Designed by maverick American architect Bruce Goff, the Ruth Ford House — known variously as the Round House, Coal House, and Umbrella House — is a creative tour de force. It could not look less like neighboring houses in suburban Aurora, Illinois, where it was built in 1947-49, and local people took it as an architectural affront. Fortunately, as the photo below attests, the owners of the house were undaunted -
Archives For ’40s
On the grounds of an abandoned military base in southern New Jersey, there survives a small collection of Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Deployment Units (DDUs), the innovative designer’s WWII-era effort to create an inexpensive, portable housing system.
Buckminster Fuller’s first Dymaxion House, sketched out in 1927, was a hexagonal design suspended from a central mast.
By 1945, when Fuller entered into an agreement with Beech Aircraft Corporation to mass produce the house, its plan was circular. Asked later about the Dymaxion House’s unusual form, Fuller said that functional rather than aesthetic considerations determined his choice. “We did nothing arbitrary,” he emphasized. “We were not trying to make a cute house. Its shape is due to the solution of our problems of space, weight and mass production.”
News of Buckminster Fuller’s circular aluminum house, complete with artist’s rendering, in the Pittsburgh Press, on April 12, 1946 -
INT, exhibition hall, men and women stand around a low display table showing a scale model of a circular home. R. Buckminster Fuller is interviewed by a man in a suit.
Man: “Mr. Fuller, why a . . . a round house???”
Fuller: “Why not? The only reason that houses have been rectangular all these years is that, that is all we could do with the materials we had. Now with modern materials and technology, we can apply to houses the same efficiency of engineering that we apply to suspension bridges and airplanes . . . . The whole thing is as modern as a streamlined plane.“
Vintage postcards of round houses from Somerville, Massachusetts to Nunspeet, Holland. Only two of these homes are still standing -
With the death of Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer on December 5, the world has lost a leading proponent of curved, rounded, wavy and spiraling forms. A modernist innovator, Niemeyer, who began working in the late 1930s, eschewed the straight lines and boxy shapes that had characterized modernism up to that time.
“Right angles don’t attract me. Nor straight, hard and inflexible lines created by man,” explained Niemeyer in The Curves of Time, his 1998 memoir. “What attracts me are free and sensual curves. The curves we find in mountains, in the waves of the sea, in the body of the woman we love.”
Wallace Neff, a Southern California architect who made Spanish-style mansions for Hollywood stars in the ’30s and ’40s, also tried his hand at designing innovative, low-cost housing for the poor. His Airform houses, often called bubble houses, were inexpensive and easy to build -
Meant to remedy 1940s housing shortages, the houses never caught on in the United States. Only a few hundred of them were built here, rather than the thousands that Neff expected, and nearly all have since been torn down.