Wichita House by R. Buckminster Fuller (1944-1946)

Model Overview: 

Fuller saw new potential to revisit ideas he had investigated with the Dymaxion House in the booming postwar American economy in 1944. With the necessary money and support in place, he moved into the Beech Aircraft Factory in Wichita, Kansas, where he would research an updated Dymaxion and introduce it to the public. Because of the earlier financial failure, Fuller had to convince his investors that what he was researching was, in fact, not a prefabricated house. They gave him a two-year lease on the company's plant including all of its labor capabilities, materials, machinery, etc. In turn, Fuller had to hand over right of first refusal over design matters to them. Because of the decline in airplane production, Beech was seeking to break into the housing market, hoping eventually to produce fifty thousand to sixty thousand units per year for $6,500 ($75,000 today), or 50 cents per pound, the first house ever priced by its weight. Fuller was able to claim that the house was not, in fact, prefabricated by toying with a rigid trade definition that identified prefabrication as the "fabrication of semifinished products such as panels and parts that are used at the site as a subassembly." The Wichita House was delivered as a whole. Fuller's system therefore marks a bifurcating moment when two strains of veritably prefabricated construction become evident: the panel system of flat parts (known largely today as "flat pack") and the newer modular system of prefinished pieces.

Formally the house was refined from the hexagonal, faceted face of the Dymaxion to a hemispherical form with a monocoque dome and a ventilator at its cap. Rather than being suspended a full story in the air, the Wichita House sat just a few inches off the ground. The central mast no longer contained an elevator and laundry facilities, retaining only its function as a utility core. Fuller's monocoque drop-in Dymaxion bathroom, which he had patented, was added to the layout. The critical reaction to a full-scale prototype was significantly more positive than it had been to the Dymaxion. The gentle curves created a more satisfying interior flow: the palette of finishes on the inside were more refined and better constructed. Like the Dymaxion, the Wichita was intended to be a "dwelling machine," and Fuller pursued this notion in lectures and writing, suggesting that industrial design and architecture had never been more compatible. In the end, the Beech Company decided not to produce the Wichita House, convinced that, despite its reception and improvements, the public was still not prepared to inhabit a machinelike object. Fuller and his team had to leave the Wichita plant in 1947. Like the Dymaxion, the Wichita House would enter the annals of replicable utopian homes that would never see the light of day.

(Source: Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling by Barry Bergdoll and Peter Christensen)


Design Style: 

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