Aluminum house prototypes headed for Ford museum

January 31, 1992|By New York Times News Service

In the late 1940s, 30,000 people wanted to buy R. Buckminster Fuller's round Dymaxion House, which was made of aluminum and Plexiglas, assembled in a factory, weighed only 6,000 pounds and was designed to be disassembled, tucked into a cylinder and air-freighted anywhere in the world.

But only two prototypes were made, and William L. Graham, an entrepreneur from Wichita, Kan., bought both.

Last week, Mr. Graham's family announced the donation of the prototypes to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich.

Mr. Graham's family occupied one of the houses (plus an addition) from 1948 to 1972. It will be disassembled this year and moved to the museum, where it will join the 80 buildings of Greenfield Village. The other prototype was never assembled but held in reserve for spare parts.

"Fuller wanted to provide inexpensive housing that would have the most efficient use of building materials and manufacture and distribution," said Michael Ettema, the museum's curator of design.

The prototypes were built in 1946, though Fuller had designed the 1,075-square-foot house in 1927. The design called for an aluminum alloy stronger than any existent; an appropriate one was developed in World War II, for building airplanes.

In 1945, Beech Aircraft in Wichita made the components for the two prototypes and the next year, assembled one house, priced at $6,500, for the public to see. In 1948, Graham reassembled the house on a 640-acre site near Wichita.

The Dymaxion design was never mass-produced. "Fuller couldn't get the money for tooling, even though there were 30,000 requests," said Tony DeVarco, the managing director of the Buckminster Fuller Institute in Los Angeles.

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