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.
Developed in 1941, as war swept across Europe, the round, galvanized steel structures were based on grain storage containers that Fuller had seen while driving across Illinois. As with the designer’s post-war Fuller House, which they resemble both physically and conceptually, the DDUs were meant to be mass produced at a low cost.
In October 1941, the Museum of Modern Art in New York displayed a DDU prototype in its sculpture garden, billing the structure as “portable defense housing.” The news release for the exhibition proclaimed the DDU’s suitability for wartime use, noting that the structure’s “circular corrugated surfaces deflect bomb fragments or flying debris.” Fuller himself, in a letter meant to encourage the military to buy his shelters, touted them as fire-proof, mobile, mass producible, bullet-resistant, camouflageable, and economical in cost and materials.
Both the US Army Signal Corps and the British Air Force, convinced of the structures’ functionality, made orders for DDUs. While a hundred or so of the structures are believed to have been built — most of them transported to US military bases around the world — wartime metal shortages put an end to their production. Very few are known to have survived to the present day, all of them located at the former Camp Evans, in New Jersey.