The Dymaxion House was developed by inventor and architect Buckminster Fuller to address several perceived shortcomings with existing homebuilding techniques. Fuller designed several versions of the house at different times, but they were all factory manufactured kits, assembled on site, intended to be suitable for any site or environment and to use resources efficiently. One important design consideration was ease of shipment and assembly.
The word Dymaxion is a brand name that Fuller used for several of his inventions. Being comprised of DYnamic - MAXimum - tensION.
The Dymaxion was completed in 1929 after two years of development, and later redesigned in 1945. Buckminster Fuller wanted to mass produce a bathroom and a house. His first "Dymaxion" design was based on the design of a grain bin. During World War II, the U.S. Army commissioned Fuller to send these housing units to the Persian Gulf.
The Siberian grain-silo house was the first system in which Fuller noted the "dome effect." Many installations have reported that a dome induces a local vertical heat-driven vortex that sucks cooler air downward into a dome if the dome is vented properly (a single overhead vent, and peripheral vents). Fuller adapted the later units of the grain-silo house to use this effect.
The final design of the Dymaxion house used a central vertical stainless-steel strut on a single foundation. Structures similar to the spokes of a bicycle-wheel hung down from this supporting the roof, while beams radiated out supported the floor. Wedge-shaped fans of sheet metal aluminum formed the roof, ceiling and floor. Each structure was assembled at ground level and then winched up the strut. The Dymaxion house represented the first conscious effort to build an autonomous building in the 20th century.
Two Dymaxion houses were prototyped – one indoor (the "Barwise" house) and one outdoor (the "Danbury" house). No Dymaxion house built according to Fuller's intentions was ever constructed and lived in. The only two prototypes of the round, aluminum house were bought by investor William Graham, together with assorted unused prototyping elements as salvage after the venture failed. In 1948, Graham constructed a hybridized version of the Dymaxion House as his family's home; the Grahams lived there into the 1970s. Graham built the round house on his lake front property, disabling the ventilator and other interior features. It was inhabited for about 30 years, although as an extension to an existing ranch house, rather than standing alone as intended by Fuller. In 1990, the Graham family donated this house, and all the component prototyping parts, to The Henry Ford Museum. A painstaking process was used to conserve as many original component parts and systems as possible and restore the rest using original documentation from the Fuller prototyping process. It was installed indoors in the Henry Ford Museum in 2001 with a full exhibit.
Since there was no evidence of the crucial internal rain-gutter system, some elements of the rain collecting system were omitted from the restored exhibit. The roof was designed to wick water inside and drip into the rain-gutter and then to the cistern, rather than have a difficult-to-fit, perfectly waterproof roof.
There was to be a waterless packaging toilet that deftly shrink-wrapped the waste for pickup for later composting. During the prototyping process, the idea for the packaging toilet was replaced immediately by a conventional septic system because the packaging plastic was not available. Other features worked as advertised, notably the heating, and the passive air conditioning system, based on the "dome effect."
Criticisms of the Dymaxion Houses include its supposed inflexible design which completely disregarded local site and architectural idiom, and its use of energy-intensive materials such as aluminum, rather than low-energy materials, such as adobe or tile. Fuller chose aluminium for its light weight, great strength, and long-term durability, arguably factors that compensate for the initial production cost. Aluminum was also a logical choice if the homes were to be built in aircraft factories, which, since World War II had ended, had substantial excess capacity.