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No Nails, No Lumber: The Bubble Houses of Wallace Neff

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Imagine a house constructed in less than forty-eight hours, without using lumber or nails, that is more resistant to fire, earthquakes, and hurricanes than any traditionally built structure. This may sound like the latest development in prefab housing or green architecture, but the design dates back to 1941 when architect Wallace Neff (1895 1982) developed Airform construc Imagine a house constructed in less than forty-eight hours, without using lumber or nails, that is more resistant to fire, earthquakes, and hurricanes than any traditionally built structure. This may sound like the latest development in prefab housing or green architecture, but the design dates back to 1941 when architect Wallace Neff (1895 1982) developed Airform construction as a solution to the global housing crisis. Best known for his elegant Spanish Colonial revival estates in Southern California, Neff had a private passion for his dome-shaped "bubble houses" made of reinforced concrete cast in position over an inflatable balloon. No Nails, No Lumber shows the beauty and versatility of Neff 's design in new and vintage photography, previously unpublished illustrations, and archival material and ephemera.


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Imagine a house constructed in less than forty-eight hours, without using lumber or nails, that is more resistant to fire, earthquakes, and hurricanes than any traditionally built structure. This may sound like the latest development in prefab housing or green architecture, but the design dates back to 1941 when architect Wallace Neff (1895 1982) developed Airform construc Imagine a house constructed in less than forty-eight hours, without using lumber or nails, that is more resistant to fire, earthquakes, and hurricanes than any traditionally built structure. This may sound like the latest development in prefab housing or green architecture, but the design dates back to 1941 when architect Wallace Neff (1895 1982) developed Airform construction as a solution to the global housing crisis. Best known for his elegant Spanish Colonial revival estates in Southern California, Neff had a private passion for his dome-shaped "bubble houses" made of reinforced concrete cast in position over an inflatable balloon. No Nails, No Lumber shows the beauty and versatility of Neff 's design in new and vintage photography, previously unpublished illustrations, and archival material and ephemera.

34 review for No Nails, No Lumber: The Bubble Houses of Wallace Neff

  1. 5 out of 5

    Allie

    I wrote this review for the MPL reader's advisory blog, Read @ MPL. Recommended! The bubble houses of Wallace Neff are something to behold indeed. He created a method he called Airform construction – houses built with air. They laid a round foundation and anchored a giant balloon (imagine a giant half grapefruit, flat side down) to the foundation. They used a concrete concoction called gunite, and fired it from a high pressure gun over the surface of the bubble. When the concrete was dry, the bub I wrote this review for the MPL reader's advisory blog, Read @ MPL. Recommended! The bubble houses of Wallace Neff are something to behold indeed. He created a method he called Airform construction – houses built with air. They laid a round foundation and anchored a giant balloon (imagine a giant half grapefruit, flat side down) to the foundation. They used a concrete concoction called gunite, and fired it from a high pressure gun over the surface of the bubble. When the concrete was dry, the bubble was deflated and removed leaving a dome! All told, an Airform house could be functional in about 48 hours. They were quick, cost-effective, simple, and durable structures. The first bubble houses were built in Falls Church, VA during World War II as housing for government families. The small community was nicknamed “Igloo Village.” After that, Neff was hired to build a little community in Litchfield, AZ, a linen supply building, and a dormitory at Loyola Marymount University. When he started building his bubble houses, Wallace Neff was already a famous architect. He designed Pickfair, the Spanish colonial mansion designed for silent film stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. He designed houses for all three Marx Brothers. Reese Witherspoon owns a Neff house. And yet the houses he hoped would be his legacy were concrete bubbles. In the United States, only one of Neff’s original bubble houses still stand. Located in Pasadena, CA, it is the house Neff himself lived in. The architect to the stars decided to live in a 1,000-square foot bubble. In addition to the house in California, there are still some houses standing today in Dakar, Senegal of all places. Between 1948 and 1953 about 1,200 bubble houses as the city started expanding. People wanted houses to replace their traditional grass dwellings, and Airform structures were cheap and fast. Today they have been adapted to be more traditional houses with bathrooms, living rooms, and other spaces, often surrounded by traditional rectangular buildings to make a sort of compound. There are lots of places to learn about these bubble houses. I first heard about them in an episode of the radio show 99% Invisible episode of 99% Invisible, which includes an interview with a woman who lived in one of the original Falls Church bubble houses. You should also check out a 2011 LA Time feature about the last remaining bubble house in the US, and a (highly recommended) photo gallery from Planet Magazine.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rogue Reader

    What a strange architectural form! This bubble house, a cement structure built by inflating a huge balloon and spraying it with cement. The obsession of architect Wallace Neff (1895-1982), these odd structures could be completed in less than a day and for less than $2000. Talk about affordable housing. And elaborate housing for wealthy celebrities. And housing complexes for military and industrial initiatives. And throughout the world as schools, resorts, homes, wineries, grain storage facilitie What a strange architectural form! This bubble house, a cement structure built by inflating a huge balloon and spraying it with cement. The obsession of architect Wallace Neff (1895-1982), these odd structures could be completed in less than a day and for less than $2000. Talk about affordable housing. And elaborate housing for wealthy celebrities. And housing complexes for military and industrial initiatives. And throughout the world as schools, resorts, homes, wineries, grain storage facilities. They are just remarkable! Yet most of Neff's unusual structures never made it off the drawing board, and today in the United States, only two structures using the technique remain: one in Hobe Sound, Florida (at risk of removal or destruction as of March 2012) and one in Los Angeles, built for Neff's brother Andrew. This work is such an interesting read, with wonderful photos of constructed buildings, and both interior and exterior shots. I wish that I could have danced in Los Globos (Mexico City), vacationed at the Pineapple Beach Club in Saint Thomas or relaxed in the diffused light of a bubble house shaded by trees in Falls Church, Virginia. The appendices are as good as book. The first is an interview with sisters Kathy Miles and Mary Mayhew who lived for about 10 years in one of the Falls Church homes after WWII. They talked of how others considered their family odd to be living in this home, and how the igloo house was an embarrasment. They talked of their mother's decorating attempts, unable to hang curtains or pictures on the rounded-interior, cement surface. Appendix B describes Neff's many patents and Apprendix C reviews selected concepts for buildings that were not funded between 1944-58. I can't help thinking that if Neff had given as much attention to landscape and setting as he did to speed and economy of construction, that many more of Neff's plans would have been executed. There's an extensive notes section and bibliography, the latter showing that in 1954, Neff's buildings entered popular consciousness, with articles not only in Popular Science, Engineering News Record, but also in Mademoiselle, Vogue and House and Home. Lost dreams! Lost architecture! What fantastical, fantastic structures. Shapes from a dream, now lost in time. Another wonderful find in the bookstore at the National Building Museum. I'll look for more works published by Princeton Architectural Press. --Ashland Mystery

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Genius. And I can't believe there was a community in Falls Church, right near where I grew up, and that it was torn down in 1961. So sad that there is only one of Wallace Neff's Bubble Houses left in the entire country. Fascinating story, love the simple technology. Genius. And I can't believe there was a community in Falls Church, right near where I grew up, and that it was torn down in 1961. So sad that there is only one of Wallace Neff's Bubble Houses left in the entire country. Fascinating story, love the simple technology.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    I saw some airform houses when I was in South Africa, and they were incredibly fascinating. So too, is this book- simple homes with little to no carbon footprint, open platforms for design and decorating, and a much more hygienic solution to affordable housing. Interesting read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Leah Hoelscher

  6. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  7. 5 out of 5

    Volcania

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ray

  9. 4 out of 5

    Karen Moreno

  10. 5 out of 5

    John Gulley

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    Sal B

  12. 4 out of 5

    Cage Aaron

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    Pete

  14. 5 out of 5

    grey calx

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    Bajema

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    Michael Hamner

  18. 5 out of 5

    MaryKate

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    Anna

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    Alan

  21. 5 out of 5

    Renée

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    Sheldon Thompson

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    Bronwyn Skelton

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    D.j. Stinkay

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    Lane K.

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    Roger Barnette

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    Rhincewind

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    audrey

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    Cynthia

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    Meagan

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    Emily

  34. 5 out of 5

    Ed Terrell

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