A Home is not a Mouse

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“When your house contains such a complex of piping, flues, ducts, wires, lights, inlets, outlets, ovens, sinks, refuse disposers, hi-fi re-verberators, antennae, conduits, freezers, heaters -when it contains so many services that the hardware could stand up by itself without any assistance from the house, why have a house to hold it up. When the cost of all this tackle is half of the total outlay (or more, as it often is) what is the house doing except concealing your mechanical pudenda from the stares of folks on the sidewalk? Once or twice recently there have been buildings where the public was genuinely confused about what was mechanical services, what was structure-many visitors to Philadelphia take quite a time to work out that the floors of Louis Kahn’s laboratory towers are not supported by the flanking brick duct boxes, and when they have worked it out, they are inclined to wonder if it was worth all the trouble of giving them an independent supporting structure. (…)

I was standing up to my chest-hair in water, making home movies (I get that NASA kick from taking expensive hardware into hostile environments) at the campus beach at Southern Illinois. This beach combines the outdoor and the clean in a highly American manner – scenically it is the ole swimmin’ hole of Huckleberry Finn tradition, but it is properly policed (by sophomore lifeguards sitting on Eames chairs on poles in the water) and it’s chlorinated too. From where I stood, I could see not only immensely elaborate family barbecues and picnics in progress on the sterilized sand, but also, through and above the trees, the basketry interlaces of one of Buckminster Fuller’s experimental domes. And it hit me then, that if dirty old Nature could be kept under the proper degree of control (sex left in, streptococci taken out) by other means, the United States would be happy to dispense with architecture and buildings altogether.

Bucky Fuller, of course, is very big on this proposition: his famous non-rhetorical question, “Madam, do you know what your house weighs?” articulates a subversive suspicion of the monumental. This suspicion is inarticulately shared by the untold thousands of americans who have already shed the deadweight of domestic architecture and live in mobile homes which, though they may never actually be moved, still deliver rather better performance as shelter than do ground-anchored structures costing at least three times as much and weighing ten times more. If someone could devise a package that would effectively disconnect the mobile home from the dangling wires of the town electricity supply, the bottled gas containers insecurely perched on a packing case and the semi-unspeakable sanitary arrangements that stem from not being connected to the main sewer – then we should really see some changes. It may not be so far away either; defense cutbacks may send aerospace spin-off spinning in some new directions quite soon, and that kind of miniaturizationtalent applied to a genuinely self-contained and regenerative standard-of-living package that could be towed behind a trailer home or clipped to it, could produce a sort of U-haul unit that might be picked up or dropped off at depots across the face of the nation. Avis might still become the first in U-Tility, even if they have to go on being a trying second in car hire.

The car, in short, is already doing quite a lot of the standard-ofliving package’s job-the smoochy couple dancing to the music of the radio in their parked convertible have created a ballroom in the wilderness (dance floor by courtesy of the Highway Dept. of course) and all this is paradisal till it starts to rain. Even then, you’re not licked – it takes very little air pressure to inflate a transparent Mylar airdome, the conditioned-air output of your mobile package might be able to do it, with or without a little boosting, and the dome itself, folded into a parachute pack, might be part of the package. From within your thirty-foot hemisphere of warm dry lebensraum you could have spectacular ringside views of the wind felling trees, snow swirling through the glade, the forest fire coming over the hill or Constance Chatterley running swiftly to you know whom through the downpour.
(…) But … surely this is not a home, you can’t bring up a family in a polythene bag? This can never replace the time-honored ranch-style tri-level standing proudly in a landscape of five defeated shrubs, flanked on one side by a ranch-style tri-level with six shrubs and on the other by a ranch-style tri-level with four small boys and a private dust bowl. If the countless Americans who are successfully raising nice children in trailers will excuse me for a moment, I have a few suggestions to make to the even more countless Americans who are so insecure that they have to hide inside fake monuments of Permastone and instant roofing. There are, admittedly, very sound day-to-day advantages to having warm broadloom on a firm floor underfoot, rather than pine needles and poison ivy. America’s pioneer house builders recognized this by commonly building their brick chimneys on a brick floor slab. A transparent airdome could be anchored to such a slab just as easily as could a balloon frame, and the standard-of-living-package could hover busily in a sort of glorified barbecue pit in the middle of the slab. But an airdome is not the sort of thing that the kids, or a distracted Pumpkin-eater could run in and out of when the fit took them-believe me, fighting your way out of an airdome can be worse than trying to get out of a collapsed rain-soaked tent if you make the wrong first move.

Reyner Banham: A Home is not a House (Art in America issue 2, April, 1965)

The Environment-Bubble

Transparent plastic bubble dome inflated by air-conditioning output. In the present state of the environmental art, no mechanical device can make the rain go back to Spain; the standard-of-living package is apt to need some sort of an umbrella for emergencies, and it could well be a plastic dome inflated by conditioned air blown out by the package itself. Illustration by Francois Dallegret.

Charles Jencks also had something to say about it in 1969.

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