What Might Have Been
The Dymaxion House at the Henry Ford Museum
Following World War 2, the United States was filled with a can-do attitude. So much had been imagined and innovated in such a short amount of time under the pressures of war. Once the war was over, a great influx of soldiers returning from overseas created a great demand for housing. One man brought that innovative thinking to the world in re-thinking how people could build homes quickly and inexpensively, and adding a unique style like no other. Combining the conveyor belt process used in assembling airplanes quickly with an out-of-this-world design, Buckminster Fuller created a prototype for a house that could be made quickly and hopefully help solve the world’s housing shortage. He dubbed the dynamic house design “Dymaxion.”
In a circular shape that influenced bio-dome designs to come, the house was made of aluminum and could be created primarily on an assembly line. The plan was to create homes that could be shipped almost intact and land in place ready to go. The homes could be shipped around the world and adapt to many different terrains and climates. The design included a “grey water” system to use as little water as possible – well ahead of his time.
Looking futuristic and someplace that would be right at home on an episode of “The Jetsons” or “My Favorite Martian,” the home was circular,had plenty of windows, a living area, a modern kitchen, a bedroom, and a bathroom. Its size was a good starter home, but had limited ability to adapt as a family grew.
The self-described “non conforming misfit” designer had made plans to build a Dymaxion unit 10 stories high as multi-family housing, but it was never built. Fuller was a perfectionist, and always tweaking his plans which derailed the design from going into mass production. Soon that window of opportunity seemed to close when investors backed out and factories that were once set to produce airplanes on mass scale were transforming back to produce other products. The Dymaxion House prototypes never left the ground.
Although it never got beyond the prototype phase, the designer had a long distinguished career working towards sustainable housing. Fuller believed human societies would soon rely mainly on renewable sources of energy, such as solar and wind-derived electricity. He went on to design the Montreal Biosphere and was a key participant at United Nations Habitat, the first UN forum on human settlements. In February 1983 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom just a few months before his death.
A former investor of Fuller’s project was the only person to live in a Dymaxion house. He lived for about thirty years in one he located on the banks of a lake in Kansas. After he passed away, the family donated it to the Henry Ford Museum which refurbished it and now has it on display in their museum. The prototype is a natural fit at the Henry Ford Museum. This fascinating museum has long collected items that embody Henry Ford’s admiration for innovative thinking. Much more than cars, the Henry Ford contains amazing items such as the Dymaxion House, the building where Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, the Wright Brother’s bicycle shop, the world’s rarest Buggati car, the first McDonald’s sign, and so much more.
Learn more about The Henry Ford Museum
You can visit the Henry Ford Museum as an excursion on one of these scenic cruises: