Social Dimensions of Dome Technology

        25. Down to Amerika, where the Government reports that housing costs an average 20 to 25 percent of a family's reward for production. A family with kids needs roughly 1,000 square feet of floor space. Conventional building technology costs begin at $17 to $20 per square foot, labor included. The current estimate is that 40 percent of American families cannot afford to own the cheapest new capitalist home. Under our exchange system, such a home costs roughly two and one-half years of an average family's productive work. Financing in a profit economy runs this to four and one-half to five years. (Taxes and upkeep figure extra.) Cheap prefab construction can bring these figures down to around $12 per square foot and three years' work. Geodesic buildings equally adequate to physical needs, safe and aesthetic, cost less than $3 per square-foot-equivalent for foundation, structure, lofting, and utilities core. This is the cost of materials. They are minimal, and the routines of building are few, simple, and precise. Most are easily hand-automated. So labor is greatly reduced. And its nature is changed. A variety of specialists and their skills are needed for a tract home’s structure, but anyone deft-handed can build a dome. Thus, even given our present habits with space, an average family can own a dome home for three-eighths of a year of productive exchange for materials, plus three-eighths of a man-year of its own labor in building.

        26. From any humane perspective of ecology or economics, our conventional building technologies are enormously wasteful of materials and human work. Low-skill synergic construction technology makes radically more possible the vision of universal adequate housing in America. Fact: while our cities choke and rot, one year of the military budget could buy materials and land to house 40 million people well in geodesics -- and also to train and pay the men in military servitude to build them within this period.

        27. Such technology has political dimensions. It invites user design as well as construction, in each way severing dependence upon specialists and weakening involvement and support of the system built about them, the megamachine of the housing industry. Slashed capitalization requirements weaken user control by the economic system. Aesthetically, technically, financially, the living unit thus tends to self-determination. Geodesics are a clear example of a technology that empowers people to determine the conditions of their lives.

        Any technology points such specific directions; who knows how deeply they already run in us? (I just flashed on where I first turned on to the possibilities of transparent plastics as a housing material. It was sometime after World War II. I was maybe seven. Donald Duck Comics came out with its first touch of science fiction, an issue devoted to the future and inspired by the imaginations of General Electric designers. Donald and his nephews wandered in a world of consumer wonder. Caught in a rainstorm, their host unfolded an infinitesimal square of clear plastic into a tent-umbrella. And I thought, Wow, would I like to make a fort out of something like that …) Assembled on modular principles and thus relatively reusable and portable. and permitting a greatly lessened proportional investment of work in housing, geodesics encourage our drift from being fixed in location to a semi-nomadic life-style more matched to a culture of changes. (6)

        28. What do all these abstractions come to in this time of history? I am a young man with a lover and a child and friends now facing the choices that will determine our adult lives, and through them the reconstruction of our society. Low cost/skill synergic housing technology grants us radical mobility. After building the nursery, Karen and I know that we can move anywhere, anytime, and make ourselves a home adequate in space and grace for $2,000 worth of materials and a season's labor; and that a group can move together on such terms and easily build in a way that blends with whatever land receives us. Before this, the straight choice was to be tied to twenty years of payments at a rate that forced you to work at a steady "job," and all that implies. The only option was to build by yourself conventionally, by fragments, while working and renting. Those I know who tried this found the process occupying all of their life's "spare" time for at least three to five years, and faced any further move reluctantly. So these new technologies free our life decisions from some heavy constraints.

        29. Of course, it's not quite so simple and rosy. Weepy fingers of bamboo hide our nursery dome from the roving search of the city building inspectors, cruising with the fleet of Berkeley police. For to live in a dome is to live beyond the Law -- literally, since they are legal only out in country not subject to the Uniform Building Codes.

        As with Simon Rodias' towers in Watts, the codes and inspectors comprehend neither the driving impulse nor the structural principles that flower into geodesic domes. Designed to guard human life, the codes base their expectations on cubic architecture and stud-and-beam construction and arbitrarily outlaw the accomplishments of a more efficient technology -- and the social consequences of its wide adoption.

        30. It's not simply a matter of being behind the times. The Law is not free to change. Great economic and political interests are vested in keeping the codes as they are. For lumber companies, the codes protect and enforce the profitable waste of the planet's dwindling forests. For the closed, racist plumbers' and electricians' unions, with their $10 per hour wage scales, the codes outlaw use of the high-efficiency, light, flexible plastic piping and conduit that now make plumbing and wiring safe, accessible technologies to the handyman. Such relation of Law to the greedy interests of power is general throughout the construction industry, and to the uses of all other major technologies.

        31. The growth of large, dense cities is isomorphic to the development of centralized political control: their populations are more manipulable, psychologically and physically. Today, urban population density and authoritarian bureaucracy escalate in run-away feedback, heading for the explosive crisis already visible in the progressive breakdown of the physical and social systems of New York City. In such a meta-stable ecology, one element of the dynamic is the protection of the technology that both makes the cities possible and dictates their forms, by the political and economic power systems that flourish within them. The skirmishing between dome-builders and building codes is a perfect example of how the decentralization of power comes into conflict with its organization into centralized forms. For a decentralized, mobile population, which radical housing technologies make possible, does not lend itself to systems of centralized control. Free up the codes! Power to the People!

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