Visit the Dymaxion House — Buckminster Fuller’s only remaining prototype from 1945

Dymaxion-House-

Photo courtesy of The Henry Ford.

historic-houseOf all the mid-century historic houses I’d like to visit, Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House — which has been reassembled inside the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. — is at the very top of my list. This is the only known prototype of Bucky’s dream home, envisioned as a solution to provide affordable housing to the masses after World War II. The Museum acquired the house in 1991 and over the next decade restored the priceless relic. The Dymaxion House — which was officially known as The Dymaxion Dwelling House — was opened to the public in 2001.

YOWZA! Old newsreel footage. I love the internet!

“Comprehensive, anticipatory design scientist”

Buckminster Fuller is such a fascinating person. He had to have been one of the most genius minds of the 20th century… According to his daughter, he identified himself as a “comprehensive, anticipatory design scientist.” He is most famous for working with the geodesic dome. He coined the term “spaceship Earth”… and the word “synergy.”

The CBS Sunday Morning segment above is an excellent introduction and includes great shots of the Dymaxion house — including in a proposed subdivision. What do you think, did we miss out? Would you like to live in Dynamaxion Village?

Dymaxion-House-1960

Dymaxion House circa 1960 in Wichita, Kansas. Photo courtesy of The Henry Ford.

Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Dwelling Machine

The Museum says:

Conceived and designed in the late 1920′s but not actually built until 1945, the Dymaxion House was Fuller’s solution to the need for a mass-produced, affordable, easily transportable and environmentally efficient house. The word “Dymaxion” was coined by combining parts of three of Bucky’s favorite words: DY (dynamic), MAX (maximum), and ION (tension). The house used tension suspension from a central column or mast, sold for the price of a Cadillac, and could be shipped worldwide in its own metal tube. Toward the end of WW II, Fuller attempted to create a new industry for mass-producing Dymaxion Houses.

The story gets pretty fascinating. Fuller created a company to try and produce the house. But only two prototypes were made before the company collapsed over creative differences. An investor, William Graham, purchased the two prototypes and in 1948, incorporated at least one of them into a house he built for his family in Wichita, Kansas. The family lived in the house into the 1970s and in 1991, donated the Dymaxion to the Henry Ford Museum.

Dymaxion house

Photo courtesy of The Henry Ford.

The Dymaxion House was built of aluminum. Fuller chose this material because it was light to transport, strong enough to withstand a Kansas tornado, and because after World War II, there were aircraft manufacturing facilities with capacity to manufacture it.

The house was  “designed to be about 1,100 square feet or about the size of a small Cape Cod-style bungalow. It was supposed to cost about $6,500 in 1946.” The efficient and ingenious layout held “two bedrooms, foyer, living room, dining room, kitchen, kitchen storage, stainless steel fireplace, optional folding stairs to the balcony, accordion doors, O-Volving shelves, revolving shoe and clothes rack, tie and hat rack, and the Dymaxion bathroom.”

O-Volving shelves! See ‘em in the Travel Channel video, above.

The Dymaxion House design at the Henry Ford was adapted from an earlier prototype designed in the 1920s. Watch the video from the Whitney Exhibit in 2008, and it appears that the original prototype had some distinct differences. Including that it would be delivered by zeppelin… which would first drop a bomb to create a crater-foundation!

Above: A very early video of Bucky with that early prototype.

Dymaxion-house

Photo courtesy of The Henry Ford.

Hey-Wake in the Bucky living room :)

mid century house museums

See The Dymaxion House on our epic list of 59 mid-century & modern historic house museums you can visit

“Everybody is an astronaut… You all live aboard a beautiful little spaceship — called Earth.” – Buckminster Fuller

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Comments

  1. jeanne says

    It truly is something to see in person! The bathroom is a bit claustrophobic. Come to Dearborn, you won’t be disappointed. :-) My daughter-in-law works at The Henry Ford. We can hit up the Saarinen house while your here. I have a nice knotty pine bedroom you can sleep in.

  2. Sarah g (roundhouse) says

    This is at the top of my list too! I must go see it one day. The architect that designed my house must have been very influenced by buckminster fuller’s dymaxion house. Living in a round house definitely has its advantages. They are very energy efficient. My home is about 2500 ft2 and has whatever insulation still exists from 1964 and paper thin windows but my elec bill never goes above $100 and it is currently 98 degrees here in south LA. In the winter months it can be as low as $40. Having the ac centrally located and shooting out air in a wagon wheel configuration works so much better than trying to cool off a long rectangle house with an ac unit off on one side.
    It’s also convenient in the fact that you are never at the ‘far end’ of the house, there is none! Any room is just a few steps away.
    And they are great for areas prone to tornados and hurricanes. The wind has no flat walls to push against so the chances of wind damage are slim. My house came out fine during hurricane Rita (just as bad as Katrina) and I know of other camps further south that benefited from being roundish ( they were octagons).
    It’s funny to think of what America’s landscape would look like if fuller’s idea had really taken off and we all lived in round dwellings…

    • Kate H (in Va) says

      Would love to see a floor plan of your house, or of any round house, really. This is such a neat idea and I didn’t realize how much more energy efficient they were.

      • Nancy says

        deltechomes.com: The inspiration, terms and ideas for these homes come from none other than R. Buckminster Fuller. I’ve been presenting the Dymaxion House at Henry Ford Museum for over 10 years! Come experience this, and so much more at The Henry Ford (Museum, Greenfield Village, Ford Rouge Factory Tour).

        • Nancy says

          To rephrase my earlier comment, I would say instead that the creators of deltechomes were inspired by Buckminster Fuller and his ideas for producing round efficient homes. You can find out more about this company (and see illustrated floor plans) by going to their website.

  3. Nancy B says

    This is fascinating!! Some people are just ahead of their time! This is at the top of my list (and can’t thank you enough for the list)!

  4. says

    We went to The Henry Ford a few years ago and I saw the Dymaxion House. It’s such an amazing concept and really a pity it didn’t catch-on. I enjoyed touring it immensely and it was really my favorite part of the whole museum (which is saying a lot because the whole place is just fascinating). ;-)

  5. Sarah says

    The Henry Ford (and Greenfield Village) is my favorite place in the world, hands down, and the Dymaxion is part of that reason. It is SO COOL, the revolving shelves and self cleaning bathroom are the stuff of dreams. If you haven’t been make plans to go because it is amazing and you won’t regret it.

  6. Kathy Merchant says

    Makes me want to know more about the history of my house and its design. I have the original pamphlet with the different models available and floorplans from the builder. Maybe I will try the internet and see what I can find!

    • says

      Actually, using an is for ease of pronunciation, so you use it based on the word that follows it, not based on the noun it modifies. And I’m pretty sure that a “h”istoric house and an ‘istoric house are both acceptable.

      • Robin, NV says

        I believe “a” and “an” are both acceptable. I’m a(n) historical archaeologist and those of us in my field have this debate all the time.

        • says

          While regionally, there may be some play with “a” and “an”, it is most common to use “a” in this instance, and especially when addressing a national audience. For those of us who do not drop our H’s (most of us), it looks sloppy to write “an”. /nitpicking

            • says

              Hey – it’s your website! If you’re comfortable with the uncommon usage of “an”, then by golly, go for it!

              I assumed it was an oversight on the editor or graphic designer’s part. Most of us pronounce the “H” in historic and would say and write “a historic” (and a quick google search confirms this to be the case), but I can see how if you hail from an area that would pronounce historic as “istoric,” that you would not find the use of “an” to be strange. Since I am the only person who took issue (enough to say something, at least) with the “an”, I will move on and privately cringe when I see the images again in the future.

            • Robin, NV says

              Geez louise! I can assure you that it’s perfectly OK to write “an historic” with the “h” pronounced. It really has nothing to do with whether or not the “h” is silent. But if you want to get nitpicky, the “h” is not vocalized. From a phonetic perspective, it sits on the border of vowel and consonant – so in my opinion, it’s OK to use “a” or “an.” I’ve seen “an” used extensively in professional journals.

              But what REALLY matters is that Pam and Kate came up with a super cool map!! Why are we arguing over grammar? Hugs Pam.

  7. says

    The hubs just visited Mr. Fuller’s personal dome home in Carbondale, Illinois. He said it was really cool. It’s abandoned now and sitting there looking really sad but there is a group that’s trying to get it preserved and cleaned up. He showed me some pictures where you could barely see inside – original floors and vintage furniture still sitting where it was left. Very intriguing..

    http://fullerdomehome.org/preservation

  8. Sandra says

    Only 50 years of domes? I guess they don’t count igloos? And their mud and wattle counterparts used all over the world? Sheesh. Journalism sure isn’t as good as it ought to be. I, too, LOVE the Internet and the opportunity to discuss news reports, especially when they’re wrong. I sure hope that isn’t ever outlawed!

    • pam kueber says

      I looked at the story again, did some more quick research, and changed the word “invented” to “work with”. Thank you for the push that encouraged me to make that clarification.

      Other than that, I am not sure what your issue is. I don’t think I’m saying these are the only dome structures ever in human history. ?

      • Robin, NV says

        Only 50 years of domes with O-volving shelves, bathrooms, aluminum construction, and the strength to survive tornados! Sure it’s a glorified yurt but what a yurt! ;)

  9. Robin, NV says

    The last time I was at the Henry Ford Museum, the Dymaxion House was still being restored, so I didn’t get to go in. I’d love to see it now. I wonder if a community of Dymaxions would have ever caught on. It strikes me as a wonderfully engineered house but I think most people are a bit too traditional in their tastes to live in something so space age looking. It’s not something that would appeal to everyone. Sarah’s roundhouse is a great example of a home that incorporated some of Bucky’s engineering concepts but mixed with a more traditional design.

    The fact is that most of us live in “boxy” homes with straight walls because construction is based on standard milled lumber sizes. Boards of standard sizes are readily available and don’t require a tremendous amount of skill to put together.

  10. anne says

    I have been to this exhibit and toured the home. If you happen to be in the Detroit Metro area, the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village are very much worth a visit. The Dymaxion is worth walking through, but my impression was something along the lines of “I would never want to live in this old, claustrophobia-inducing, dusty tin can.” Zero privacy, awkwardly shaped rooms. There is a reason that these homes, as well as his car, never caught on. They are duds that only a central planner enamored of his own genius, would love. Neat for a museum piece to illustrate the history of the mid century fetish for standardization, efficiency, and mass production. The opposite of a cozy and practical home.

  11. vegebrarian says

    There is a novel that came out a few years ago called The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni, about a teen and his grandmother who live in one of Fuller’s domes. I had a good time searching for photos of geodesic domes after I read it.

  12. Janice says

    Whodda thought that something so forward looking and thinking would be in Wichita, Kansas where I happen to live?! How did I miss knowing this? I guess it was because I didn’t give a hoot about mid century design back then. Not sure I would want to live in this, but I do appreciate the creativity of this home and can imagine that it is much more energy efficient. Thanks for another educational read!

    P.S. I know that Whodda isn’t a real word. :)

    • Jay says

      Yes, us loyal RR fans don’t give a hoot, we always make up words. The grammar and historical accuracy police need to troll elsewhere and leave us to celebrate MC design.

  13. Scott says

    The Henry Ford is a wonderous place. I have visited three times and was able to walk through the Dymaxion House on my last trip. The bathroom concept is a spooky but I sure love the idea of having all your clutter tucked neatly inside the walls.

    One of my other favorite things there is the big collection of neon including a (gasp) Holiday Inn Great Sign.

  14. Jeff says

    Live between The Henry Ford Museum and Cranbrook Academy, and count myself as fortunate as it gets when it comes to fabulous mid century modern architecture and artifacts. The Dymaxion House is indeed worth a pilgrimage, as is the entire museum/Greenfield Village. Detroit as the center of the American design world for decades, and still a major player has some of the best art and architecture from Saarinen, to Frank Lloyd Wright, Albert Kahn, the Eames’, and so much more.

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