Re: Moonbeam Jerry and the Politics of Housing

At 01:41 AM 6/6/98 GMT, you wrote:
>It has occurred to me that Brown will, almost certainly, offer a
>low-rent housing 'urban renewal' project. Not only is it in keeping
>with his political agenda, such projects are almost obligatory in
>Oakland. While these projects have uniformly failed, they usually do
>offer a certain amount of temporary improvement in living conditions.
>One of the reasons they fail is because, once the buildings are
>completed, there is usually insufficent funds for maintanence,
>especially given the misuse that the poor and disenfranchised often
>make of 'welfare' housing.
>I smell an opportunity here, not so much in economic terms so much as
>in terms of propagandizing the idea of synergetic housing. You see,
>while I don't think that advanced 'livingry' can necessarily save such
>a project, it may help - for a number of reasons, all of which were
>part of Fuller's original goal AIUI.
	I like your general train of thought, and Oakland is definitely in need of
some serious overhaul. I've forwarded your original post to the
domesteading mailing list, and would recommend that you check it out. You
can find information at about the
various projects currently under way in the Reality Sculptors Project. 

>First, the buildings themselves cost a fraction of what it would cost
>to build ordinary housing (and take up substantially less space
>compared to single-unit housing); you could build upwards of 10 times
>as many units. Second, since the units are all prefabricated, repair
>consists of replacing a damaged module with a new unit - which is
>cheaper in both labor and material costs. Third, suitable arrangements
>of geodesic domes can provide a more pleasant living environment than
>the bleak corridors of the welfare apartments. Lastly, they can be
>made extremely durable, to survive not only the earthquakes of nothern
>CA but also the mistreatment of the 'inmates' (which term reflects the
>State's attitude toward low-income-renters better than 'resident'
>does, sadly). The list of advantages can be continued, but that's
>beside the point right now.
>So far, however, attempts to get geodome based projects off the ground
>have failed, laregly out of a lack of interest on the parts of the
>Powers That Be. Brown, however, has shown an outright fondness for
>'outrageous' ideas, and may very well be amenable to a proposal
>involving geodesic dome housing.
	One thing to keep in mind, and something that has also contributed a very
large part to the failure of these projects to take off, is that starting
up an industry costs a lot. It takes time, and money. LOTS of both. 
	The closest thing, conceptually, to a functioning Dymaxion housing
production line would be an automobile production line. And the costs of
"tooling up" a line to crank out a new model car costs something on the
order of 4 BILLION dollars. The production of houses may pose a similar
hurdle, and this presents an interesting bootstrapping problem: Cheap
housing will allow the producer to make lots of money, but producing Cheap
housing isn't going to be cheap to start up.

>I'd like to know a few things :
>1) is there a PAC or equivalent endorsing synergetic housing to the
>PBE? I know, and share, Fuller's distaste for politics, but he did try
>political solutions from time to time - when he thought they would
>advance his projects, which was rare.
	I don't know of any PAC. We're working on various aspects over at and you're welcome to join in the effort. 
	I think that Bucky eschewed the political process because it really is so
inconsequential in the process of actual design. His attitude was "build a
better mousetrap, and people will obviously use it over the old model."
Perhaps he was overly optimistic about people's natural proclivity for
change. In any event, politics may come in at the end of a design phase,
when it comes time to distribute the finished goods, but it's a lousy place
to start off. There's too much in-fighting, not enough money, and they're
much slower (and lower quality) than private industry. Government doesn't
need to turn a profit, so it isn't concerned with efficiency, nor
intelligent design. 

>2) What is the currwent state of materials-science regarding domes?
>This sort of project would need extremely durable dome parts - ones
>that could resist hammers, knives, spray paint, bullets, etc. (I'm not
>joking, sadly, it really would have to). Which designs are currently
>in use? Plastics? Aluminium? Composites? Other?
	There are various materials you can use. Bulletproof domes aren't the
answer to inner city violence, unfortunately. Educating people to know
better than to shoot each other is more in line with long-term solutions.
	Domes themselves can be built out of just about anything. From bamboo to
carbon fiber composites. 

>3) What kind of building arrangement would be suited for this kinf od
>'dome park'? The needs of a multibuilding complex are very different
>from those of a single, isolated dome.
	True, the needs are different. I would question the very concept of
keeping people all caged up in a "Projects" type of living situation. In
several of the previous posts, there was discussion of whether a "beehive"
was somehow *better* than a "cattle pen" arrangement. I think that logic is
flawed. Both are just shape-based methods of containing people in a
high-density living situation that isn't conducive to breaking their
lifestyle patterns that leave them trapped in poverty. 
	What does it matter what shape their rooms are, if they have no jobs, live
in a dangerous area, have very little money, can't afford proper nutrition,
get no culture except daytime TV shows, and have no hope of escaping the trap?

	Dymaxion housing is a method of producing inexpensive dwelling systems.
But if those dwelling systems are still 10'x10' areas, packed in about 500
to a building, with 20-40 buildings in a 2-block area, then you've got the
same thing. It's inexpensive, sure, but that cost-savings serves the
builders and bankers, not the people living in the housing.

	In my design studio in Buffalo, we had a sign up on the wall that read: 


	It wasn't the bankers. It wasn't the construction unions. It wasn't the
senators, nor even "Moonbeam Jerry." It was the homeless folks. The
Hondurans who are crowded 13-deep in a 10'x10' tin-roofed shack, along with
their dogs and chickens. It was the runaway teens who live in boxes under
bridges. It was the kids in Africa who don't have a chalkboard in their
schoolhouse, so they tip a table on its side and write on that to learn. 

	So I don't think that finding a more efficient way of packing people in is
the most valuable path. I think the way to actually CORRECT the problem is
to reduce the population density. That means getting folks OUT of the
cities, OUT of the Projects, and away from the turf-wars and piss in the
halls of tenements, and crack-vials on the doorstep. 

	Dymaxion-style housing is one way to do this. I think it's a very good
way. But trying to employ it to keep people in artificially created
overpopulation conditions seems counterproductive, at best. 

>4) how reliable are the Living Machines type kitchens, bedding, and
>waste-recycling equipment? Would they withstand the kind of punishment
>that is common in housing projects? How easily are they maintained
>and/or replaced? Should the waste recycling be completely unit
>enclosed (as in Fuller's original) or should we 'substation' the
>facilities for groups of, say, six buildings?
	I'm fond of waste-recycling and power generation on an individual-house
basis. Small communities of houses sharing the same mountainside or
whatever can string power lines between houses to create a "mini-grid", but
no house is left dependent on the others. They can detach at will and move
to a new location. 
	And once again, I would question the notion of trying to "bullet-proof"
the fixtures and kitchen equipment, rather than trying to TEACH people how
to properly use  it. Assuming stupidity and the inability to learn on the
part of your intended inhabitants is not only insulting, but results in a
self-fulfilling prophecy of "dumbing down for the masses." We can see where
this attitude leads by looking at television programming today. 

>5) What are the current unit costs for the equipment in question? How
>low can they be expected to go once full mass production begins?
	Costs are reasonably high now, and will go lower when mass produced. This
is basic. I can't give any concrete numbers, but they'd change within
months, anyway. The cost of mass-produced housing can be substantially
lower than craft-built homes where you hire six unions to come in and build
things. You lose some originality in the trade-off, but also some of the
hassles of having to custom-fit everything. 

>6) What proposals can anyone offer for the *social* environment? The
>physical enviroment is only the first step in any serious project like
>this one. Should we dedicate certain domes to specific purposes
>(gardnes, hydroponics, etc), and how many? Can we have shops, schools,
>etc. inside of a single complex?
>What do you think, sirs?
	I think your questions are great! Yes, community centers are important. I
want to see hydroponics as a part of every single-unit dymaxion-style home.
I would suggest that you begin thinking about *moving* that social
environment outside of the ghettos of Oakland. What would happen if you
offered 5000 folks in a ghetto the chance to move into an entirely
different area, with housing conditions 10 times better than they have now,
and a community they can take part in, build, work in, etc.? 

	Hope to see you on the domesteading list... 

	   ___________________Think For Yourself____________________
	   Patrick G. Salsbury -
      Check out the Reality Sculptors Project:

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