Bubble Architecture, Basis for Sustainable Future

Living in California and experiencing everything from Santa Ana conditions which cause wild fires to numerous earthquakes have made me question the validity of conventional practice when it comes to architecture. Most homes here are built using the same cookie-cutter approach of plopping one shoebox next to another not to mention being very very overpriced.

Southern California has experienced such devastation caused by wildfires that I wonder why homes burn down only to be rebuilt exactly the same way?! Same principle applies to dwellings and earthquakes.

I started thinking about this especially after I met the late Nader Khalali (calearth.org), an Persian-born architect, writer, and humanitarian who received his philosophical and architectural education in Iran, Turkey, and the United States.

Take Nader’s approach to building for example. He built super adobe, geodesic structures with building materials you can find anywhere. From my studies I’ve learned that the geodesic architectural design/structure offers the following benefits:

  1. structural integrity of a semi-sphere is much greater than a stretched cube, has a much more efficient strength to weight ratio, and requires less resources as no internal supports are needed
  2. 30% less surface area equates to 30% reduction in heating or cooling
  3. using e.g. adobe, earth, lime, … for building materials rather than wood and steel is a renewable and non-polluting approach to building while easily withstanding wildfires

In the 1940s, Buckminster Fuller was already contemplating some problems humanity would face down the road:

In the 1940s, Fuller anticipated that humanity’s growing population would eventually outpace the earth’s resources and began to experiment with building designs that would use fewer resources while preserving structural integrity. He became fascinated with spherical geometry and, in 1951 patented the geodesic dome. Nearly sixty years later, Buckminster Fuller’s vision remains one of the most efficient and structurally sound building designs ever conceived.

Today I came across another fascinating article that depicts the fact this architectural style is by no means a new idea and certainly not unique to the 20th century as John Ochsendorf explains in his Smithsonian article With Ancient Arches, the Old is New Again.

Final thought, quote from the above article and Ochsendorf:

Ochsendorf goes beyond β€œform follows function.” For him, form must also follow a deeper understanding of its impact on the surrounding environment. β€œWith the Industrial Revolution, basically 5,000 years of progress was thrown out the window,” he says of the masonry vault. β€œPeople assume that in the 21st century buildings should be made of titanium, because we have a narrow definition of progress. Maybe a 21st-century building is made out of dirt used in an intelligent and beautiful way.”