revisiting the American bungalow
1967 • 1975 • 1979 • 2002
Sometimes an architectural idea hangs around long enough that the imperative to build it becomes unusually intense. I keep coming back to this one which came to me “whole” one afternoon in 1967. Maybe 2005 will be the year to do it and to see it become a realized idea that brings its unique architectural vantage point to the world. It is a good sign that a project, now over 38 years old still seems challenging and demanding - the years have a way of filtering out the almost-good works; ideas that make it through the filter of time have unusual power. The EcoSphere project is an ideal way to prototype several critical housing concepts: Temporary foundations; prefabricated, movable building (+/- 100 pieces); “breathable” exterior membrane [see Sanctuary Shelters for someone who is working on this]; contoured, non-flat floors; self-contained, off-the-grid, energy alternatives; serious greenhouse food production; and a non-traditional living space form-factor. EcoSphere is a true “EarthShip;” it is conceived to move and rest (for awhile) gently on the Earth and then, economically, to move again. When EcoSphere is gone, the site is returned to a near-original state or easily adapted to another use. EcoSphere is in the tradition of the bungalow or cabin; a more casual, smaller, less expensive retreat environment usually built in remote areas - it is, also, very ship-like in its fittings and the resulting living style that will be fit with it. Why should such an environment be permanently rooted in one place to disturb the ground in the way that standard construction does? There seems to be no reason for this other than habit. EcoSphere challenges almost every default habit - hidden design assumptions - of a dwelling; it makes living in a built environment a conscious act where every protocol has to be reinvented or at least re-confirmed. It places the built environment into a non combative relationship with the environment.
design development and model by Laura Starr
The membrane of EcoSphere is the most challenging and, perhaps, the most interesting aspect of this design. All exterior walls, of any building, are indeed membranes for they do not, in reality, keep everything in or out. And, in this era of so-called energy efficiency, we try to do just that: by sealing buildings off; which is not how nature works. Consider your skin for example; it is a sophisticated input/output organ, the largest of your entire body. Attempting to build absolute barriers is neither possible nor efficient - and certainly not healthy. It is also a prime example of “industrial era” arrogance - the belief that control will work. The interior air quality and compounding of pollutants in the average building is a scandal just waiting for its time and a perfect example of the unintended consequences that flow from fundamentally flawed design assumptions. The SKIN of EcoSphere is to be made up of a series of semi-permeable materials (Gortex is an example of one such) that allow different gasses (via partial pressures) and radiation (light & heat) to pass in and out as conditions warrant. The building BREATHS as required for comfort and health. Besides this being a far more effective strategy for energy management, this embodies LIFE into the building by bringing a life-like aspect to it. This permeability will be achieved two ways: first by the materials themselves directly responding to air, light and temperature by filtering or adjusting in various ways, the second way by the external panels, related to the geodesic architecture, opening and closing by user instruction and programmed protocols. Thus, the “pure” geometry shown in the pictures of the model, will never actually be seen as shown [the elevation of EcoSphere greenhouse illustrates this] - the building will always be “articulating” as it seeks the optimum balancing of internal and external temperatures, air and energy requirements. This is the skin strategy for Wideness Mega City [EcoSphere Greenhouse was design to be a low tech test of this design strategy] although this project will require a much greater scale of light, air and energy management than does EcoSphere. Modern knowledge and materials engineering opens the door to entirely new ways of building the interface between inside and outside - a distinction that almost entirely disappears with this approach. The old habit of resisting what is treated as an essentially hostile environment can give way to the notion of an adaptive, self-repairing membrane that employs natural processes rather than attempting to resist or overwhelm them. We need an architecture that does not fundamentally see the environment - even in its extremes - as hostile. Our buildings should be “environment valves” which interface us with those extremes in a creative and facilitative way; in a way that allows us to embrace, not resist, Nature.
The interior space of EcoSphere provides an entirely different experience than the typical residential concept. It is related, in this regard, to Domicile [link], my Bay Area Studio [link] and Gail’s Nest [link] projects. This concept rejects the assumed “flatness” of floors and walls and their being treated as intrinsically different elements. WHY? Other than some unchallenged building conventions that derive from primitive mathematical, measurement and fabrication means, what valid argument has been made that dictates the box-like, right angled, flat design assumption as a default practice? The space of EcoSphere is a continuous, encompassing form that is punctuated with linear elements. These two aspects, Yin and Yang, set up a spatial dynamic that can be crafted in the way that creates the exact sensibility required for each sub-space/function fit, anywhere/anytime throughout the entire environment. EcoSphere responds exactly as needed to real conditions as they change. The old concept of floors, walls, ceilings gives way to the structure providing in each PLACE the combination of shape, finish, form and texture appropriate for what is happening right there, right now. The “view” in and out of the structure - through a MEMBRANE that, itself, will “read” as much an IDEA as a thing - is also shaped to BE what the function requires not what a pre-determined form-factor (like a wall and a window) dictates. In this environment, you do not “look out” through a frame (window) at a view; you are part of two spaces (inside-outside) that are modulated in a variety of finely-tuned phases that both fit and provoke the intimate psychology of the moment. The functions related to storage, working surfaces, and so on, are mostly provided as part of the linear vertical core system and cantilevered platforms. Functions related to sitting, lounging, reading, enjoying media are mostly provided as part of the curving, visually ambiguous and continuous dome structure. This is using the appropriate forms to support the functions rather than fitting the functions into the predetermined forms. Thus, requisite variety between functions and the built context is achieved.
Look at the flower as architecture. I submit to you we have no concept of ARCHITECTURE. With all our pride in our technology, we are humbled by a single flower. This is the standard by which we should judge our works not the petty arguments that take place between one school of “architecture” and another. Here is the standard for structure, form, color, function, shear imagination and beauty. The EcoSphere model represents but an outline, a form, an idea. The task ahead is to render it with the diversity and joy that nature employs. This standard establishes the criteria of success. EcoSphere was conceived to be a modern version of traditional nomadic architecture; “housing” that can go anywhere and be organic [definition of organic architecture] in its relationship to the planet. As such, a place to enjoy nature without imposing all the present industrial society infrastructure costs on it. We, as a technical society, have miles to go in this regard (building a sustainable infrastructure); EcoSphere can be an experiment and a step toward this goal. As a society, we have assumed that high economic and ecological infrastructure costs are an intrinsic requirement and consequence of a high standard of living. We have not realized that this is true only in the context of our present primitive technology development and too simple infrastructure design strategies. We do not account the full costs of our buildings; we are merely transferring unaccounted costs from our economic ledger to our dwindling ecological ledger and calling this “practical.” If we want to have different results, we have to design based on completely different criteria [link]. As part of this primitive infrastructure design, we suffer disaster after disaster in the form of earthquakes and hurricanes and continue to build back (only stronger”) employing the very design strategies that have proven to be inadequate once again. This is refereed to as Nature’s “wrath” instead of Man’s stupidity. EcoSphere will not solve all the problems of this domain [of UpSideDown Economics]; this requires a much greater scope than a single building can embrace. It can start a process of discovering and demonstrating workable alternatives: it can provide an alternative path - one that repairs the human/nature dichotomy. It can be more like a flower and less like a dumb mechanical thing; it can have the best attributes of both, as well as, the integration of human intelligence and passion which we are so proud of but rarely actually practice.
Configuring the EcoSphere Prototype
EcoSphere is designed to be made of approximately one hundred pieces. Until the final design and engineering is complete, the exact number will not be known. The idea is that no piece will be larger than will fit into a road legal trailer, can be handeled by two people and can be erected with a simple “cherry-picker” lifter. The most eloquent way to do this would be to make the trailer, itself, house the lifting mechanism while becoming an integral part of the structure as it is erected - a large scale application of the transformer toy. If the entire package could be pulled by a hybrid SUV or small truck, this would provide maximum deployment flexibility. To do this will require extreme weight reduction compared to a conventional structure. The trade off will be between weight and manufacturing; sophistication, meaning and ease of moving versus cost to build. Another aspect of this weight issue is the level of finish inside EcoSphere and the amenity provided by the technology package. Finish and utilities constitute a great deal of the weight and cost; the super-structure itself is relatively easy to do.
Since EcoSphere was first conceived (1967), when this model developed (1979), and now (2002), materials and technology have both advanced by quantum leaps. It is possible to build a successful “craft” version of EcoSphere using structural means that have been available for 50 years; working at this level, however, would mean that only about 50% of the energy and deployment goals can be achieved. With no practical budget constraints, it is now possible, employing cutting edge technology from the high end boat building industry and available aircraft technologies, to meet the most stringent weight, technical systems and deployment demands. If EcoSphere is to be built in the near term, an ambition level and configuration somewhere between these two extremes will be necessary; this range will be determined by time and money budgets and the degree of sponsorship the project can attract. If the prototype is to have a hydrogen energy system, for example, will be determined by not only financial means but by the available level of technology sponsorship.
Given my present circumstances, personal and corporate, there is only one option I know of for producing EcoSphere in the near term. This is basted on a few “ifs.” If MG Taylor does move its home office to Nashville (as is presently being considered); if the work there continues to require my presence at the same frequency as the past year (about half time); and, if I can divert the daily costs of my staying in hotels to cost-of-ownership in the prototype; then, there will be a financial basis for doing a prototype. Given this circumstance, how far along the continuum, between craft and high technology, we can get will be determined by the degree that we can accomplish corporate sponsorship from technology companies who are looking for a development project and opportunity to demonstrate their products. This means that the unusual costs, both administratively and time-to-completion, associated with coordinating such a prototype will have to be factored into the configuration management equation. A set of design assumptions based on my personal use of the prototype and a reasonably aggressive corporate-sponsor program forms the basis for the following Program Statement.
March 12, 2004 note: The “IFs” turned out to be true - only more so. It looks like that I will be traveling from project site to site for some time now with “stays” being a year or two - a perfect test of EcoSphere’s move-ability. So... the challenge is how to turn rent and hotel money into capital to fund the EcoSphere project and, as a by product, provide me with more human living and work conditions. It also is likely that the site will be somewhere in Ohio or Calgary, Canada instead of Nashville. It also may require an “attached” drafting room with about 6 workstations much like may have to be added to the Bay Area Studio Project.
EcoSphere Prototype
Program Statement
Goals of Prototype:
Demonstrate feasibility of the basic concept
Provide a model for the Xanadu Project [link] and Master’s Project [link].
Function as my mobile on-site living/work environment
Provide a viable technology test bed
Provide an educational experience for young architects and designers
Inform the Post-Usonian Project [link] [public blog]
These six goals have to be in harmony with one another. To demonstrate basic feasibility, the structure must be capable of deployment and relocation and achieve a high degree of energy independence. To be a model of the Xanadu, the character of the environment must be such that people can sense, by being in EcoSphere, what Xanadu will be like. To function as my Nashville environment, it will have to accomplish (in a condensed form) most of the program requirements of my Bay Area Studio [link] and it will to be built quickly. To be a viable technology test bed it will have to offer manufacturers an opportunity to develop product and demonstrate their utility to a potentially large market - this means the product application has to be far greater than the market, itself, for EcoSphere-like buildings. To provide education for young architects and designers, it has to stretch them intellectually and artistically and yet, be completed - Design/Build/Use - within a time frame that fits their educational process. All, worthy goals; each providing richness to the Program and interesting challenges to both the design and build processes.
Ecosphere Zones
Zone I: Base
Structurally holds the Sphere and supports the Tower. Houses mechanical equipment and energy storage, provides a small shop and storage areas.
Zone II: Sphere
Sitting, conversation, dining, media areas, Library. Overflow guest sleeping.
Zone III: Greenhouse
Food preparation (top level). Bathing (middle level). food production (lower level). Solar collectors. Heat and water storage.
Zone IV: Tower and Platforms
Storage. Bathroom (in tower between lower and midlevel). Guestroom (lower level). Bedroom (midlevel). Studio (top level). Venting.

Zone V: (Optional) Drafting Room.
A semi circular work area attached to the Supporting base for about 6 workstations and a small collaborative area at the end. This can be covered with a light-weight suspended translucent roof.

There are a variety of uses that a space like this can be put from home office facilities to guest accomindations to bedrooms.

Each of these zones express a different character and support distinct functions. Each zone, in addition, flows into one another creating a seamless, integrated space. The resulting composition creates many areas rich in prospect and refuge. This provides a dual strategy for arrangement: first, the general space is matched with the functions allocated to it; secondly, within each area, there is adjustability built in to the structure so that different “furniture” components open and close as necessary to the provide different utility as required by the actual activities taking place at any time. As example: in the Sphere the lower dome that forms the “floor” will have surfaces that fold up to make sitting, lounging, sleeping, walking areas, thus, creating a changing interior “landscape” that can adjusted to fit different requirements; also in the Sphere, the dining furniture (located at the intersection of the sphere, Tower and Greenhouse entry) will fold out of the Tower structure in such a way to provide a dining surface for a single individual, for small and large groups. The food preparation area will have two configurations, one for day-to-day low demand use and one for the preparation of larger meals. In the Tower, the relationship between the Bedroom, Guestroom and Bath will be made variable with folding doors and partitions so as to create a variety of options ranging from complete privacy to openness between these three spaces. All zones will have “battens” that fold out from the dome, “floor” and “walls” to provide variable degrees of acoustic, sight and and temperature as may be desired by each occupant - this is an interior version of the dome’s adjustable exterior skin.
In total, the fixed structural elements combined with the interior and exterior variable components compose, together, an unprecedented level of real-time adjustment capability for configuring the exact combination of shape, texture, color, utility, privacy, openness, sight lines (in and out) and sound control desired by any user at any time. Along with being a work of art that has being, substance, form and meaning, EcoSphere is, in addition, user responsive in a way that existing buildings are not. The resulting impact on the experience of living will be great. It will enable us to understand how old - and restricting - the existying paradigm of the “house” really is.
Ecosphere Technology
Energy creation, storage and distribution:
The EcoSphere solar system is both passive and active. The entire greenhouse is a solar collection unit. Passive collection will provide air heating. Active solar will provide direct hot water storage, solar cells for electricity generation and provide electricity for a hydrogen storage system. To the extent useful, energy or heat generated within EcoSphere will be captured, stored and reused.
Food growing, preparation, consumption and disposal:
Various eatable plants and an internal fish farm, capable of providing a basic diet, are part of the greenhouse system along with appropriate greenhouse and exterior composting. Exterior landscaping employing Permaculture techniques and engineered micro climes will be provided (earth berms, sun orientation, use of excess heat, etc.). The process of harvesting to serving the food will be designed to be accomplished within a 20 minute cycle.
Waste disposal:
Composting toilets and gray water system will be used. The idea is to keep the building totally off the energy grid and the water intake, waste disposal system. This is likely to be the most controversial aspect of the project from the standpoint of codes and social acceptability. The present system in place does not really solve the health and and ecological costs it merely transfers and hides them.
Exterior Skin:
Heating and cooling skin “metabolism” system. Heating is a great deal easier than cooling; both processes, however, may require a deep well (below frost line) heat sinks to store and draw from. Additional (to those located on the Greenhouse skin) solar cells will be placed on the (sphere) skin where useful. Hydrogen will act as storage to be converted back to electricity for a variety of purposes including supplemental heating and cooling. The exterior skin will have a variety of strategies (reflection, insulation, one or two way permeability, clear, opaque) by which desired temperature and visual-ness can be achieved; this will be administrated by a computer system employing swarming algorithms. Users can set a number of parameters for personal preferences up to certain limits of energy storage/depletion and so on.
Computer AUGMENTATION capability:
The computer system has two missions. One is to monitor and “run” the household in every way possible; the other is to provide a state-of-the-art support system for a virtual professional practice. The house system will include security, management of energy and temperature systems, device control (including remotely) and a variety of communication, Internet surfing and bill-paying functions. The professional practice system
[link] will include high speed access, server system, back up, large multi-screen, high resolution displays, integrated video conferencing, standard software packages and simulation and modeling. These are just the basics - the real opportunity is to build an augmentation environment that supports human life in a variety of seamless, non-intrusive, friendly ways. Can the environment become a learning system? Can it, ultimately become and agent for the user? can it become a “companion?” I think so. We proceed with simple rules, add feedback, connect to the Internet, build in memory [link], add robotic tools; in time, the building becomes “smart;” then...
Assuming EcoSphere will be located just outside the Nashville metropolitan area, or a simular situation, so an electric/hydrogen car prototype is possible given the ability of ecosphere to generate electricity, make hydrogen and store it. This keeps the car choice simple with a broad range of alternative vehicles being available. Hydrogen cars are now being used in California for fleets that can provide and maintain the fuel infrastructure. The issue with hydrogen is the size of the producing unit and the electrical draw. The state of the art should be such that an application on the scale of EcoSphere will work if appropriate energy management is exercised. If a hydrogen solution proves impossible in the short term, an all electric car is a viable alternative given its use.
These technologies are described separately elsewhere, however, they must work as a single system and be integrated into the structure, fabric and processes of EcoSphere. No compromise of a high standard of living is contemplated because of the energy and ecological objectives of the project. While the system must be totally transparent to those living in the environment, the control systems must be automatic and user programmable with continuous feedback to the occupants of the cost and environmental impacts associated with their actions. They can, therefore, spend with awareness; something that typical a home owner cannot do, in real time - or accurately - today.
Being free of all energy, water supply and waste systems is a primary design goal of EcoSphere. Without this capability, it cannot meet its design goals of mobility and having minimum impact on the earth when deployed. This first prototype, however, can fall somewhat short of this measure as long as real advancements toward the goals are accomplished. The various key technology components should be made modular so that the system can be improved in the future by increments in ways that support on-going test-bed activities.
Ecosphere Construction
The entire structure, interior components and all utilities (organized into “packages”) will be fabricated off-site. It is expected that, with the prototype, major components will have to pre-assembles in the shop to prove out fitness. This process will be similar to the Bay Area Studio
[link] and Gail’s Nest [link] projects except that the goal with EcoSphere is to do the complete finished product off site (which is not the goal of the two other projects). The complexity of this fabrication will be determined by the degree that new light weight materials are used. More traditional materials means less cost, less innovation required, less time in fabrication and less performance and relevance to board scale production. Greater use of new materials means more time and cost and a greater probability of accomplishing EcoSphere’s mission. EcoSphere is an opportunity to develop a valid architectural grammar using these new materials. This is as important a consideration in the material palette selection as their energy and weight management goals.
Site Preparation:
The objective is, of course, to do as little site “preparation” as possible. For year around use in a near suburban setting such as this prototype, a carport - caretaker living unit - storage unit is in order. I can live in this while the engineering and fabrication of EcoSphere takes place. It can be field built and also a test of certain materials and systems - a prototype of a prototype. This will be a detached unit; any connection to services or code-compliant facilities will be provided in this facility (See Steinmeyer project
[link]). Patios, walks and driveways will be removable pavers that allow ground cover growth to be integrated with these surfaces. Foundations will be prefabricated. Excavation (carefully preserving the top soil) will be made to create the partially underground greenhouse area, footings and any heat sinks. Gravel will be placed to create structural bearing. After erection, the top soil will be replaced as planted earth berms around the parameter of EcoSphere’s base and greenhouse. Landscaping will be added to augment the natural beauty and nature of the site and to provide edible food (Permaculture). Upon removal of EcoSphere, the excavation area will be filled and the top soil replaced more or less as things were in the beginning. All site work and landscaping will be finished prior to the placement of EcoSphere except the final dressing and planting of the berms surrounding the immediate structure.
Field Erection:
Place the prefabricated footings onto the gravel bearing beds, set the Base (Zone I), Tower and Platforms (Zone IV), attach the dome in hexagonal and pentagonal sections (Zone II), erect the Greenhouse (Zone III), hook components together, smooth the parameter berms and add final landscaping - The structure is complete. The next step is to supply it with water, Hydrogen, plants and test the systems. This is a one to two day process. It would seem that Spring or Fall would be the better times to do this.
There are innumerable little things that distinguishes a mere building from a home and place to work. this is both finishing the work and “moving in” to it. This takes several days just to get to the starting point. The placement of personal things in the environment is an act of investing energy into and taking possession of a space - it is primal. It is also discovery; the process of finding out what a space can really become and how you can relate to it. A work of architecture is never “decorated” - it is lived in.
I am not sure how long it will take to bring an EcoSphere on line for the first time. I will guess three to six months before it is fully operational and proven out. This goes beyond the mechanical and organic systems; the entire way of living in this environment is more like living on a cruising sailboat than a traditional house. This will require many adjustments and copious documentation.
Design and construction cannot be divorced as is the common practice today. How a work is to be built directly impacts the grammar of its design. The design, in term, effects the method of construction. There is feedback between the two. Many would agree to this statement and say they do it; however, it is not until a design such as this one - far removed from mainstream building - is proposed that the existing inadequate relationship between Design/Build/Use is fully revealed. Technically, EcoSphere is more like a boat or automobile than a house. This is true in how it is made and also in how it operates after it is fielded. To build EcoSphere as a one-off, and accomplish anywhere near a production level, will take a great deal of engineering and design work. I suspect, this will require a distributed team. EcoSphere will be a product of the internet; the result of a ValueWeb; an interesting and relevant point.
Ecosphere Mission
As a ROOM in my distributed environment:
The objective is that when I travel, I take only myself and a laptop. Today, 95% of the time, I work in a Taylor environment no matter where I am. Unfortunately, I spend 75% of my time in hotels that do not serve my needs nor reflect my values. This is over a $35,000 a year “vote” in the market place that I would like to divert to a more organic result. There is no way that I can, in the near term, maintain one place where I can work and live so it is necessary to build nodes (“rooms”) that support my presence for different aspects of my work. EcoSphere has to be a room in my distributed studio
[link] as it extends beyond the Bay Area.
The scale of EcoSphere is the smallest example that design strategies essential to a number of future projects can be developed and tested: Bay Area Studio
[link], Domicile [link], Crystal Cave [link], Xanadu [link], Wilderness Mega City [link], Master’s NavCenter Treehouse” concept [link] - and so on. Not only the specific technologies themselves, but also the method of getting manufactures to participate in a lean Design/Build/Use Rapid Prototyping process to produce environments that are actually used. To do this in an “industry” that has no real R&D, at the scale of a building, is a challenge. Living in EcoSphere is also part of the testing process as the environment diverges significantly from traditional life-work style protocols. Documenting what works and not is essential to future designs.
I have long asserted that the role of any professional is not to grind out common projects over and over but to push the state of their art, as well as, transfer the skill set and learnings to others. This project fits well within that defining principle.
And, to simply be a place of real architecture that provides an unique viewpoint on the world, expresses a philosophy of life and a shelter with the appropriate tools of living and work.
This will not be my main residence and Studio as these functions will remain on the west coast. However, my major MG Taylor Corporations tasks for the next couple of years involve three categories of work: (1) to fuel the effort to write the manuals of the Taylor System and Method (and finish securing necessary IP) and assist in the transfer of the this capability to license holders and partners; (2) assist in the creation of a number of joint ventures and partnerships with organizations who will take the Method to distinct markets and scale it (this also requires the building of the requisite ValueWeb [link]); and, (3) developing the management function that will carry MG Taylor beyond the founders and through the next cycle of work. If Nashville becomes the MG Taylor home office, or Ohio where the VA NavCenters are going up [link], or Calgary where the Master’s Academy Campus is rising [link], then I will require a living and work environment that supports my efforts in accomplishing these three tasks while executing these projects.
My next several years will involve a great deal of writing and the development of systems. I require an environment that is shaped to serve this purpose. A quite place of few interruptions but one that is stimulating because of its innate variability. I require an environment that does not take too much time to take care of but does require a level of involvement and interaction. One radical aspect of EcoSphere is, although it should require less maintenance than a typical dwelling, it does require greater interaction; it is more like a living organism than an object. EcoSphere is a true “environment valve” - an interface process between the larger environment and the capsule within which one lives. It has to be worked like a homestead.
Beyond this personal and professional use, EcoSphere has a social role to play and that is to be a “spokesperson” for architectural alternatives. Except for the insertion of ever more convenience devices, the concept of the house has hardly changed in a century. The advances made by Wright and others are largely being overwhelmed, today, by retro-buildings whose only claim to fame seems to be their dishonesty and grossness not to mention their ecological irresponsibility. Architecture cannot be sold with pictures, that which really makes a difference - “the quality that has no name” - has to be experienced. Perhaps this can be the role of EcoSphere the two weeks a month when I will not be in it; a retreat place for people to sample an authentic alternative. Although it was not designed to be shocking or spectacular, EcoSphere does have the potential to “jar” people out of their assumptions of what a dwelling is and must be. If it can be the catalyst to some fundamental reevaluation, then the project will have done some good in addition to serving the requirements of a few.
EcoSphere As Architectural Art:
The concept of shelter in housing has become one dimensional: in or out. The questions of what is shelter, to whom is it provided (is everybody the same?), from what (are all elements the same?), to what degree (is it just binary?), in what circumstances (is every moment the same?), is rarely fully addressed - or provided for. The concept of shelter has many nuances and it means different things to different people and they need different degrees of it at different times. These requirements can change with mood, task, time of day, season. EcoSphere can be (in whole or part) an open air pavilion, enclosed and visually and acoustically open - or closed - or a tight womb protecting from the elements. It never, however, treats nature as hostile, something to be afraid of, separate from - or something to defeat. EcoSphere screens, augments, attenuates, separates each factor (sight, sound, light, heat) discreetly, as required in whole and by different parts of the environment, depending on the requirements of individual users.
The arrangement is both zoned and free flowing and rests on a different functional basis than a traditional habitat. There is greater variety and flexibility in how requirements are translated into architectural means. The EcoSphere interior is to be built like and function like a ship. One moves though it like through a landscape; with access to truly vertical as well as horizontal spaces. Where you are in three dimensional space (in relationship to other elements) has meaning; how you see the interior and exterior landscape has meaning; the angle that you look and the turn of your body as you move, work, relax, has meaning. These are physical facts that provoke mental states-of-mind and convey metaphysical messages through denotation and connotation. Theses distinctions are almost totally lost in “modern” buildings which take almost all variety out of the built environment and then over compensates with pointless architectonics, superficial ornament and the grandiose abuse of materials.
The aspect of sunlight as it moves through the day and seasons is an active element in the life of a building that is almost totally truncated in the conventional house. The passage from one room or area to another can be made an experience not just a common happening. The relationship between areas has far more importance than just convenience. As one moves from one space to another; there is reorientation, changed perspective, a new mix of textures, light, shape, space and utilitarian elements. Privacy is accomplished in EcoSphere by vertical and horizontal movement away from (in all planes and directions) the open center of the space. One moves through layers of interior landscape - partial shields - creating spatial ambiguity and a sense of prospect, as well as, pockets of quietness and away-ness. Folding elements provide greater or lessor sight and audible privacy. Arrangement becomes an active design principle not merely a factor of basic convenience.
The dome is encompassing, round, soft, flowing. The Base, Tower and Platforms angular, vertical and penetrating. The dome provides for (mostly) the open-ended functions; the angular structures the (mostly) task-based functions. Each “mode,” however is intertwined with the other - one aspect a few steps from another. The entire structure rests on the earth and floats above it while being “tucked-in” by the sunken greenhouse and planted berms. There is both dynamic tension, cooperation and resolution between these elements. The outside landscape is “right there” under, over, beside the semi-transparent structure cantilevering the functional areas into the natural landscape separated only by the gossamer “environment valve” of the ever changing skin.
The dome has a long history
[link]. It has often been the subject of technological advancement and philosophical/social meaning. Nomadic architecture goes back to the beginning of history, almost terminated with our technological civilization, and now is beginning to enjoy a revival. Prefabrication [link] is just on the cusp of becoming its long anticipated promise. After its great period in the 30s, 40s and 50s, the reality of an affordable modern home [link] faded for nearly 40 years and is now beginning to see a revival in interest and practice.
I was living in Arizona when I first conceived EcoSphere. As art, I wanted a work that would express a fundamentally new viewpoint of reality and that created a different interface between “inside” and “outside” than that of the typical dwelling. One that would, on one hand put nature on a pedestal, and on the other create a much greater intensity of interaction between the dwelling, its occupants and nature. I was seeking a way that the flat-plane viewpoint and the box (no mater how well articulated to go beyond inherent limitations) could be shattered and replaced with an environment that had a far greater natural variety - dynamic - intrinsic in its makeup. On the tactile level, how one moves through space - and where one looks - has a direct corollary to one’s thoughts and feelings. We experience this as a reawakening when we explore natural environments but usually lose it in the human designed environment. The human designed environment, beside being ugly and awkward most of the time, does not have nearly enough variety to sufficiently occupy a truly alive human mind. My intent was to create a built-artifact that provided the same sense as moving through a natural landscape. I am not speaking metaphorically here - nor as a strictly cerebral experience - but on the visceral level. I wanted a far greater intensity of experience than provided by traditional architectural means and I wanted the building to express this promise in its form. The dynamic tension set up between the “alter to nature” (which is passive/refuge) and the greater degree of interface (which is active/prospect) makes the major thematic element of the design which is reinforced by the extraordinary degree that the occupants of this “EarthShip” can dial-in the exact level of interaction desired. The THEME, then, is the constantly changing relationship between human and nature and the synergy of their interaction. This is the essence of appropriate technology.
The fundamental basis of architecture is that it forges the context by which day-to-day living becomes art [link]. The subject of architecture is the life lived within it. This life-as-art emerges as a consequence of many factors. These factors range across the entire Design/Build/Use spectrum. Artistic intention must be designed-in, built-in and practiced into reality.
EcoSphere-type designs offer a far more engaging, interactive, adaptable and ecologically sound environments than the presently ubiquitous housing habit. The prototype offers a robust test bed for a variety of technologies and design ideas. As architectural art, EcoSphere breaks new ground; it offers a degree of intimacy between form and function almost impossible to accomplish in either traditional linear, “flat” form-factors or in the common use of dome structures [link].
EcoSphere is looking for a few good designer, craft-persons, engineers and sponsors - and some adventurous owners. Go to the Business Model [link below] and contact [link] me if you are interested. It is time to break the mold, At the same time, it is time to reconnect with intrinsic values that have be lost in our mindless rush to the present modern sentiment. Lets create a new evolutionary path.
Update - February 2005
“Can you build it?”

THE question, of course, is “can you really build it? And, for what cost?” Recently, we just completed a 5,000 square foot RDS [link] with Armature [link] which is about the same scale as EcoSphere. This project was done in less than 90 days: designed, engineered, manufactured, shipped (to Europe), installed and used [link].

In mass, this is an EcoSphere without the skin. The RDS has a sophisticated electrical system. While different, and acknowledging there are aspects of EcoSphere that go beyond it, the RDS demonstrates that we are now at the threshold of technical compentency required to prototype an ecoSphere or UsonianOne project [link].

Builder-designer Phil Carson has explored many elements that are key to the EcoSphere concept including breathing walls, non-toxic materials, modularity and rapid assembly/disassembly structures. Visit his web site [link].

EcoSphere background:

[link] Architectural Projects # 63
[link] 1970s Concepts
[link] Dome Dwellings
[link] Renascence Project

Return To Index
EcoSphere Business Model
Return of the Usonian
Return To postUsonian Index
GoTo: Renascense Reports 1977, 1978 - Index
Matt Taylor
knOwhere @Palo Alto
December 8, 2002
SolutionBox voice of this document:

posted: December 8, 2002

revised: August 23, 2005
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(note: this document is about 98% finished)

copyright© Matt Taylor 1967, 1975, 1979, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005

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