Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Stephen King and Under The Dome

A Concept from More than Fifty Years Ago
I saw this article, Why Urban Domes Are Bad For Society, posted on the emag ARCHITECT about large or even mega-sized urban domes and pondered the strange conclusions that the author, Blaine Brownell, came to about cultural and the environment. His basic objection being that those who can will be inside and those that can't, won't be. His other arguments drag a lot of social debris into the conversation as well. My first thought was April Fools – I was wrong.

Mr. Brownell uses grand words such as socioecolological acquiescence, dystopian, environmental justice, privileged insiders, etc. all to just muck up the conversation. The most extreme, 'selective sanctuary,' being the most foolish.

Are these structures any less democratic than say the Freedom Tower in New York (try getting inside that building without a pass), or the massive underground subway systems of any major city? Huge new constructions with millions of square feet are under development in San Francisco, New York, and elsewhere – is there a social injustice with these mega constructions?

Buckminster Fuller's Concept
I think a lot of this who-ha has to do with Mr. King's book and TV series, Under the Dome. That book and show was like the Hindenburg tragedy, both set back technological advances in architecture and air travel.

Step back from the overriding social concerns of Mr. Brownell and look at what these types of buildings might actually accomplish, and there are many.

The Eden Project - England
All construction inside the "Dome" would be less costly and with significant reductions in materials, energy, and maintenance. Even older buildings would benefit. I would even suggest a sizable reduction in pollutants and the affects that cities cause by being regional heat islands. These savings would reduce housing costs for all residents. And the problem of pollution is being reduced – China and India will fix their problems just like Pittsburgh, London, and even Los Angeles have.

There would be no fossil-fuel vehicles inside these domes, electrics and other non-polluting systems like bikes and walkways would dominate. And delivery and service systems would be underground.

There are architects even now, like the firms Orproject and Grimshaw, thoughtfully thinking outside the bubble (pun intended) and are looking at enclosed worlds with a broad range of different structures, systems, designs, and materials.

Look at the major structures built during the last twenty years: stadiums, high rise apartments and offices, huge malls, even ocean going cruise ships, all are fundamentally sealed systems – most are not technically different than what Buckminster Fuller and Paolo Soleri proposed during the last century – they are only a matter of scale.

My Idea for a Dome in the Desert
I even proposed a dome concept to a client building a retirement community in Arizona, the structure would have reduced their costs across the board – but it was too outlandish, at the time, to even consider it. Now, maybe not.

If the last century has shown us anything in architecture is that scale is relative, elevators made high-rise buildings doable, materials and engineering changed not only how buildings and strucures looked but how they were built. We put mass transit under San Francisco Bay, submerged freeways under cities, and for better or worse made trains that nearly fly. To discount fascinating architectural concepts based on an opinion about pollution and social justice is, well, silly.

More later . . . . . . . .

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