If you were a movie star in the market for a mansion in 1930s Los Angeles, there was a good chance you might call on Wallace Neff. Neff wasn’t just an architect–he was a starchitect. One of his most famous … Continue reading →
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is ninety. Nine percent, invisible, I'm roman Mars, in nineteen, forty one, the journalist and screenwriter LEO Roston wrote in Hollywood, as in Istanbul or Sioux falls. The rich hastened to press their wealth, immature either fitful groping for status by fifteen homes of unnecessary magnitude and splendor. The man who built many of Hollywood homes of unnecessary magnitude and splendor was Wallace Neff Neff was Starck attacked. I know many people find the term stark attack the pretty contemptible portmanteau, but really was both famous in his own right and in architects to the stars, one of his most famous projects with the renovation of pick fair, these state owned by the iconic, silent film actress, Mary Pickford and her husband Douglas Fair banks. When the couple
Moved into pick fair, the how sat on a nameless street empty neighbourhood called Beverly Hills. If you are lucky enough to be invited to dinner at pick fair, you might find yourself seated next, a babe Ruth king of Spain or Albert Einstein, Life Magazine called Pick fair, only slightly less important than the White House, and much more fun, LOS Angeles base reporter David Weinberg Neff, designed to states for Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland grow your marks. He designed houses for all three marks: brothers Madonna, his own enough time, keeping the blonde from legal Yes, she had. She actually earnestly and we'd. Better facts like this levy, ranch and high Jeffrey head is an architectural historian and the author of a book on Neff, I checked and Reese Witherspoon does in fact only the ranch at the end of his life, while, as now could have lived in a grand estate on the coast or a huge.
Engine in Hollywood hills, but instead he lived in a one thousand square foot concrete bubble and never believed that this simple dome was one of his greatest architectural achievements. The story of the bubble house begins one morning when Neff was standing in his bathroom shaving, thirty four, so it was probably a straight razor Neff looked down and noticed a small soap bubble had formed a sink. He reached out and touched the bubble held firm against his fingertips. That was the moment. The idea struck him. He could build with air. He can build bubble houses and never wanted to build them by the thousands near the end of the session world war. Architects were anticipating the postwar housing shortage and working on very solutions. Neff had a larger view in wanted to create a solution to meet demand for House
worldwide Jeffrey Heads book about Neff is titled, no nails, no lumber because the bubble houses he did know nails lumber had says that never never saw the bump. Houses as a way to make money other measures, social responsibility away to provide low cost housing for people. He really didn't make money from it, in fact, spent a great deal of money money from his other architectural practice put it into the bubble. Houses plus Neff was already rich, remember was building mansions for the Hollywood elite and his and father was Andrew Mcnally, but cartographer who created ran Mcnally, pushing this idea of a dome shaped dwelling was not entirely new. Indigenous cultures in the Americas had certainly explored that territory even during their lifetime. Another guy Buckminster fuller, was creating his own circular solution the housing shortage, the geodesic dome. Yet anything
there is a misunderstanding: people look at the bubble house. Anything of this is a variation on Bucky, fuller, and it's it's really not it's. It's more of a variation on of form appearing in nature that someone has adopted for human scale. Human use what was original about. Next design was the way the bubble houses were built, not invented a new method of construction. He called it air form. Here's how worked first, a big slab of concrete was poured in the shape of a giant coin, now picture a giant balloon in the shape of her a great for it with the flat side down this balloon was tied down to the foundation using steel hooks. So what the language tied down. It was inflated with through an invalid valve, and it took all of five minutes inflated after the balloon was inflated. It was quoted in a fine powder, and this this would happen before the gun. I process
Ah, yes, gun right. Let's take him to talk about the magical substance that is gunfight or maybe for further generic term shot Crete yeah, so the and I was shot out of a cement gun The gun had two houses that came to light at the nozzle more than us, had water and the other was dry cement mix in the water in the mix came together under high pressure, to form the gun I, when the gun I tried, it was more than twice as strong as regular, concrete Neff love the stuff once the blue was quoted in Guide Elaine. Of wire mesh, was placed over that then second layer of Gunnar was sprayed on and ban that it two men with alone and a gun, I machine could turn a bare patch of soil into a bubble house in less than forty eight hours after the gun, I tried the balloon was deflated and pulled out through the front door, so it could be used again
next house and have claimed that the bubble houses, where more fireproof more earthquake, proof and even more bomb proof, then any traditional structure Neff was so confident in his design did. He would often invite people to bash the walls of the bubble, with the backside an ax workers at the backside day. For some reason, they used the backside of what the reasoning was, but it I've seen another photos they're using the backside of acts, what lifelike about the bubble. Houses, though, was that they were in credibly cheap after Neff fine tune the reform process. He went in search of a client, someone with money would hire him to build more bubble houses and he found one, the federal government, the first bubble houses were done during the war to create a quick housing for government workers, world war, two it escalated and they. Where's needed homes for military workers, so Neff convinced the government to build an experimental bubble house community in a forest and false church Virginia
In October of nineteen forty one Neff began construction on the twelve bubble, houses in false church that would have. Actually be nicknamed igloo village. There was no lighting of any kind on the street and we arrived in the day time, but it was still quite dark because there were so many trees. Cathy miles grew up in one of the false church bubble houses when she was five years old. Her dad who work for the military drove the fact. Into the forest to show them their new house. He hadn't told his wife and two daughters that they would be living in a village of bubbles in the woods it was dark and damp and isolated, and I can remember coming up this
eight and there was a clear area with still many trees and very little grass. If any and there were flagstones- and there was this house. It didn't look like a house to me at that time, but there was something rising up from the ground and it was white and large and it had to large lumps and they were held together. In the middle with a smokestack and of course I was with my parents- and am I don't remember what they were telling me, but I'm sure it was something that we were going to live in this kind of house. Do you remember what your mother's reaction was when she first saw her overt the action was to stay calm and carry on think she was trying to make the best of it and hoping that we wouldn't leave their long. So to come to something that looked like this, I
think she was truly horrified. The false truth: community consisted of two single bubble: houses and ten double bubble: houses Kathy lived in. One of the double bubbles the double bubbles were made by can- thing to smaller bubbles, whether rectangular cinder block structure that how's the kitchen in the bathroom Cathy says they growing up in a glue village was incredibly isolating and you're stand out one time when she was in first grade. I set out to draw a picture. My house and of course we colored it and I couldn't color it because I kept insisting there were no white crayons and So when the teacher looked at it, she kept say it's trying to explain to me that I was supposed to draw the house. I lived in, and I kept saying I do live in this house, so
Finally, I felt that I wasn't doing what I was supposed to and she clearly had no idea what I was doing and the course when we passed all the houses around to our friends to look at the pictures, the other children laughed and made fun of it and so it was pretty daunting as and as an introduction to first grade for me, and sometimes Cathy would be made. Feel like an outsider in her own neighborhood, people were constantly driving into igloo village to guard at the weird families, live deep in the woods inside strange habit, dwellings, one of them. Having said all of us, the children in the early days were uncomfortable with, I think, was that when we were outside playing in the yards, people would drive up the street. And they again it was a dark street with because of the trees, and they would draw.
Up very slowly and as even in the summer as they would come up the street, they would roll the windows of the car up and they would all be pressed against the glass and you would see them pointing It was very much a zoo like feeling- and I can even- remember when I went to the zoo one time as a child. I I remember thinking about how I felt when people were watching me and I about how the animals were feeling with us watching them, so it had that much of an effect. I was able to make that transference life in the bubble house was especially hard on Cathy's mom because there were no straight walls, she couldn't hang pictures or family photos and the circular rooms were difficult to further. But living in a bubble wasn't all bad for Cathy. She discovered that she could easily climb up the side of the bubble
the roof. I was always a climber in those days you called it the tomboy, but on the whole, these houses were really weird. Really I leave in this area, and this time this place it was kind of doomed to failure, even though Igloo Village and false church Virginia did not flourish. Net was still able to land a few more clients in nineteen. Forty two, the southwest cotton company, hired him to build a desert colony of bubbles and Litchfield Park, Arizona. The southwest cotton company provided the Cardinal Goodyear used to make next giant half grapefruit balloons. Neff.
I've got a contract to build a bubble house dormitory for Loyola University, in LOS Angeles and in nineteen. Forty four, the Pacific linen Supply Company hired, never designed the largest air form ever built. It was one hundred feet in diameter and thirty two feet high, never thought that the Pacific linen bubble with its grandeur and prime location downtown would finally convince the world that air foreign construction had arrived, not just because bubbles reply, the, but because they were beautiful, but still people just did not want to live in bubbles. Eventually, everyone in America moved out of their bubbles and they were all demolished all of them, except for one which happens to be in Pasadena, but ten miles from my apartment, It was dark when I arrived at the bubble house it's in a neighbour
of unremarkable suburban houses from the nineteen thirties. When I got to the front yard the sight of it stopped me in my tracks, a smooth dark mound against the night sky was little spooky, but breathtaking standing there. Looking at it, I immediately thought of a passage, I'd read and Geoffrey heads book. The passage was about this very house one turns onto a small residential street and is confronted with a house that looks nothing like a house. The fact that it has a front door and a few visible windows only adds to its incongruous presents looking at the house which resembles a smooth mounted. First, it feels as if some ancient space station has suddenly fallen from the sky and upon landing it has curiously, embedded itself into the wrong context. Its present, so strange could seems to have travelled through both space and time That passage was written by the artist Steve Rodin Stephen
was a lot about capacity in a bubble house for the last fifteen years has lived in it The only reason why I drove out here to look at the house with my wife was because the price was so cheap and there the image was so strange, and so when we turned the corner and saw this strange brown dome in the middle of an unbelievably conservative neighbourhood who is sort of like what what the hell is. This Steve was fascinated by its history and all the surprises that come with living in a bubble like the way that light moves across its curved surfaces. What's really cool in the living room at night is when cars dry by the lights come in through the window when projects on the dome it's like a crazy cycling, very Emerson, Pakenham. It's really amazing. None of the walls that A breather rooms in the bubble house go all the way,
ceiling. So if steeps wife is in the bedroom reading her fingers cash shadows on the ceiling that he can see from the living room. But perhaps the very most bad ass thing about living in a bubble is the way sound travels It becomes whispering gallery when Cathy MILES and her sister were growing up in a glue village. They also discovered these parabolic imperfections in the walls and they use them to send secret messages to each other, I think early on my sister and I learned that if you stood in certain places you could hear people whispering and if you stood in other places, you Couldn'T- and I remember conducting experiments to see where we could best here and best. Not just depending on whether we wanted our parents to hear us or we didn't want to be heard. He loves his bubble house. He doesn't have the same problems that plagued the false church houses. He has custom furniture design for circular room and he's an artist he likes
handing out given Homeward Steve loves, is bubble. One could argue that perhaps the bubble houses might have endured a different fate. If there are piloted here California, rather than nor, Virginia, but there are plenty of people who aren't said that the bubble houses died out like this. I think, was a bad idea. Stephanus polyzoa. This is an architect whose quite happy living a world without bubble. How it was a good idea when it came to a me, some industrial uses, but was a very poor idea when it came to housing and have made a very uncomfortable dwelling Have they lied air assembly into neighbourhoods and so on. It did not very
form by region owed by culture by climate or any other way for Stephan? Us architecture works best when it takes into account the context of its environment and respond accordingly bubble houses there uniform you can spread Gunnar under great fruit, balloon and Virginia or California, or anywhere else, and it's going to look and function exactly the same it one of the shortcomings of his house is. It is really mostly focus, method of its construction. Stefano stood man, a tour was office, a spanish colonial building, but he says, is an example of great architecture and showed me a balcony on the second floor or heinous partner sometimes do work and its a favorite place of ours. In that we are also urbanists, and we did its entire life fighting sprawl and trying to reorganise the world properly, and we have nothing in front of us here will be the magnificent view of sprawl this is our frame into the world. You know it's like a panoramic view of what the rest of their lives are to be about a kind fix all this mess.
As if the view from this balcony was a sea of bubble, houses, nothing, but thousands of identical, industrialized domes stretching into infinity. It would be a disturbing night therefore stephanus, and even though he lives in a world of sprawl, he has his office to take refuge in this building is magnificent, was very thick walls, so it's a perfect building for hard drive climate because when is eighty degrees outside or ninety or a hundred. You keep the building tied closed in it at six o clock after you, open doors and windows and advance down in no time Stephanus explained. The arrangement of the windows provide balanced natural light throughout the entire day. The design was based on a combination of mediterranean and spanish styles, because Southern California has a mediterranean climate with spanish roots. These are the things the bubble house. Do be culturally relevant and adapt the environment around it. This off
it was designed by an architect who spent his entire life, designing buildings that did adapt their environment and were culturally relevant to their this bill. Then was designed by wireless nuff, Classic Waller Snuff force. This chairs actual reconstruction of national enough design. It was his office before belong to Stephanos. I s stephanus, why? He thinks never did this please one, eighty, when he created the bubble house why he made something that was so antithetical to the rest of his work. Stephanos thinks it had something to do with the birth of modernism. You see, Neff was known for his spanish colonial houses, white thick walls with red, tell roofs and elaborate wrought iron window coverings. The really popular in California they're everywhere, but there was a new movement happening all around enough. Architects acknowledge her Schindler and, frankly, right we're making simple boxes of concrete, with clean lines and lots of glass. They look nothing like next elaborate mansions people were beginning to look at you
there, architects, maybe with whom we know, while ideas and more relevant, maybe to daily life and so on. This Like a mid life crisis can nothing of sorts I mean, I think, great architects continue to think their entire life, and comes a moment in which you look look at the movement taking the world over like a wildfire. So you have to ask yourself Am I ve there? Would the dozen burn are all shall but the wind, but the modernists were not impressed with next bubble. Houses he wrote in the guy who lives in the past in a bubble house tell me almost the same thing: young architecture, kind of like bring modernism forward thought he was like a dilettante or something you know, and I think he was an outsider, probably because he was hob nobbing with me. We start a mean. Imagine if like berry, Manilow started a metal bans now, like anyone would That seriously right now,
How great it was, I mean I'm not time out ironically great, but you know like what, if it was great, we none of us would buy into it, and I think that was part of his situation. You know he wasn't like a hipster. He he wasn't an unknown crazy dude. He was a guy with a very strong practice who made giant houses for rich people, and you never never stopped believing in the bubble house. He continued to make variations on designing bubbles. Straight or sides and flutter roofs ones with big holes cut out of the side, even at the end of his life. Long after it was clear that the bubble house had no future, he sought as one of the greatest architectural achievements. He believed in it so strongly that he spent the end of it, life living in a bubble house. In fact he lived in the same House De Road and now lives in now. I dont want to play the bubble house off as just some failed idea,
I think it should be a symbol of a design inspired by the highest ideals: beauty, efficiency, affordable housing, willingness to take risks on crazy ideas to experiment with making the world replace. Maybe the structure itself, the concrete how's. The idea was flawed. Many people, don't want to live in bubbles, but there is. He deserves reflection, and so does an f, the guy invented away to build houses out of air. That's being awesome, and hardly anyone knows about him and all the way. And of his idea, this one last bubble house in Pasadena. Actually, that's not entirely true. It's the last bubble house in the United Eight. There were bubbles in Pakistan, Egypt, Liberia, India, Jordan, Turkey, Kuwait, South Africa Virgin Islands, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba, there was an error, gas station in Brazil, but the large colony, bubble houses, twelve huh.
Bubbles in one community was built in the car Senegal. Some of them are still standing in all their domed glory. Gotta go summer. So producer Juliana friend found that the Dakar mumbles Juliana that there is actually a sense of pride amongst the bubble dwellers in comparison Other buildings in area the bubble, a pretty old they were built before senegalese independence, a guy who owns one of the bubbles, told Julia. Yeah, they're, hot and uncomfortable, but it's part of our heritage, so I'll, never knockdown. So it turns out that it's just Americans,
want to live in bubbles, or at least Americans are the ones who can afford to have the choice because bubble houses were cheap and required so little material. They were way more practical in the developing world, so in a sense, Neff actually got what he wanted. Ninety nine percent, invisible was produced this week by David Weinberg same Greenspan and me roman Mars. In early Version of the story was produced as part of keynesian abuse independent producer project, this epoch. It? Is part of these stem story. Project made possible with funds from the offered peace, Loan foundation,
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Transcript generated on 2020-02-15.