in the back can used on kids. Not the first shooter games we give them now. A class in school showing how to win by thinking and getting along. That's fun?

222:

R. Buckminster Fuller said he was told Before the War, by England's best and brightest, that it was good that the poor lived in crowded "battleship" housing so they would fit right into the Navy. http://www.popsci.com/gadgets/gallery/2011-05/archive-gallery-tech-people-disabilities ... Sit-Down Crutches: August 1918. I did not say they worked but the need is not new. "A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." HOW DO YOU OR I KNOW?
William James1842-1910, Psychologist, Philosopher

223:

That's arrant nonsense. At least as a cause of slum overcrowding ...

More likely:

There's a type of housing in the UK that's still not uncommon, called a back-to-back. It's a cheap and nasty variant on the terrace (or row) house, where a row of adjacent houses share load-bearing walls to either side. In back-to-backs, the houses share a third load-bearing wall, so that you have two rows of houses built back-to-back with one another. Each house only has one wall to itself -- the front one, with the doors and windows embedded in it.

The back wall would typically have chimneys and fireplaces, so the ducting could be shared between the front and back dwellings. Access to the back would be via an alley. They're also commonly known as "two up/two down" for the number of rooms. Suit family of 12, natch: two parents, nine kids, and a granny.

This design saves money when you're rolling out a load of cheap tract housing for the mill or factory at the foot of the road, which is why it's so bloody common in former mill towns. Supervisors would live in the end houses (an extra wall with windows! Luxury!) while the mill owners would live in a big mansion at the top of the hill.

224:

That's arrant nonsense" Bucky thought the same. This was in the 30's. There was a lot of that going around. And the subject was city slums not workers housing in a mill town. What do they say on PBS, they could have been winding the smart ass yank up.

225:

Trust me, back-to-backs are mostly slums -- they, and the equivalent (tenements in Scotland) were mostly built to the cheapest possible standard as an alternative to there not being anywhere for the mill/factory workers to live. And they are indeed found in what you would call a city. ("Mill town" as a term was applied to any industrial centre in the UK -- including cities like Bradford or Manchester.) They were a step up from the mid-Victorian rookeries -- which were demolished during the 19th century because they were crime blackspots, utterly impossible to police -- but not anything you'd want to live in if you could do better.

226:

You are in for a shock then because the Habitat house I mentioned was built with Structural Insulated Panels. It was a small ranch house with the long axis oriented east west and wide over hanging eaves. It was rated at 900 square feet per ton of air-conditioning.

One of the advantages a SIP home has is that by using panels for the roof the air-conditioning is within the air-conditioned space. In conventional stick built housing the air-conditioner and its duct work sits in un-conditioned attic space that reaches 160 degrees or more in the summer time. At least a third of the energy the air-conditioner uses is wasted fighting the heat in the attic.

227:

I'll trust you to know a lot more about the subject than I. THIS IS WHAT I WAS GOING TO POST TODAY. All of America's people can be put into Texas. Well not really and not that anyone would want to, but it shows why thinking is deferent here. Postings here talk about how open/empty Scotland is and how bad the weather is. A Fuller Dome over much of Manhattan was proposed. And used by our kind of intellectuals to show how nuts and un-cool people who work at trying to fix messes are. If they had looked they would have found that it had been thought out in general. The savings in costs should have quickly paid for it. So how about a Manhattan dome in a empty part of Scotland? Just slowing the heat loss from cold winds would be a good thing. I don't suppose air-conditioning help is needed. But how could it work in Scotland? I wonder if this has been looked at back in the times when it looked like things would be better. And I am not saying it would work. Now I'll sit and be very still.

228:

"finally culminating in his wildly successful geodesic domes."

His domes weren't wildly successful, especially not dome-homes. Lloyd Kahn, dome-home evangelist and author of "Domebook One" and "Domebook 2", quickly became disillusioned with the idea when he actually tried to live in a dome. Domes have terrible acoustics, bad room-to-room privacy, enormous wasted volume, substantial heating and cooling challenges, and are far more expensive than conventional rectangular buildings.

As others have pointed out, we already have mobile, modular homes, and they are called trailers. People prefer not to live in them if they afford it.

230:

"You are in for a shock then because the Habitat house." No shock, that was then and this is now. The founder was sharp about bales or anything that did not look like everything else. Not even soar walls. He wanted them to look like everybody's home. He was more interested in the social cost to the people living there. And homes cost so he could not take chances

231:

The WashPost has a real estate section on Saturdays where part is about a development. Well, one house in Annandale Acres is a geodesic dome.

232:

Here in Pennsylvania in the US, Right Turn on Right is allowed, but I've found drivers to be very courteous. From what I can tell, this is for two reasons:
1) Very strong and clear liability that a pedestrian has the right-of-way in a crosswalk (which are very well marked). Hitting a pedestrian will likely result in criminal charges, plus a nice big legal settlement which will make it much more expensive, if prohibitive, to drive at all. This makes for a very bad day.

2) Assault with a deadly vehicle, such as an automobile, may qualify (I am not an attorney - consult one for real legal advice) under limited circumstances for legal use of lethal force to defend oneself. Combined with easy availability of Permits to Carry Firearms, this makes getting mad at slow pedestrians and running them over a potentially lethal idea.

The result is that people tend to be aggressively polite to pedestrians around here. Of course, your mileage may very and some settling of contents may occur during shipping.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on May 20, 2011 11:40 AM.

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