With Star Wars being back in the popular conscience, stronger than ever, you probably recall the scene from the classic first movie, A New Hope, in which Luke Skywalker has dinner with Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen. They sat in a very simple-looking but unique dome home in the desert.
The architecture on the barren desert planet of Tatooine was iconic: a very modest dome structure made of clay, with underground rounded opening windows and doors. A “moisture farm” for the Lars family to survive in most inhospitable conditions using advanced technology. Any Star Wars fan will tell you that this house needed a better security system (!!!), but otherwise, it was the best way to build on a planet with an inhospitable climate.
The scenes featuring Tatooine are often what comes to mind when one thinks of the film saga. The movie was released May 25, 1977, taking the world by storm. As a young kid watching the movie, the Lars homestead seemed pretty humble compared to other scenes from the movie. Considering that this was a futuristic world where anything was possible, was this the best they could do for living quarters? Apparently so… Nevertheless, the image stuck with me. Later on, I would find out about the monolithic dome buildings that closely resembled what I had seen in Star Wars.
As it turns out, the building method predated Aunt Beru by a long time. The first monolithic dome structure, other than igloos or adobe homes, of course, may have been the one called the Ream’s Turtle, built as an ice skating rink in Provo, Utah in 1963. Thought by the builder to be one of the most economical structures of its size for that day, it was made with clay, and concrete reinforced steel bars. Rounded all over, it must have been incredibly futuristic to anybody seeing it at the time. It was only recently demolished in 2006.
With the monolithic dome structure being a thing since the early 60’s, you would think that by the year 2016, they would have caught on to a greater extent. They have everything going for them really: better structural integrity than traditional homes, they are way more energy-efficient, they can withstand earthquakes, and strong winds, and wildfires, and they cost about the same as traditional homes (about $120 to $150 per square foot). There are organizations like monolithic.org dedicated to them. So why is it that more people haven’t built them when they have so many things going for them?
Does the Star Wars generation have too many flashbacks to the demise of Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen? Is Star Wars to blame for the reason dome homes never really reached mainstream building status? Or is the humble, but other-worldly science fictiony look just not advantageous for keeping up with the Joneses? Do we all need to conform to the extent that living in a rounded structure would label us as weird or unusual? Is it only Tolkien fans who want to live in a Hobbit hole? Is there something comforting about having rectangular boxy shapes to throw down the Welcome mat in front of? Even when those structures cost us thousands of dollars in heating, cooling, and replacing due to natural disasters? Even if we spend the rest of our lives paying for heating and cooling bills that continue to soar?
Whatever the case may be, the effects of climate change are making it more likely that more and more people will find it necessary, safer, and way more affordable to move to building techniques that get out of the same old McMansion mold of America. Technologies also extremely slow to get off the ground, like solar, and wind energy, are getting more affordable and viable as well. About time?? We have been so resistant to those things too. We can point more to the greed of the oil industry for that one, of course. When it comes to housing, we can place some blame on builders, but for a lot of well-off people, they could easily have chosen different building methods to make their homes greener, better insulated, non-traditional structures, but they haven’t done so yet. Will the buyers put their money into housing that could potentially reduce the effects of global warming if enough people started building that way?
Monolithic domes are one option for confronting a new age of uncertain climate. We may well end up living like a young Luke Skywalker after all. But there are many other options on the horizon. The “Passive Home” movement is another building method that could lower the heating and cooling bills to near nothing for homeowners. Not particularly futuristic looking, but the technology is advanced and makes so much more sense than what home people are doing now.
Tiny homes and shipping container homes are certainly becoming trendy as well. They can certainly take some of the financial burdens of home owning away. With more and more Americans facing a reality of rising expenses, the American dream may start to look less and less like the little house with the white picket fence in the suburbs, and more often like something a whole lot different. I would love to someday see my neighborhood looking like most people have taken positive steps to embrace better building methods; Where they can afford their bills, and live comfortably, in better harmony with the environment around them. Where people no longer want to conform with traditional outdated methods, but with those that make more progressive sense, even if it looks somewhat reminiscent of a scene from an old Sci-Fi epic… Just leave out the Stormtroopers.
*Credit for image of “Tatooine” from Flickr and labeled for reuse.