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Friday, September 12, 2014

Detroit's newest unwanted savior: Dome Homes

Posted By on Fri, Sep 12, 2014 at 5:01 PM

Once, my family was unfortunate enough to get the poor box from my school's canned food drive. I don't mean "unfortunate" in the sense of "needy." Rather, I mean it in the sense that anybody, rich or poor, who was confronted with the contents of a poor box would find that a most unfortunate circumstance. It seemed as though everybody simply rummaged through their pantry, selected the least desirable item of canned food, and tossed it in the box. Badly dinged cans, many of them bearing the frown-inducing label "cream corn," were in the box. I'll never eat cream corn again. Ever.
I bring this up because being a city resident in Detroit is like getting the poor box. It seems that we're besieged by people who are determined to treat us to ideas a better-functioning city would never consider accepting: tensile canopy architecture, bus rapid transit, a statue of freakin' Robocop. You name the design or planning blunder, and you can almost guarantee somebody has thrust it in Detroit's general direction.

The latest contender for the role of savior is a fellow who goes by the name David Apollo, and he proposes to save the city of Detroit with dome architecture. In fact, he's competing in National Geographic's Expedition Granted, despite the fact that his video pitch is risibly naive. The fact that he may have a chance with such a flimsy presentation is amazing until you consider that the reason he hasn't been culled certainly must be that he wants to tinker with Detroit, America's great cancer patient, for whom no experimental treatment is too bizarre.
Novel prefab housing schemes aren't necessarily bad ideas. They had a great golden age in the 1900s through the 1940s, with such intriguing ideas as the Sears Catalog Home, the Redi-Cut garage, the Lustron enamel-steel house and Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion dream house. Many of these homes remain, and canny hipsters adore some of them.

So why does conventional architecture persist? Perhaps because, unlike homes made of steel and built to be permanent, conventional homes can be easily modified, with dormers, extra stories, bay windows, fireplaces, wings. In short, too many prefab housing schemes combine the worst elements you can have in a home: the uneasy charm of boutique novelty and the stubborn lack of adaptability of single-purpose architecture.
Ah, but the energy savings of these dome houses must be considered, yes? That's true, except that to build this neighborhood of dome homes, one would have to knock down all the existing homes in an area, rendering useless the significant carbon footprint that was made in order to put them up in the first place, all while milling and transporting new metals and other substances to create the new "environmentally friendly" neighborhood. Never mind that, under any standard system of permitting the approval of new buildings, no municipality would allow these new structures.
So, my recommendation is this: People wanting to save Detroit with silver bullets should go somewhere else. Fast. While there's still a Detroit left.

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