Buckminster Fuller, a self-proclaimed ‘comprehensive anticipatory design scientist’ believed so. Like the Bauhaus, he thought mass-production principles could be applied to housing, believing design should ‘yield the greatest possible efficiency in terms of the available technology’. However, unlike the Bauhaus, he did not believe the box was integral to achieving this.
In the late 1920s, he designed the Dymaxion Dwelling Machine, a building that offered maximum use of space with minimum use of materials. The round outer shell was made from lightweight aluminium, and hung from a central mast. This simple design could be easily assembled and disassembled by one person, meaning the inhabitant could theoretically move the location of their home as they pleased. Fuller believed the immovability of traditional housing limited the opportunities available to people, and his Dymaxion Dwelling Machine was designed to free them from this.
The house was intended for intense mass-production, and due to its circular shape, many of the pieces required for construction were identical. Water was re-circulated where possible, as the building was designed to function without piped in water to further enhance its moveability. This, combined with the simple construction and removal of the home led Fuller to claim that he was ‘making possible world citizenry.’ He believed that freeing people from his perceived negativities of traditional housing could make the world a better place, but this did not materialise. The Dymaxion Dwelling Machine took over twenty years to leave the planning stage, and was never mass-produced. But this didn’t surprise Fuller, who had predicted failure during the design process:
I could see that it would be a minimum of 25 years before the gamut of industrial capabilities and evolutionary education of man would permit the emergence of the necessary physical paraphernalia of this comprehensive anticipatory design science undertaking.
However, this is not necessarily the reason for the failure of his Dymaxion Dwelling Machine. Impermanence in a building intended for use as a home is inappropriate, and difficult to market. Designing a home suitable for mass-production with features the majority of people would not appreciate is a contradiction that more than likely resulted in its failure.
But was this market failure a result of unadventurous attitudes from designers and the general public, or is there more behind its lack of success? Why has the box continued to prosper architecturally when Fuller’s round building has failed?