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Santa Monica Civic Center Auditorium
May 11 and 12

For AltBuild Expo 2012, I will build a concrete bubble cabana, as a demonstration of the concrete dome construction process developed by Los Angeles architect Wallace Neff in the 1940’s.  Neff called the technique ‘airform’ construction.  His innovative process involved spraying concrete onto an inflated balloon to create a structure, with the idea that this is a quick and economical method of creating very substantial structures.  Wallace Neff built many airform domes throughout world.

Being from Texas, and with parents living in Oklahoma, I have seen firsthand the destruction caused by extreme weather; and it was after the Joplin, Missouri tornado in May 2011 that I recalled Neff’s airform domes, and wondered if they would be tornado resistant.  Since then I discovered that they are not only tornado resistant, but that they are also fire and earthquake resistant.  They can be built at a reasonable cost, and they are a very sustainable construction option, requiring approximately 50% of the energy needed for heating and cooling of a conventional wood frame home.   The concrete dome type of home seems to be an obvious solution to many of our current construction and housing issues, given the current extremes in weather, the need to reduce construction costs and waste, and the need to increase energy efficiency.

Concrete Bubble Cabana – Palm Springs Modernism Week 2012

Many have been helpful in making the Concrete Bubble Cabana demonstration at AltBuild possible: Dan Hildebrand, Hildebrand Construction has provided expertise and hard work in the building of the cabana; David South, Monolithic, will supply the airform and blower for the cabana;  Gary Erb with Acrylatex Coatings & Recycling, is providing the paint for the cabana; and Associated Ready Mix Concrete is supplying the concrete contributed by Skip Danielson, Bayside Construction.

Also during AltBuild, I will participate on the AIA/LA COTE panel ‘Rethinking the Home,’ an exploration of alternative homes. I will be presenting the history of concrete airform construction, and discussing its relevance today as an economical, energy efficient, substantial, and still innovative construction system that offers a solution to many of our current construction and housing problems.

The cabana I will build for AltBuild will be a fun and sculptural structure, a garden folly, which will be donated to a charity after the AltBuild Expo.  It would have been nice to build a full home for the show, but with the time and space constraints, this cabana will have to suffice! I hope it will be a fun and informative process for those who attend AltBuild.

Sincerely

Douglas Stanton, AIA

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Rendering of a DSA Designs Dome Home

I have been interested in the Airform houses designed by Wallace Neff since I first heard about them in 1983 at Harvard University, in Professor Eduard Sekler’s class: The History of Modern Architecture. Many years later, after moving to Los Angeles, I attended a tour of Wallace Neff homes, all Spanish style and built in the 1920’s, with the exception of the dome house he designed for his brother, Andrew Neff, built in 1946. Since that tour, I have had the idea that I would like to revive this construction type and method. More recently, I was moved by the devastation of tornadoes and fires in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas and inspired to look into this type of construction for its safety and energy efficiency.  For the past year, I have been designing dome homes and multifamily dome structures.  My research led me to one of the most prolific promoters of the airform construction method today, David South, of Italy, Texas (www.monolithic.com). Monolithic Inc. has greatly advanced the airform technology begun by Neff.

This past February, I participated in the Palm Springs Modernism Week demonstrating Wallace Neff’s construction method as revived by David South, by constructing an open air concrete bubble cabana. I also presented my own vision for dome constructions as aesthetically pleasing and architecturally exciting, in addition to being affordable fire, tornado, and earthquake resistant homes. On hand at my Modernism Week booth were copies of the new book on the airform buildings of Neff, No Nails, No Lumber, by Jeffrey Head, which documents Neff’s airform dome designs built throughout the world.

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The Palm Springs Modernism Week cabana in progress, showing the rebar over the inflated airform balloon, and ready for the shotcrete application.

Shotcrete being applied over the airform.

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The finished cabana.

Located in Los Angeles is a man who has built many concrete domes in other parts of the world, Dan Hildebrand of Hildebrand Construction (www.hildebrandinc.com) I would like to thank Dan for his enormous contribution to the Concrete Bubble Cabana we built during Modernism Week. I hope we will build many more dome structures together. The cabana was donated to the Demuth Community Center in Palm Springs where we hope it will be enjoyed by many!

Relocating the cabana to Demuth Park

The cabana in its new home, the Palm Springs Demuth Park Community Garden, to be afficially opened Wednesday, May 16th at 10AM

Continue to follow us here on our blog for future projects and announcements. If you would like to hear more on sustainable design concepts, we will be speaking on an AIA panel discussion at the AltBuild Expo in Santa Monica on Friday, May 11th : http://www.altbuildexpo.com/speakers_schedule_3.html

-DS