May 12, 2013 Penngrove, California Drive north through Marin County, past Petaluma on Route 101, exit onto Railroad Avenue and right onto Old Redwood Highway. Small farm lots, old barns and sheds, prickle hedges and honeysuckle. “It’s not a commune,” says Jay Baldwin, coming out to greet us, but it is a shining hill that rises to the west from Penngrove Valley with seven tiers of chicken coops restored by old hippies and student squatters. Jay and his wife, Liz Fial, have been here longer than anyone else, since 1963. “Is it possible?” he asks himself, counting backward on the fingers of one hand. “Same year that Kennedy got shot, two months earlier,” he says, describing how he moved out from Michigan, driving 2,370 miles from Ann Arbor, through Denver, breaking down outside of Salt Lake City, while carrying all of his worldly possessions in the back of a ‘56 Chevy. Their domesticated coop has a low sloping ceiling, but it’s attached to a larger barn where Jay stores all of his experiments. Old wood planks are nailed vertically, board and batten, weathered and dark, as if oiled and smoked for years over a slow-burn fire. There’s a configuration of short two-by-fours beveled and nailed onto one wall in a radiating asterisk shape with elk antlers hanging from the center, sacred animal vibe, wild roses and ancient Ford, rusted out. Jay and Liz did all the work themselves, and they manage to live on $8,000 a year, happy and fine and low-impact. We eat a lunch of fresh berries, homegrown lettuce, cucumbers, cheese, and lemonade, while Baldwin tells me about his association with Buckminster Fuller, how he first met him in Ann Arbor, after one of Bucky’s all-night, epic lectures that started at 7 p.m. and went till dawn the next morning. They met up again in the fall of 1969 when Bucky came to visit Pacific High School, a free-form hippie school in the Santa Cruz Mountains where Baldwin and his fellow dome-head, Lloyd Kahn, were teaching students how to build domes. Together, they fabricated as many as 17 different versions of Bucky’s geodesic prototype, and one of the most experimental variations was Baldwin’s “Pillow Dome” that was made from clear vinyl pillows inflated with hydrogen. (The vinyl pillows were fabricated by a company in San Francisco that made inflatable female dolls for porn shops.) Bucky liked it so much that he lay down and took an hour-long nap inside the 20-foot-diameter structure. When he awoke, he asked Baldwin to build one on the Fuller family island in Maine. Baldwin said yes, if Bucky would pay for all the material expenses. “He said OK and wrote us a check,” Baldwin says, who prefabricated all the parts at his barn in Penngrove and then packed them into the back of his trusty ’67 Citroën DS wagon and drove from California all the way to Camden, Maine—about 3,300 miles—only stopping in Carbondale, Illinois, to help a friend make a ferroconcrete sailboat. “We were on Bear Island for about a week, living in one of the old barns,” recalled Baldwin. “There was an ancient pool table in there, and we shot pool by candlelight on the greatly slanted table, a challenge. It all went well, though Kathleen [Whitacre] and I were held in obvious low esteem by the New Englanders, probably because we weren’t married.” August 27, 2013 Bear Island, Maine A few months after seeing Baldwin at his house in Penngrove, I make it out to Bear Island, Bucky’s wind-swept, family island in Penobscot Bay, and although I know that one of Baldwin’s domes might still be lying in ruin, somewhere on the island, I’m taken aback when I see it there because I didn’t think it would be positioned so prominently on that first foggy march up from the harbor, up the hill, just past the Eating House, on the way to the Big House, emerging like a specter from a wafting plume of mist, silvery white against a backdrop of deep pine-tree shadows. I’m stunned by its simple, geometric beauty, an unexpected surprise, a hidden gem, and I hold back from looking too closely on this, my first pass, because I want to save it for later when I will return, alone and with my camera, to inspect the structure from all possible angles, inside and out. This is what I do an hour after my arrival, because I don’t want to lose the milky light and mysterious veils of mist, but by the time I return to the site, the light has dissolved into a dull pewter matte and the wind has kicked up to blow all the fog away. Once he’d transported all the parts from the mainland to the island on a lobster boat, Baldwin assembled the Pillow Dome on an old tennis court using three-fourths-inch EMT electrical tubing “because it’s galvanized inside and out,” and filled each opening with a 15-milliliter triangular pillow. It took them about a week to complete the dome, only because of so many distractions, including Bucky himself, who would frequently come by to check on their progress and talk for hours, or insist that they go sailing for the rest of the day. Late one evening, everyone sat beneath the struts of the unfinished dome and waited for a lunar eclipse, but when Fuller’s sister rushed down from the Big House to announce its arrival and said: “Brother, the eclipse is coming up from the bottom!” Fuller snapped back: “The moon doesn’t have any UP, stupid!” Everyone laughed except for Baldwin who felt bad about making Bucky’s sister the brunt of the joke. I walk around the ruins of the Pillow Dome. The vinyl “pillows” disintegrated a long time ago, but the thing itself, the main structure, the galvanized geodesic skeleton, struts, connectors, and bolts, are in surprisingly good shape considering it’s a 43-year-old artifact left to endure the salt air and brutal winters of coastal Maine. Even the star-shaped skylight at the top of the dome is still intact, and you can see how it was hinged around the edges so that the top panels could be flipped open for ventilation. There’s no sense of a roof pressing down, or of walls closing in. It is more of a floating, bubble-like sensation, and reminds me of Fuller’s enormous “Biosphere” that I visited the years before, in Montreal. It felt like a future that hadn’t happened yet, or at the least, a future that hadn’t been fully digested. The tetrahedral poetics of the geosphere, now black and naked, stripped clean of its original acrylic shell, manifested itself as an alternate sky—if that makes any sense—and there was something about looking through its prism-like veil that made the oddly pixelated horizon seem infinitely small. After his experiment on Bear Island, Baldwin worked with John Todd of the New Alchemy Institute on Cape Cod, and together they fabricated a larger version of the Pillow Dome, skinned with Tefzel, an ETFE fluoropolymer resin made by DuPont.
Posts tagged with "geodesic domes":
Pioneering environmental architect and industrial designer James Tennant Baldwin has passed away. The 85-year-old architect often went by the name of Jay and is well-known for his pioneering research in the realm of geodesic dome design and for work inspired by the research of Buckminster Fuller. An avid inventor and tinker, Baldwin leaves a legacy of non-stop experimentation and inquiry that includes pursuing innovative social ideals, developing advanced and sustainable construction systems, and interrogating new technologies. Baldwin is perhaps best known as the inventor of the so-called “pillow dome,” a modular metal tube structural system filled-in with ETFE panels. Early in his career, Baldwin pioneered solar geothermal and sustainable technologies and is among the earliest adopters of nascent sustainable approaches to design and building. Baldwin was born in 1933 and attended the University of Michigan in 1951, where he studied automobile design. As a young student, Baldwin once witnessed Fuller lecture for 14 hours straight; the episode inspired Baldwin to study under and eventually work for Fuller before graduating. After graduating in 1955, Baldwin worked for Bill Moss Associates, designing advanced camping gear. During the 1960s, Baldwin was a visiting lecturer at Southern Illinois University and the design editor of the Whole Earth Catalog. Baldwin was later employed in the California state government under the first Jerry Brown administration in 1975, serving in the California Office of Appropriate Technology. In the 1990s, Baldwin wrote a book about Buckminster Fuller’s work and legacy titled Bucky Works: Buckminster Fuller's Ideas for Today. Baldwin—a life-long educator—taught at the variety of educational institutions including California College of the Arts in San Francisco, University of San Francisco, the San Francisco Institute of Architecture, and Sonoma State University. In a statement, CCA president Stephen Beal said,
"I am privileged and proud to say that Jay was a part of our CCA community for over 20 years, inspiring generations of CCA students beginning in 1995 and continuing through his recent retirement in 2016. From his groundbreaking work in sustainable design, to his contagious spirit and undying passion for the field, Jay was a remarkable human being. It was truly an honor to have known him and to know that our students had the chance to learn from him."
Bjarke Ingels might be using his talents to embellish another European power plant. With his ski slope-topped waste-to-energy plant underway in Copenhagen, the Danish designer has unveiled plans for a biomass cogeneration plant in Uppsala, Sweden. DesignBoom reported that city officials asked Ingels to design the facility that would supplement the region's energy infrastructure during the winter. Since the building will not be used during the summer, BIG opted to create a colorful public amenity. That meant topping the plant in a geodesic rainbow dome which gives the whole thing a very funkadelic greenhouse-y feel.
Rockaway Beach, the waterfront community severely battered by Hurricane Sandy, is now the site of MoMA PS1's geodesic dome, a temporary cultural center offering lectures, exhibits, performances, and community events. PS1 kicked off the opening of the VW Dome 2 last Friday with a performance by singer Patti Smith, a fellow Rockaways resident. The museum will collaborate with local organizations in Queens to provide a range of programming over the next few months. The VW Dome 2 is part of a larger upcoming exhibit, EXPO 1: NEW YORK, that will present a variety of ideas and strategies to create a more sustainable waterfront. Last month, MoMA PS1 called on artists, architects, and designers to submit 3-minute video proposals that address relevant issues such as shoreline protections, community engagement, and climate change. The 25 winning submissions will be on view within the next month. Of course, this discussion would be incomplete and shortsighted without the feedback from the local community. Kevin Boyle, editor of The Wave, and Ideas Wanted-columnist Rick Horan have set up a video camera inside the VW Dome 2 and invited residents to participate in a conversation about the recovery efforts and needs of the Rockaways. The first Open Camera Session took place on Saturday, but locals will have another opportunity to offer their input tonight between 6:30 and 8:30 PM. The VW Dome 2 is located at the southern end of the parking lot between Beach 94th and Beach 95th Streets.
Oklahoma City just cannot tear down its architectural landmarks fast enough! The city and its developer community have been trying to do away with John Johansen's famous Mummers Theater and now David Box, a local developer, wants to get rid of a unique geodesic dome built in 1958 on Route 66. The developer—who claims among other things that the roof leaks and "you can't just call a normal roofer and say hey we got a geodesic dome here can you fix it"—will give anyone who wants the dome a $100,000 bonus to take it off his property so he can fill it in and "make it safe." The structure was originally built to house a bank and has been declared eligible to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and was designed by local architects Bailey, Bozalis, Dickinson, and Roloff based on Buckminster Fuller's patented dome.
Walking into the large, egg-like structure of the MoMA Ps1 Performance Dome, the German electronic band Kraftwerk's song "Man-Machine" was the perfect accompaniment to the architecture. Their music represents the kind of progressive attitude towards materials (instruments) and aesthetics (sounds) that is captured perfectly in the temporary structure. A shiny, white, geodesic dome reminiscent of fellow early techno-fetishist Buckminster Fuller, the space features a super-high-fidelity sound system, 8 screens projecting various computer art, and not much else. It is the ideal pairing of minimalism and technology with Kraftwerk's slick electronic melodies. Completely white on the inside and out, the dome is like a default setting, its tabula-rasa interior serving as the screen for 8 large projections approximately 15 feet off the ground, which are large enough to capture your attention and hold it. Each performance can start over, with its own tailored set of videos or images. The dome itself is almost blank, the speakers and projectors creating the spatial experience. The depth of sound that these speakers produces creates a voluminous soundscape. The nature of the dome is that there is quite a bit of extra space at the top, so the space is left half filled with the sounds of the performance and accompanying projections. These projections form a ring, and the dome is at its best when the lights are low enough to obscure the actual structure. The ring of projections then becomes the ceiling, like a spectacular cathedral to performance, or a futuristic, cosmic Pantheon. Instead of a single screen located behind the stage, these eight projections are arranged radially, on one surface, maintaining a spectacular sense of scale, but providing little spatial context. It is easy to get lost, disoriented. Everywhere around the circular stage is almost exactly the same, and you are left subject to only two 'architectural' forces: the speakers, and the videos, both of which are arranged in a equidistant, radial pattern. The user is transposed into one of Kraftwerk's visions, into a momentary place where technology becomes the only mediator of space and body and the building disappears. The electronic elements of performance become the spatial experience. The dome is a moving take on the immaterial, ephemeral nature of performance art, and stands as a high-water mark for museums presenting multidisciplinary work.
Design Miami, the high-design fair that runs with the giant, Art Basel Miami Beach, exhibited two objets d’architecture over the Miami Art Week, and named an architect, David Adjaye, as its 2011 Designer of the Year. Both objets were sculptural pavilions: one is an installation by Adjaye, commissioned for the fair, and the other a restored modernist icon with a utopian agenda. Adjaye’s pavilion Genesis was sited just outside the entrance to the Design Miami fair tent. Constructed with digitally cut timber planks, Genesis is triangular in plan, with an ovoidal interior space that opens to two sides, a smaller window on the third side, and an oculus above. Called by Adjaye “architectural furniture” because it’s not exactly a building, but almost a sculpture meant for human occupation, Genesisbecame a civic amenity for fairgoers, and gave the parking-lot site a feeling of a plaza. The other pavilion was in a vacant lot in the Design District. Buckminster Fuller’s Fly’s Eye Dome prototype was an early experiment in inexpensive prefab shelters and environmental, off-the-grid living. The dome, one of only three ever made by Bucky, was restored by Design Miami’s founder, Craig Robins. It was joined by the Fuller’s “omni-directional transport system”, the Dymaxion 4, restored by Lord Norman Foster using his own original Dymaxion as template. The 24 foot-wide prototype dome is a tessellation of hexagonal fiberglass panels with plastic bubble dome windows that seem to radiate from refracted light. It appears strong, but lighter than air, as if a white cloud of geometric purity is floating just along the ground. It was paired with Fuller’s Dymaxion Car as part of the traveling exhibition, “Architecting the Future: Buckminster Fuller and Norman Foster” curated by Lady Elena Foster (Long before he was knighted, Foster worked with Fuller.) The dome will be permanently installed in Miami’s Design District, in a plaza being developed by Robins. The Miami fairs have always been cross-disciplinary, beginning in the early years with the spontaneous creation of the “Miami model”: part serious fair, part social event, part bacchanalian party, part educational experience, and part clearing house for other creative media. Design Miami showed how naturally design-as-art can fit into this maelstrom. Perhaps architecture, although it has always played a cameo role during Basel week, will move in the same direction.