Sunday, July 17, 2011

Living Lightly on the Land: Bernard Judge's "Triponent" and "Tree" Houses

(Click on images to enlarge) 
Bernard Judge Residence, Durand Dr., Hollywood, 1960-1, MacMasters, Dan, "A Bubble on a Hilltop," Los Angeles Times Home Magazine, July 1, 1962, cover, 21-25, 32. Julius Shulman Job No. 3378, 4-30 and 5-1-1961. 

Architect Bernard Judge's "Triponent" House, which Julius Shulman helped make famous with his above iconic 1961 image has a fascinating back-story which few people other than personal friends of the designer are aware. Judge's personal residence, begun  in 1958 while still an architectural student at USC, was also coined the "Bubble" House by legendary Los Angeles Times Home Magazine editor Dan MacMasters. (See above cover). Judge's AIA Award-winning "Tree" House, his residence for the last 35 years, also has quite a story to tell. (See below). Recent publication of Judge's "Waltzing With Brando: Planning a Paradise in Tahiti" and hearing him speak at a recent book-signing event at R. M. Schindler's Buck House, now owned by Jocelyn Gibbs and Gene Lichtenstein, piqued my interest in the man and his architecture and prompted in the following story.  

Bernard Judge "Tree" House, Hollywood Hills, "Award-winning House-on-a-Post Goes Anywhere," Sunset, November 1978, cover, pp. 109-9. Cover photo by Glenn Christiansen.

Judge was drawn to architecture through his architect father Joseph who was Dean of the School of Architecture at Penn St. University and later worked for Eggers & Higgins. Various projects took Joseph and his family to different parts of the world including France, Mexico, and Nicaragua. While still in high school, Bernard helped his father build a house, thus learning the construction process firsthand. Experience in his father's office also led him to his first job after high school as a draftsman for Harrison & Abramovitz working on the United Nations Headquarters Building. This was an exciting time for Judge who recalls, "There were literally two architects from every nation in the U.N. in the drafting room. So for me that was a way of looking at architecture in the universal sense rather than in the parochial sense." (Smith, Kathryn, "Bernard Judge, AIA," L.A. Architect, March 1980, p. 2).

Judge added more practical experience through a four-year term of service with the Seabees during the Korean War where he gained an insight into architecture through construction. Much of this Navy time was spent in Morocco and North Africa. After his release in 1954 he traveled around Europe until his Seabees savings ran out and then spent a year at the Beaux-Arts in Paris. Bernard's extensive travels exposed him to a wide variety of cultures and vernacular architecture and indigenous building materials which helped formulate his life-long design philosophy of "living lightly on the land." By the time he arrived in Los Angeles to enroll in the USC School of Architecture in 1956 he was ready to begin his studies in earnest. 

Before beginning discussion on Judge's first project, his "Triponent" House, I must digress to lay some groundwork pertaining to his inspiration for same, none other than Buckminster Fuller.


R. Buckminster Fuller, "Design: The Dymaxion American," Time, January 10, 1964.

"Bucky" Fuller, whom Time Magazine deemed "The Dymaxion American" in a January 10, 1964 cover story (see above) was a prodigious, seminal, free thinker without a college degree, was an engineer, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor, and futurist. Fuller published more than 30 books, inventing and popularizing terms such as "Spaceship Earth", ephemeralization, and synergetics. He also developed numerous inventions, but it was mainly his "doing more with less" architectural designs which held potential for prefabrication for the common man, such as the Dymaxion House, Dymaxion Deployment Unit, Wichita House, Autonomous Dwelling Unit and the Geodesic Dome, which held his interest throughout his lengthy career. A summary of the highlights of his lightweight, transportable housing will serve as an intro to the later dome discussion.

Model a parametric version of Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House. From DesignByMany.

The project that made Fuller’s name was the 1929 Dymaxion House, which he unveiled in the interior decorating department of the Chicago's Marshall-Field's Department Store. "The name Dymaxion, Dy(namic)max(imum)(tens)ion, was created by the marketer Waldo Warren who, after listening to Fuller talk for two days, devised endless combinations of syllables taken from his highly idiosyncratic vocabulary. Finally he found the word which seemed to him best to dramatise Fuller’s personality. Made from lightweight steel, duraluminium and plastic and suspended from a central mast from which the rooms radiated in a hexagonal plan, the Dymaxion House was conceived not as private property, but rather as temporary, transportable space that could be rented – rather like a telephone issued by a telephone company." (From R. Buckminster Fuller: Inventor, Designer, Architect, Theorist (1895-1983) at DesignMuseum.org).

Dymaxion Deployment Units, 1940From R. Buckminster Fuller: Inventor, Designer, Architect, Theorist (1895-1983) at DesignMuseum.org. 


In 1940, in anticipation of the bombing of British cities, he was asked by the British War Relief Organization to design an emergency shelter he named the Dymaxion Deployment UnitIn the DDU's conception, Fuller started with an existing industry that he hoped to upgrade technologically. Fuller worked with the Butler Company of Kansas City, which manufactured grain silos (see below left) of curved galvanized steel, to develop a self-supporting structure in a circular shape designed to provide the most advantageous relationship between circumference and interior space. The unit was designed to be set up and taken down easily. Metal for its construction was, however, never made available by the British Government as it was needed for the production of armaments. When the US entered World War II, Fuller’s units were commissioned as emergency accommodation for the air force. (See above). (From Design Museum). A similar unit was also designed for domestic use but again due to lack of materials did not go into production. (See below).

Dymaxion Deployment Unit under construction.  (From Your Private Sky: R. Buckminster Fuller, edited by Joachim Krausse and Claude Lichtenstein, Lars Muller, 1999, p. 214).

The DDU's sanitary unit is enclosed in a separate cylindrical element. Two units can be attached directly to each other. (See floor plan below). The pylon (see above right) is important, though originally Fuller conceived of it merely as a simple way to set it up: it holds up the dome that is built beneath it. From a constructive perspective, and even more from a structural perspective, Fuller was breaking a path that years later would lead away from the idea of a central supporting pylon to the supporting shell of the geodesic domes.

Dymaxion Deployment Unit floor plan.  (From Your Private Sky: R. Buckminster Fuller, edited by Joachim Krausse and Claude Lichtenstein, Lars Muller, 1999, p. 214).

Dymaxion Deployment Unit for domestic use, metal, adapted corn bin, built by Butler Brothers, Kansas City, May 1941. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott.

Fuller’s expertise in the field of lightweight demountable housing was again enlisted by the U.S. government to explore post-war housing possibilities. These studies led to the famous 1946 Wichita House, a full-size family dwelling weighing only 4 tons that was designed to be assembled on wartime bomber production lines. The prototype (see below) is arguably the most important prefabricated house design of the 20th century, and certainly the greatest lost opportunity of the years of the post-war building recovery. Life Magazine, a close follower of Fuller's work, featured the Wichita House in an article the same year. ("Fuller House," Life, April 1, 1946, pp. 73-4, 76).


Installing the ventilator on the Wichita House, Wichita, Kansas, 1946. From Design Museum. From "Your Private Sky," p. 245.

Wichita House, Wichita, Kansas, 1946. From Design Museum. From R. Buckminster Fuller: Inventor, Designer, Architect, Theorist (1895-1983) at DesignMuseum.org.

When revealed to the public at the end of World War II, the image of the Wichita House (see above) was a revelation. The lightweight metal building was essentially a cylinder, just over one thousand square feet in area, with a domed roof enclosing a single volume. As with the DDU, it was hung from a central mast, its “double wire-wheel” structure relied on tension as the main structural principle. At the top, a wide aerodynamic sheet metal ventilator was designed to rotate or lift and alter the internal environment depending on wind direction.  Designed to facilitate transport, erection, and dismantling, the majority of the components weighed less than ten pounds each.


Fuller in his office at Black Mountain College, summer 1948. Photograh by Hazel Larson Archer. Courtesy Buckminster Fuller Institute.

Frustrated, but undaunted, by the Wichita House not going into full-scale production despite a major marketing effort, Fuller began preliminary "geodesic" studies in his Forest Hills, New York apartment in the fall and winter of 1947-8 by assembling a series of four-foot diameter three-way grid structures. (See models above). Immediately following the geometric discoveries of the spring of 1948, Fuller took teaching positions at the Institute of Design in Chicago and at Black Mountain College. His research activity merged seamlessly into his modeling-based work with students. 

It was the start of an unparalleled level of teaching activity at a growing number of art and design schools, universities, and colleges. Fuller had a talent for inspiring his students to achieve genuine innovations and inventions. He continued these early studies with the help of a very creative group of students at Black Mountain College the following summer including Kenneth Snelson, Jeffrey Lindsay, Ted Pope, Don Richter, and Shoji Sadao whose contributions enabled Fuller's success of the fifties. 

It was more or less coincidence that Fuller came to Black Mountain College, a tiny art school in North Carolina, where Josef and Anni Albers were carrying on the Bauhaus tradition. Distinguished architects such as A. Lawrence Kocher, former partner of Albert Frey and editor of Architectural Record, and Walter Gropius, former director of the Bauhaus, preceded Fuller teaching architecture at the school. At the last minute, Fuller stepped in for Bertrand Goldberg, whose partner in the Chicago architectural firm, Leland Atwood, had suggested him as a substitute. Atwood had previously helped Fuller on the Dymaxion Deployment Unit project. Fuller packed his models into his Airstream Trailer and headed off to North Carolina for the 1948 Summer Institute session. ("Your Private Sky," pp. 314-6).

The Dome Model with Si Sillman (bending), Buckminster Fuller, Elaine de Kooning, Roger Lovelace, and Josef Albers. Photo by Beaumont Newhall. Courtesy of the Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate, Scheinbaum and Russek Ltd., Santa Fe, New Mexico. © Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate.

It was Josef Albers who invited John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, and Beaumont and Nancy Newhall to teach at the 1948 Summer Institute at Black Mountain College. At the time they were all struggling and unknown artists. He also invited Buckminster Fuller to teach a class in architecture. Established in 1933 by John Andrew Rice, Theodore Dreier and other former faculty members of Rollins College, Black Mountain was the first American experimental college boasting complete democratic self-rule, extensive work in the creative arts, and interdisciplinary academic study. Josef and Annie Albers held central positions at Black Mountain from 1933-49 arriving shortly after their previous home, the Bauhaus, had been closed by Hitler. (See Appalachian History).


Fuller with students unloading models from his Airstream, Black Mountain College, summer 1948. From "Your Private Sky," p. 326.


Fuller came with his Airstream trailer, packed full with his mathematical models. His laboratory was now mobile, his research nomadic. According to reports from participants, including Elaine de Kooning, Kenneth Snelson, Richard Lippold, and Merce Cunningham, Fuller's first, three-hour-long lecture must have had an electrifying effect on the audience. Bucky, Elaine de Kooning recalled, 
"whirled off into his talk, using bobby pins, clothespins, all sorts of units from the five-and-ten-cent store to make geometric, mobile constructions, collapsing an ingeniously fashioned icosahedron by twisting it and doubling and tripling the modules down to a tetrahedron, talking about the obsolescence of the square, the cube, the numbers two and ten (throwing in a short history of ciphering and why it was punishable by death in the Dark Ages), extolling the numbers nine and three, the circle, the triangle, the tetrahedron, and the sphere, dazzling us with his complex theories of ecology, engineering, and technology. Then he began making diagrams on a blackboard. He drew a square, connecting two corners with a diagonal line. 'Ah', he said affectionately, 'here's' our old friend, the hypotenuse.'" (Elaine de Kooning quoted in Mary Emma Harris, "The Arts at Black Mountain College," p. 151).

Kenneth Snelson, Black Mountain College, 1949. (From BMCproject.org).

Kenneth Snelson (see above), one of Fuller's brightest students in the 1948 and 1949 summer sessions and discoverer of what Fuller coined "tensegrity" reminisced upon Fuller's arrival,
"Two weeks into the (1948) session “this strange man Buckminster Fuller arrived.” Snelson recalled that no one really knew who Fuller was and that he was not particularly interested in taking a class in architecture. Albers asked him to help Fuller unload (see earlier above) and assemble the many models from his aluminum trailer in preparation for Fuller’s community lecture. Although Snelson expected to find models of small houses based on the cube and rectangle which he would organize and assemble, he found instead models made of Venetian blind strips, marbles, straws, and other materials based on the tetrahedron and geodesic geometry. He recalled that he was "mesmerized" by Fuller’s first three hour community lecture and enrolled in his class. He, along with other members of the community, was captivated by Fuller's message of saving the world through technology, economy of means, and by his fascinating geometry." (From BMCProject.org). (Note: For a great video demonstrating the Snelson's tensegrity concept which he would later incorporate into his now famous sculptures see "Playing with a Tensegrity").

William De Kooning and Albert Lanier, Buckminster Fuller's Architecture Class, Black Mountain College, summer 1948. From Mondoblogo.

In addition to his models. Fuller came to Black Mountain packed full of ideas and projects. Shortly before his departure, he had sketched out a project on 15 June: the construction of a transparent geodesic dome that would enable its occupant to locate his or her correct position in the universe. This was clearly the origin of the idea that was connected to the construction of geodesic domes. Fuller called it "Your Private Sky."  At Black Mountain College, he planned to execute the small great-circle model on a larger scale, utilizing lightweight metal Venetian blind sashes to create the first dome. (See below).


The "Supine Dome" under constructionBuckminster Fuller, Summer 1948, Black Mountain College, Photographs: Beaumont Newhall. Courtesy of the Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate, Scheinbaum and Russek Ltd., Santa Fe, New Mexico. © Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate.

Fuller's first full-scale dome, a forty-eight foot diameter "necklace" structure with a height of twenty-three feet which would cover an area of fifteen hundred square feet and was to weigh less than 270 pounds. The students measured the Venetian blind slats and computed the tensile strength of each unit. Each strip was coded and the points marked where they would meet. On a rainy day Fuller and his students gathered in a grassy area (see above) while rest of the community watched from the Studies Building or the nearby FHA units as the class began to connect the points on the strips. 

The "Supine Dome" under constructionBuckminster Fuller, Summer 1948, Black Mountain College, Photographs: Beaumont Newhall. Courtesy of the Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate, Scheinbaum and Russek Ltd., Santa Fe, New Mexico. © Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate.

The dome collapsed to the ground when tension was applied during its attempted erection. (See above). Fuller had said in advance that it probably wouldn’t hold due to the choice of materials, but decided to go ahead and complete the class project anyway. When the dome did not rise, it was coined the Supine Dome by Elaine de Kooning. Fuller reassured the class that “failure” is a part of the process of inventing, and success is achieved when one stops failing, a valuable lesson for the young students. (From Black Mountain College Project).

Programl for The Ruse of the Medusa, Black Mountain College, August 14, 1948. From D. H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections.


Buckminster Fuller as Baron Medusa and Merce Cunningham as the mechanical monkey performing in Erik Satie's The Ruse of the Medusa, Black Mountain College, August 14, 1948. (From Your Private Sky: R. Buckminster Fuller, edited by Joachim Krausse and Claude Lichtenstein, Lars Muller, 1999, p. 323).

It was not all work and no "play" at Black Mountain. Arthur Penn co-directed (with Helen Livingston) a play by Erik Satie, The Ruse of Medusa, with cast members Buckminster Fuller (see above), Merce Cunningham, Elaine de Kooning, and others with piano accompaniment by John Cage (see below) and set design by Willem and Elaine de Kooning. (See playbill above). Cage was quoted from this period, "The whole world has to be turned into music or into a Fuller university." (Your Private Sky: R. Buckminster Fuller, p. 320).

John Cage performing in Erik Satie's The Ruse of the Medusa, Black Mountain College, August 14, 1948. (From Your Private Sky: R. Buckminster Fuller, edited by Joachim Krausse and Claude Lichtenstein, Lars Muller Publishers, 1999, p. 325).

At Black Mountain over the 1948-49 winter a crisis culminated in the resignations of Theodore Dreier, the last of the college founders, along with Josef and Anni Albers and other members of the arts faculty. On the recommendation of Josef Albers, the remaining faculty asked Fuller to return to direct the 1949 summer session. Fuller accepted and invited as summer faculty Chicago friends and colleagues: Diana and Emerson Woelffer, John and Jano Walley, and Indian dancer Vashi and Pra-veena. He also brought a group of students from the Institute of Design, his “Twelve Disciples” (Black Mountain designation): Louis Caviani, Arthur Boericke, Eugene Godfrey, Mary Jo Slick Godfrey, Joseph Manulik, Alan Lindsay, Jeffrey Lindsay, Ysidore Martinez, Donald Richter, Robert Richter, Masato Nakagawa, and Harold Young. (From bmcproject.org).

Fuller holding a model of his Standard of Living Package, aka Autonomous Dwelling Unit, next to his Sky Break model, Black Mountain College, summer 1949. From Stylepark.

Fuller had previously assigned the design project to develop the "Standard of Living Package," aka "Autonomous Dwelling Unit" (see above right and below) to students at the Institute of Design in Chicago in 1948: To make the complete furnishings for a household of six people that could be packed into a container and transported with a trailer. The students developed a box that was eight yards long and two yards high and wide, with collapsible walls that were fastened by hinges. When folded down, the walls also served as the floor for the furniture and household items, as well as for the corresponding zones of the floor plan: bedroom, living room, two baths. The overall useable area was ninety square yards. The exercise was influenced by the technique developed during the war for transporting delicate airplane parts in trucks that were packed full. This exercise was also related to the design for the "Sky Break" (see above left), an easily constructed house whose climatic skin is a geodesic cover, designed according to the necklace principle, that stretches over the unfolded - in this case two-story - living space and storage compartments. (Note: The Sky Break model presages a similar project assigned by Calvin Straub to an architectural class at USC in 1957 in which Bernard Judge participated which provided the inspiration for his "Bubble" House. See L.A. Times article and discussion later herein).

The plan for the summer was to continue development work on the Autonomous Dwelling Unit and geodesic structure which Fuller and his students, including Jeffrey Lindsay, had also designed at the Institute of Design. He brought with him a small model showing the dome and enclosed house. (See above). The dome, which could be collapsed and moved, provided a controlled environment; the house could also be collapsed into a trailer-like form and transported. The project for the summer was to make and test a double-walled plastic cover for the dome. (See below).

 "Necklace Dome" with outer plastic skin. Black Mountain College, summer 1949. From "Your Private Sky," pp. 328-9).

Buckminster Fuller's students at the 1949 Summer Institute, Black Mountain College, demonstrate the lightness of the "Necklace Dome." Pictured: Jeffery Lindsay (sunglasses), Louis Caviani (far right). From North Carolina Digital Collections.

Fuller and his class succeeded in re-erecting the "Necklace Dome." (See above). This dome, a thirty-one great circle structure, was made of aircraft tubing laced with cable which ran from the tubes through connectors at the joints. When the cable was tightened, the dome was erect; when relaxed, it collapsed into an easily-transported compact form similar to a necklace. The prototype for the dome which Fuller brought with him, had originally been constructed for a demonstration at the Pentagon in the winter. Assuming it would be erected indoors – it was actually erected in the Pentagon courtyard (see later below) – Fuller had reduced the size to fourteen feet in diameter to accommodate an indoor space.

Fuller and class testing strength of dome, Black Mountain College, summer 1949. Photographs Masato Nakagawa, courtesy Black Mountain College Project.

The students erected the dome on a terrace at the end of the Studies Building. They demonstrated its strength by hanging by their hands from the structure and from a suspended platform on which a number of people could sit. Its light-weight was demonstrated by having three students lift it above their heads. (See two above). 

Necklace Dome being unraveled during erection.  

Necklace Geodesic Structure (14 ft., 50 lbs.), on exhibit in the Pentagon Garden, February 1950. (From "Buckminster Fuller: Ideas and Integreties," p. 192).

After the late 1940s Chicago Institute of Design and Black Mountain summer sessions, Fuller's dome work rapidly evolved with the continuing help of Black Mountain disciples Snelson and Lindsay whom he recruited as Fellows and Trustee in his Fuller Research Foundation along with Charles Eames, George Nelson, Knud Lonberg-Holm and others. He wrote of the first practical dome development experiments with Jeffrey Lindsay in Montreal in 1950 which would eventually end up as the actual framework for the Judge "Bubble" House in Beachwood Canyon,
"In December 1949 a 14-ft. necklace Geodesic was assembled at 6 Kinzie St., Chicago, at the request of the Air Force, and in February 1950 it was installed in the Pentagon Building garden at Washington, D.C. (See above). In December of 1950 the prototype of a specialized geodesic structure 49 feet in diameter was built in Montreal. (See below). I designed it to be an Arctic installation. The components of the structure were tubular aluminum struts weighing about one pound each. The structure was so light that we did not need a mast to lift it. Instead it was lifted locally in order to add more struts to the bottom. When the structure was completed we looked up at the blue sky through this thing and began to realize that something very pleasantly exciting was happening to us. We knew that it was light, knew that it was strong, but we did not know that it was going to do just that to a blue sky. Those are the very typical sensations we get when we tend to solve only the scientific side of the problem. The qualities of economy that are synergetically resultant in the end do something to us in the way of challenging our sensibility to new sensorial limits. Looking over against the birch trees, the slenderness ratios of these very high strength trees and of the Geodesic struts seemed to be very much akin." (See below). (From "Your Private Sky," p. 334).
Geodesic dome, Montreal, December 1950, Fuller Research Foundation, Canadian Division, Jeffrey Lindsay, Director. (From "Your Private Sky," p. 334).

Before the textile skin was installed: the metal rods form the pressure-subjected dome vaulting, the tautly strung wires form the tension-subjected outer shell. (From "Your Private Sky," p. 335).


Dome after weatherproofing skin installation, Montreal, 1950. From "Geodesic Dome: Bucky Fuller's spidery new framing system," Architectural Forum, August 1951, p. 144-151).

The 1950 Montreal dome experiments and findings were published as a cover story in the August 1951 issue of Architectural Forum which also included a profile of Fuller and an illustrated summary of his earlier Dymaxion work. (See above and below). The article also described the Fuller Research Foundation's plans for marketing and development of geodesic domes and their potential uses, most of which soon became realities.

Bucky Fuller starts "the one architectural revolution," (From "Geodesic Dome: Bucky Fuller's spidery new framing system...," Architectural Forum, August 1951, cover, p. 144-151).

Dome erection progress photos, Montreal 1950. (From "Geodesic Dome: Bucky Fuller's spidery new framing system...," Architectural Forum, August 1951, cover, p. 144-151).

Fuller shortly thereafter presciently applied for a patent on the dome concept in December 1951. (See below). Patent licensing fees would within the next few years make Fuller a wealthy man. Although Fuller held dozens of patents on his inventions over the years, this is the only one that made him any significant money as he licensed to numerous other companies the rights to use his technology in future dome shelter production.  

 UNITED STATES PATENT OFFICE
2,682,235
BUILDING CONSTRUCTION
Richard Buckminster Fuller, Forest Hills, N. Y.
Application December 12, 1951, Serial No. 261,168, p. 1.

Fuller's patent application summary describes the elemental specifications of what would become the outer framework of Bernard Judge's 49 ft. diameter Hollywood Hills house.
"A good index to the performance of any building frame is the structural weight required to shelter a square foot of floor from the weather. In conventional wall and roof designs the figure is often 50 lbs, to the sq. ft. I have discovered how to do the job at around 0.78 lb. per sq. ft. by constructing a frame of generally spherical form in which the main structural elements are interconnected in a geodesic pattern of approximate great circle arcs intersecting to form a three-way grid, and covering or lining this frame with a skin of plastic material.  
My "three-way grid" of structural members results in substantially uniform stressing of all members, and the framework itself acts almost as a membrane in absorbing and distributing loads. The resultant structure is a spidery framework of many light pieces, such as aluminum rods, tubes, sheets, or extruded sections, which so complement one another in the particular pattern of the finished assembly as to give an extremely favorable weight-strength ratio, and withstand high stresses. For example, the "8C270 Weatherbreak" constructed in accordance with my invention will support 7 lbs. with each ounce of structure and is able to withstand wind velocities up to 150 miles per hour. It is a dome 49 ft. in diameter, enclosing 20,815 cu. ft. of space, yet the frame is made of light short struts which pack into a bundle 2 ft. by 4 ft. by 5 ft., weighing only 1000 lbs. The plastic skin weighs 140 lbs., making the total weight of this "weatherbreak" a mere 1140 lbs." (Patent No. 2, 682,235, p. 7).
Geodesic Dome for the Ford Rotunda, Dearborn, Michigan, 1952. "Tape, Plastic and Aluminum: Ford Builds a "Geodesic Dome," Life, June 8, 1953, p. 67.

The first commercial application of the dome was at the iconic Ford Rotunda in Dearborn, Michigan. The Ford Rotunda was originally built as an exhibit building for the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. After the close of the Fair, the building was taken apart and shipped to Dearborn, and reassembled and reopened in 1936. The Rotunda underwent extensive remodeling in 1952-3, at which time the center courtyard section was enclosed by the addition of a geodesic dome roof section weighing only 18,000 pounds. The Rotunda reopened to the public on June 16, 1953, as part of Ford's 50th Anniversary Celebration. The above four-page spread in Life Magazine gave an immediate boost to Fuller's marketing efforts. 

Geodesic Radome prototype atop Mt. Washington, New Hampshire where it withstood 182 mph winds without interior icing during two-year DEW Line testing, 1954-5. (From "Buckminster Fuller: Ideas and Integreties," p. 192).

Fuller's constant lobbying of the Pentagon to extoll the virtues of the dome for a variety of military applications was beginning to pay off in a big way in 1954 as the Department of Defense began testing the feasibility of using domes for Arctic radar system protection use in the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line. The DEW Line was being set up to detect incoming Soviet bombers during the Cold War and provide early warning of a land based invasion. Bucky's Radome passed all wind and weather testing and was incorporated into the system by 1956. (See above and below). ("Sprouting Domes on DEW Line," Life, pp. 133-136).

DEW Line Station at Point Lay, Alaska. From Wikipedia.

Clark Children's Theater, San Diego Zoo, designed by Jeffrey Lindsay, 1955. Photo by Sam Rosenberg. (From the Esther McCoy Papers, Archives of American Art). 

Jeffrey Lindsay, recently relocated to Southern California to proselytize on Fuller's geodesic technology, designed the above dome for a children's theater at the San Diego Zoo which was completed in 1955. This was possibly the first geodesic dome built on the West Coast. Judge, by then an architectural student at USC following his four-year stint with the Navy Seabees during the Korean War, met Lindsay a year or two later, and through him, met Fuller himself at a party hosted by Lindsay. Judge quickly became fascinated by Fuller and his theories and soon convinced USC Architecture School Dean Arthur Gallion to bring him to the campus for a lecture.

"SC Architectural Students Complete Models of Homes," Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1957, p. VI-15.

About the same time, in the spring of 1957, Judge and his classmates in Calvin Straub's and Conrad Buff's architectural design class at USC, were building models incorporating elements of Fuller's Geodesic Dome and "Autonomous Dwelling Unit" concepts. (See article above). Fuller was then widely lecturing at college campuses around the country and similar class exercises were all the rage in the architectural schools. The visionary class project was completed in conjunction with the following summer's Construction Industries Exposition and Home Show at which one of Fuller's full-scale domes was to be on display. (See below).

"A dome house that really works," Los Angeles Times Home Magazine, June 8, 1958, p. 20. (From ProQuest).

Felix Candela: Shell Forms exhibition catalog fron cover, May 1957, text by Esther McCoy. From Archives of American Art Esther McCoy Papers.

The Spring 1957 semester on the USC School of Architecture campus were heady times for Judge and his classmates as noted Mexican architect-engineer Felix Candela also visited the campus for a May exhibition shortly after they had finished their dome projects. (See above and below catalog covers). The hosting committee and sponsors for the show were a veritable "Who's Who" of the Los Angeles architectural community. (For more on this exhibition see my Selected Publications of Esther McCoy).

Felix Candela: Shell Forms exhibition catalog fron cover, May 1957, text by Esther McCoy. From Archives of American Art Esther McCoy Papers.



After 15 working hours about two-thirds of the dome is completed. (From "Your Private Sky," p. 383).

At the same time the USC class was building their dome residence models, Kaiser Aluminum was erecting the first aluminum dome at Henry Kaiser's Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu. (See above). Kaiser was one of Fuller's earliest dome patent licensees and hired Fuller protege and former Lindsay classmate and Fuller Research Foundation colleague, Don Richter, to head it's dome design and product development unit.  The Honolulu project was a 145-ft. diameter auditorium that could seat 2,000 people and, once the foundation was laid, was erected in 20 hours by a crew of 38 men. (See Kaiser Aluminum ad "Revolutionary New Building...The First of Its Kind: The Kaiser Aluminum Dome," Life Magazine, March 18, 1957, pp. 20-21). Always one to capitalize on publicity stunts, Henry Kaiser arranged for an opening night concert the same evening the dome was completed. (See below). 

Grand opening of the Kaiser Dome with an evening symphony concert, February 1957, the same day the structure was completed within 24 hours after arrival of the components. (From "Your Private Sky," p. 384-5).

Model for a campus arts workshop designed by Jeffrey Lindsay. Inside is acoustics expert and Dean of the Graduate Division, Vern O. Knudsen, testing the dome's sound absorbency. (See "Art Rides High at a Great University," Life, May 20, 1957, pp. 92-93)

A couple months later a Life Magazine feature article on the UCLA arts programs led off with a model for a proposed domed arts workshop building for the campus designed by seminar teacher Jeffrey Lindsay. (See above). The article also included a photo of a kite Lindsay frequently used to demonstrate the inherent lightness of dome components. (See below). (See "Art Rides High at a Great University," Life, May 20, 1957, pp. 92-103). A Buckminster Fuller exhibition was organized by Pomona College the following December and January and Fuller was often in town for lectures over the next few years. 

Jeffrey Lindsay and industrial design students preparing to fly a kite which demonstrates the lightness of dome building materials. Despite its 48 sq. ft. area the kite only weighed three pounds and easily took flight. (See "Art Rides High at a Great University," Life, May 20, 1957, pp. 93).

1989 House from "Here's Your House of Tomorrow," Mechanix Illustrated, June 1957, cover, 72-75. From David Zondy.

Domes in all their forms had captured the nation's fancy by this time evidenced by the above Mechanix Illustrated cover story. Lindsay continued to spread the gospel of the dome in Southern California with his 1958 design for a utility building at Newport Dunes Park in Newport Beach. (See below). 


Recently married and intrigued with the idea of building a dome house for himself and his new wife, despite almost everyone at USC skeptical of his chances for success, Judge decided to take on the challenge. He planned to build the residence along the lines of the Case Study House Program using mostly donated materials and student labor. With much encouragement from Lindsay and the gift of the dome he had erected in Montreal in 1950, Judge purchased a difficult to build on, thus inexpensive, lot in Beachwood Canyon in 1958. Lindsay had the components for the dome framework shipped to Judge from Montreal in a 3ft. x 4ft. by 6ft. shipping crate and design conceptualization began. 

Judge decided to build upon Fuller's highly theoretical "Autonomous Dwelling Unit" idea which included a portable, Gypsy-like "living package" enclosed by an easily collapsible dome. Whereas Fuller's ADU concept envisioned off-the-grid living, Judge's concept was a more pragmatic, somewhat rooted and prefabricatable, three-component living system he labelled, a la Fuller, "Triponent." His triponents consisted of what he called the envelope, the utility core, and free space.

Like Fuller, Judge envisioned his "Triponent" proposal as housing system that could be standardized for the most part, to keep future construction costs down. The envelope, in this case the dome, would protect the living spaces from the elements and could be a somewhat standardized design using materials based upon the needs presented by regional climate conditions. He imagined the utility core, i.e., bathroom(s), kitchen, laundry room and HVAC, as being a totally prefabricated element that could be standardized for all future units no matter where the location might be. That left the "free space" for customization to suit the needs of each individual homeowner. Judge's thinking was that this "Triponent" approach would appeal to a broader cross-section of potential home-buyers than Fuller's completely rigid, standardized designs.

Emmet Wemple, Conrad Buff, Don Hensman, Calvin Straub and Randell Makinson in the USC School of Architecture courtyard ca. 1955. Photographer unknown. From Buff & Hensman by Donald C. Hensman and edited by James Steeles, USC Guild press, 2004, p. 11. (For much more on Buff, Straub & Hensman see my A Case Study in the Mechanics of Fame and Buff & Hensman: An Annotated an Illustrated Bibliography).

During this period, Judge recollected receiving inspiration from instructors Conrad Buff, Calvin Straub, Gregory Ain, and Emmet Wemple and guest lecturers Konrad Wachsman and especially Fuller. Despite encouragement from his instructors (see above) most of classmates remained highly skeptical of his chances for success. With the "Triponent" House, Judge was charting new territory, not only by adapting the first large-size experimental geodesic dome for residential use, something the resourceful Lindsay had not even dared to attempt, but by getting the dome itself and the myriad of space-age materials he was using for his envelope approved by the City of L.A.'s Department of Building and Safety. This process added at least two years to the four-and-a-half-year construction time. 

Union Tank Car Maintenance Shop, Baton Rouge, LA, designed by Fuller's Synergetics Corp. and completed in October 1958. From Wikipedia. 

In the meantime Fuller's 1957-8 technological advances resulted in the largest clear-span enclosure ever built anywhere in the world, i.e., a steel-skinned geodesic structure designed by Fuller's own Synergetics, Inc. in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (See above). The 384 foot diameter, 184 foot high building, designed as a maintenance shop for the Union Tank Car Company, was completed in October 1958. Fuller's rapidly growing list of licensees (over 100 by 1959) resulted in accelerating demand for his services as private corporations and the Armed Services began deluging him with construction projects. To keep pace, Fuller organized several corporations owned solely by him to channel the licenses for the use of his by then dozens of patents. Geodesics, Inc. handled all government and military contracts; Synergetics, Inc. took care of all private industrial work; and Plydome, Inc. was one of many research and development subsidiaries.

Cover images reflect Fuller's influence on close friend George Nelson's designs. George Nelson: The Design of Modern Design by Stanley Abercrombie.

Late 1958 and early 1959 found Fuller in collaboration with his former Fuller Research Foundation Trustees George Nelson and Charles Eames, and Welton Becket & Associates and Kaiser Aluminum on the installation of the dome to house the American National Exhibition in Moscow, site of the famous "Kitchen Debate" between Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev and Vice-President Richard Nixon, held during the summer of 1959. Nelson was named by the U.S. government to lead the overall design effort for the exhibition and when he was presented with an almost impossible-to-meet design and construction schedule immediately called his old friend Fuller and Becket knowing they could get the job done with a quickly erected geodesic dome.

Buckminster Fuller in front of the exhibition dome at the American National Exhibition, Moscow, 1959. (From Britannica).

Inside Fuller's dome, the seven screens for the Eameses' film, Moscow, 1959. From George Nelson: The Design of Modern Design by Stanley Abercrombie, p. 174.

Exhibition Poster for "Three Structures by Buckminster Fuller," Museum of Modern Art, September 1959. (From Copy Stand Weblog).

Fuller's growing world-wide renown was recognized with a September 1959 solo exhibition in the courtyard garden of New York's Museum of Modern Art immediately following the Moscow exhibition. (See above exhibition poster). MoMA exhibited three structures designed by Fuller including a cantilevered space frame "Octet Truss" of 2,380 gold-anodized aluminum tubes, a green plastic Radome such as used to protect radar equipment on the DEW Line and a black and white aluminum tubing and monel rod "tensegrity" mast (see below) built for the exhibition by Fuller protege Shoji Sadao. (MoMA Press Release, August 28, 1959).

Fuller at the opening of "Three Structures by Buckminster Fuller," Museum of Modern Art, September 1959. (From RWGrayProjects). 

R. Buckminster Fuller Dome Home, Carbondale, IL, 1960. (From Fuller Dome Home.org).
Coincidentally, about the same time Judge was obtaining approvals to advance the construction of his "Triponent" dome house, Fuller was building his own personal "Dome Home" in Carbondale where he was then teaching at Southern Illinois University. It is the only home the Fullers ever owned, and it served as a model for all dome homes built since 1960. His stream of consciousness discourse on the importance and origins of "domes" in his 1963 "Ideas and Intregrities" read,
"So important have domes been throughout man's total experience that the roots of the word for God, home and dome are the same-domus, domicile and dome. In the language of the sailors of Denmark and Iceland, the word is dom. Because of the agelong interactions of mysticism, with religions of hope and fear, in the daily lives of men, always centering in the home, the dome, ages ago, became symbolic of all the cosmic thoughts, hopes, supplications and glorious conceptions. From its comprehensive pre-eminence, the dome conception gave root to the words dominate and dominion. As a result of the slow process of communication casualties in the hearing and mimicking of sounds, prior to the written word, a great interchangeability of the consonants prefixing the syllable om took place. The D was interchanged with the T in designation of the dome as a mortuary shrine and with a W as the gestation or pre-nativity shrine. Thus man went from W-OM-B to T-O-M-B via the H-OM-E. Even the B-OM-B is a derivative of dome as the super-accelerated explosive nativity container. The Bikini bomb was dome-like in shape.  
In ecological patterning, early man was the hunter and fisher, operating at extreme radius from his domicile center. His mate operated at the domicile. She became the dome-man, the homeman, the w-om-man; also, she was the man with the dome inside, the w-om-b man. Greater and lesser ecological circles, characterizing male and female peregrinations respectively, are still the ecological domains of the swift running wild mammalian life. Later the thought-hunting and recollection-researching male, hibernating in his domicile center, became H-OM-O sapiens, domo sapiens." (Buckminster Fuller, "Ideas and Integreties: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure" edited by Robert W. Marks, Prentice-Hall, 1963, p. 148).
In addition to having drunk the Fuller Kool-Aid after listening to him lecture at USC and befriending his local disciple Lindsay, Judge's inspiration to make his 1957 USC class dome house study a reality came from,
"...having spent many years in underdeveloped countries, and the problem of human shelter- shelter in its most basic form - seemed to him paramount. He saw two thirds of humanity housed in shacks and slums; and on the other side he saw the technical and industrial potential to produce wholesome housing for every living soul. To exploit this potential, to make human habitation an experience of lasting enjoyment, seemed to him the top task of coming generations of architects. It was to be above all his own first task. He finished his studies at the University of Southern California and set out to do a house without precedent, a house that could become a point of orientation for our age." ("Beautiful Homes and Gardens in California" by Herbert Weisskamp, pp. 146-149).
Judge and USC classmates assembling dome at a test site in California City. Photo courtesy of Bernard Judge.

Upon receiving shipment of the dome from Lindsay, Judge and some of his USC classmates erected it on a site in California City (see above) to take more precise measurements to design the layout of the foundation piers and began experimenting with protective skin materials and methods to attach same to the framework. Judge recollected of the time,
"I erected the dome in California city in order to test various skinning materials. It was a lot easier there as I didn't have to lug every thing up the hill and I did not have to have any permits. I got permission from he developer to use the site as a USC student project. About 20 of my fellow students put it up in a day. We tested glass, plexyglass, Mylar and some other materials but they all failed after several months. It was only later during the load testing that I realized what the problem was, i.e., the movement due to temperature change." (Bernard Judge e-mail to the author, August 22, 2011). 
The next step was to pour the foundation piers on the Beachwood Canyon site and relocate the dome there.

Foundation piers framing the front door with cement sheets filling the voids between the ground and bottom of dome frame. Photo courtesy of Bernard Judge.

Foundations were kept to a minimum on the steep grade. The lightweight structure required few foundation piers and the spaces in between were filled with single sheets of asbestos cement. (See above). Years were to pass, however, until this open dome structure became a reality as Judge had to get his design approved by the building authorities who found that it did not meet the letter of the building code in numerous areas. Judge "educated" the plan checkers and building inspectors and managed to obtain variances on seven decisive items. But he lost valuable time, construction could not proceed for long periods, and costs exceeded his shoestring budget. Another student Hendrik de Kanter finally advanced 10,000 dollars, to become, in the end, owner of the finished house. A deal was worked out that allowed Judge and his wife to live in the completed house for a year before turning it over to the de Kanters.

Water bags used by the Seabees during Judge's tour of duty made for a more convenient test than using sand bags. Photo courtesy of Bernard Judge.

Once the frame was erected, the Department of Building and Safety needed to be convinced that the dome "envelope" had the necessary strength to withstand the required horizontal and vertical loads. Since Fuller and Lindsay were never able to calculate the loads in a fashion that would satisfy a plan checker, Judge had to devise an ingenious way to empirically load-test the framework. Plastic water bags Judge borrowed from a local Marine base were suspended from the dome skeleton, proving its structural stability and creating the fascinating construction photograph of bright sun light playing in the clear plastic bags. (See above). 

Bernard Judge atop his dome, "Los Angeles in a New Image," Life, June 20, 1960, pp. 74-75. Photo by Ralph Crane. 

In the spring of 1960 a staff reporter for Life magazine and photographer Ralph Crane were driving through Hollywood Hills to interview Aldous Huxley. It was by chance that they discovered a metallic dome structure far up on a slope. An old Ford engine was hoisting building material from the street. Standing on the thin metal cage, working with his own hands, was the young designer Bernard Judge and a group of his USC architectural school classmates. (See above). Life published the above double-page color spread, illustrating the filigree of the dome skeleton above the glittering lights of Los Angeles, bringing the work of three obscure years went into the pages of America's most famous publication.

Framework for lower living platform, 1960. Photo courtesy of Bernard Judge.

Judge next planted a garden and was finally able to construct the living platforms which were not connected in any way to the dome itself. (See above and cross-section later below). Having seen the Life photo, Bucky Fuller visited the site to congratulate Judge about the time of the above photo. Judge recalls explaining the decks to Fuller and him liking the idea that they were not attached to the dome.
  
Before the finish work could be completed, the skin had to be installed. During the load-testing Judge learned that thermal expansion and contraction of the dome's metal rods caused the structure to sag up to one full inch at night. Thus, a system of attaching the skin to the framework had to be able to account for this. Judge developed a flexible wooden framework akin to an archer's bow made up of 15 diamond-shaped panels  which he connected to the dome framework at every fourth joint. To that he stapled the cut-to-fit Mylar sheets seen under fabrication below. This allowed the skin to move independently of the dome framework as the dome contracted and expanded. (See two below). Any one of the dome's 15 panels can be replaced in a few hours. However, the plastic is surprisingly strong. It has a 15,000-lb. tensile strength and is classed as fire-retardant. 

Mylar skin shop fabrication. Photo courtesy of Bernard Judge.

View of  the wooden framework and Mylar skin from the upper living platform. Photo by Julius Shulman from "Beautiful Homes and Gardens in California" by Herbert Weisskamp, p. 148.

Mylar skin with attachment detail. Photo courtesy Bernard Judge.

The transparent skin was finally applied to the inside of the dome structure using the details above. Judge chose Mylar, 5 mils thick, the most durable clear polyester foil then available. Time had, for once, worked in favor of the young innovator, the price of the Mylar foil having gone down from 1 dollar a square foot to 9 cents in three years. Huge defense orders had reduced Du Pont's production costs to a fraction. In this fact Judge found concrete proof of Fuller's and his theory that today, for the first time in history, inventions are made before the need arises. The entire Mylar skin cost 300 dollars and had a projected design life of about eight years. 

Cross-section showing both levels.

Heat control was a primary concern in the design. To provide natural ventilation, Judge installed a 12 feet diameter opening at the top of the dome while close to the ground he provided a narrow ventilation strip screened with nylon gauze. This established an upward air flow pattern illustrated in the above cross-section. The hill blocked the sun from the west. A fixed sunshade consisting of a spherical section of white glass-reinforced neoprene was also added to provide shade and protect the top opening. It had a silvery coating on the outside to reflect the sun's rays. (See below). Judge recalled seeing information on the material used originally in the Project Echo communications satellite testing program conducted by NASA.

Photo by Julius Shulman from Weisskamp, p. .

Living room on upper living platform screened by a spherical cap of neoprene. Julius Shulman photo from "Modernism Rediscovered" by Pierluigi Serraino and Julius Shulman, p. 336.

The living room and his-and-hers design and artist studios occupy the upper deck. (See above). Room transitions are lightly accented by heating panels. Views from the upper deck overlook the lower living area and the wide range of hills outside. A spiral staircase connects the two levels. To live with grasses, shrubs, and trees under one light-filled dome, man and nature sharing one shelter, seems to Judge a trend of future forms of habitation. "Gardens will allow us to live as individuals in the mass-fabricated houses of tomorrow."

View of the kitchen from the upper level. Julius Shulman photo from Weisskamp, p. 148.

In the core of the house is a prefabricated bathroom of fiberglass and plastic material with walls and ceilings of fireproof polyester and epoxy flooring. Electrical radiating panels heat the house and, as screens, mark spatial divisions. Bundles of light steel pipes, each consisting of four struts, carry living platforms on two levels. Judge has skillfully superimposed the hexagonal decks and created a subtle interplay of changing room heights. The entire height of the dome unfolds above the entrance section of the lower, larger platform, while the bath and bedroom have level ceilings at a cozy height of 7 feet.

Spiral staircase from the first to second floor with plants growing in the ungraded hillside. Photo by Julius Shulman from Weisskamp, p. 149.

Anchored to the foundations, made with eleven concrete piers, steel "quadrupeds" supported wood platforms exposing the a hexagonal shape. Entry, kitchen, dining room and master bedroom were on the lower deck, the living room and two studios on the upper deck. Both were connected to a pre-fabricated mechanical core and mutually accessible through a spiral staircase. (See above and floor plans below).

Floor plans.

Side view highlighting the dome's structural sprits and tension wires. Photo by Julius Shulman from "Modernism Rediscovered," p. 333.

The wires, radiating from short poles (sprits) on the aluminum ribs, carried loads in tension. (See above). 

Judge described what it was like living in the dome,
"Living there was unique in that we were conscious of the outside weather at all times, day and night, yet shielded from it. It made for a comforting awareness. The fact that we had a closable curtain from the upper deck enclosing the bedroom on the lower deck meant that we could have privacy (both from the weather or the feeling of being exposed) when we wanted it. Ultimately, my idea was to plant trees around the house, as later I did in around the 'tree house' which gives it a sense of privacy. The fact that we had no gate at the street level (see entrance below) made it possible for people to come up the stairs to see the house. This was annoying at times - but I got my first client that way." (Judge to author e-mail, August 17, 2011).
Entrance stairway from Durand Avenue. Photo by Julius Shulman from Weisskamp, p. 146.


The "Triponent" House was located on Durand Ave. off of Beachwood Drive in the Hollywood Hills with it's dome "envelope" and sheltering a prefabricated "utility core" and "free space" which included a garden and two customized living platforms designed to meet the needs of Judge and his artist wife.

Poster for "Smog" from Movie Poster Shop.

Shortly after its completion, the house caught the attention of location scouts for the Italian movie "Smog." In it a man on a plane flight is unexpectedly held over in Los Angeles. At first he finds it exhilarating to do as he pleases, free of life-long inhibitions. But then he begins to fall prey to emotions and fears, to disintegrate. The crisis comes when he is left alone one evening at the Judge house. "No, no-the stars are too close!" he cries. "I feel too near to my Maker here. There's no place to retreat but my own soul." Apparently this is too formidable, and so be goes back to the·reassuring stone and concrete of Italy.

Upon seeing the Ralph Crane photo in Life magazine, Julius Shulman visited the job site, befriended Judge and began taking photos for what he knew would eventually become a cover spread in the Los Angeles Times Home Magazine edited by his long-time friend Dan MacMasters. Once that happened, on July 1, 1961, the below photo became one of Shulman's most iconic images, published numerous times over the years. (See also opening photo of this article above).

Bernard Judge Residence, Durand Dr., Hollywood, 1960-1, Julius Shulman: Modernism Rediscovered, Taschen, 2010. Julius Shulman Job No. 3378, 4-30 and 5-1-1961.

After graduating from USC and turning the dome over to De Kanter, Judge and his ceramicist wife, Dora De Larios, spent a year traveling the globe gathering inspiration for future work. Upon there return to Los Angeles in 1963, Judge advertised for living space for a young architect which was answered by none other than Pauline Schindler. He recalled, "I advertised that I wanted to live in a garden atmosphere in the middle of the city." Mrs. Schindler said, "I have what you want if I like your work." .. He paused. "She did." (From Ryon, Ruth, "Group Saves House Designed as Social Experiment," Los Angeles Times, July 6, 1980, pp. VIII-1-2).  

Bernard and Dora moved into the guest studio at Kings Road and soon were joined by new daughter Sabrina. Also renting space in R. M. S.'s old studio were architects David Ming-Li Lowe and Frederick Lyman and long-time Esther McCoy friend and collaborator and early Irving Gill historian, John Reed

North Las Vegas City Hall, 1965, William Allen (and Bernard Judge). From North Las Vegas website.

Judge found employment with William Allen on Canon Drive in Beverly Hills. He recalled that while working on the new North Las Vegas City Hall (see above) staring out the window toward the Hollywood Hills looking for a likely building site for a new home. He remembers seeing all the grading going on for Trousdale Estates in Beverly Hills and the adjacent Bird Streets in Los Angeles following the subdivision of the old Doheny Ranch. He approached the developers of the Bird Streets subdivision and made an offer on their "unbuildable" greenbelt on the precipice above the development which they were only too willing to accept. (See below). His next challenge was to get the Department of Building & Safety to accept his proposal for a little tree house with a very small footprint. 

Hollywood Hills with grading for Trousdale Estates and Bird Streets at the upper left. Judge "Tree" House site on Crescent Drive at the top of the "green belt" above the Bird Streets and abutting the Trousdaale Estates boundary. 1961 Dick Whittington photo from USC Digital Archive.

Following employment with Allen and several other local firms, he started his own office as space began to open up at Kings Road. He also concurrently worked for Jeffrey Lindsay in Los Angeles and Vancouver on several large span structures, most notably the 1967 Central Mall Space Frame at Simon Fraser University also in collaboration with Arthur Erickson. (See below).

Central Mall Space Frame, Simon Fraser University, 1967, Vancouver, British Columbia, Arthur Erickson, Geoffrey Massey and Jeffrey Lindsay. Plans and Specifications by Bernard Judge. Photo from The Bridge Studio.

Judge's meticulous preparation of the plans and specifications for this project saved Lindsay from a major lawsuit. The space frame suffered snow damage due to connecting rod failure. Judge remembered from his Seabee experience to specify "upset" rods as so that their required cross-sectional area wouldn't be compromised when the they were threaded. The rods delivered and installed were not "upset" which resulted in a structural failure after a heavy snowfall. The only people involved with this project who ended up not being "upset" were Judge and Lindsay.

Above drawing shows seven houses clustered and connected by walkways. They might be a hunting lodge in Kenya, condominiums, apartments or even commercial offices. This system would be useful on a flat site only if land cost was very high and several units could be developed. (From MacMasters, Dan, "A Tree House for the Hills," Los Angeles Times Home Magazine, April 10, 1977, p. 15.

Sometime in the late 1960s, Lindsay asked Judge to design a tree house that could be used for a hunting lodge in Kenya (See above). It was to use local materials and be so simple that native workmen, with a little instruction, could put it together by traditional methods. The hunting lodge never got built but the idea was too good to give up. Why not use it for putting houses on those "unbuildable lots" scattered through the hills around Los Angeles? And for developing steep slopes without massive earth-moving? When Judge failed to interest local builders, he decided to build a tree house for himself. The concept worked perfectly for his precipitous 35 degree Crescent Drive site which he broke ground upon with the help of partner Ron Smart in 1968.

This model in wood was developed in 1967 for the hunting lodge that was to be built in Kenya. Photo by the author.

From his Kings Road base around the same time, Judge formed Environmental Systems Group, a team of architects and professionals who work independently, but come together to execute larger projects. The primary members who worked with Judge off-and-on over a 15-year period included Milica Dedijer, architect; Ron Smart, production; Tim Liu, structural engineer; Chris Davis, economist; and, until his death, Boris Lemos, mechanical engineer.

Tahiti Safari Club, Moorea, 1970, designed by Bernard Judge. From "Waltzing with Brando," p. 68.

From 1970-1974, Judge was heavily involved with resort developments for Marlon Brando on his private Tahitian atoll, Tetiaroa, and the Tahiti Safari Club on Moorea. Judge met Brando through his contractor Jack Bellin whom he met by chance just before vacationing with his family at the Club Med Moorea in 1970. Bellin suggested that Judge visit Brando's Tetiaroa while in Tahiti. Bellin and Judge quickly hit it off and collaborated on the design and construction of the Tahiti Safari Club. (See above). Judge's design was inspired by hotels he had admired in Kenya while researching the above-mentioned hunting lodge for Lindsay. While working on this project, Judge, and his family, whenever possible, stayed at Marlon Brando's house in Papaeete. Brando was keenly interested in monitoring the Safari Club's progress as he had similar plans for Tetiaroa. One thing led to another and after trust was built, Brando hired Judge to design a landing strip and resort on his atoll. 

Sabrina and Bernard Judge, ca. 1972. From "Waltzing with Brando," p. 168.

During this period, Judge spent almost all his time in Tahiti planning and overseeing construction of these projects with partner Ron Smart handling all of the production details from the Kings Road office. Wife Dora and daughter Sabrina spent significant time in Tahiti as well. (See above).

Design sketches for Tetiaroa, 1972, Bernard Judge. From "Waltzing with Brando," p. 121.

 Tertiaroa airstrip under construction. From "Waltzing with Brando," p. 187.

Judge incorporated the ideas for the Kenyan resort he developed for Lindsay into Brando's resort. i. e., to  "live lightly" on the fragile atoll using sustainable indigenous materials and to be so simple that native workmen, with a little instruction, could put it together by traditional methods. The coconut tree trunks and leaves seen above were all stockpiled for use in constructing the resort's structures and roofs. Judge imported a sawmill to cut planks from the tree trunks. (See below). 

Judge and helpers cutting planks from stockpiled coconut tree trunks. From "Waltzing with Brando," p. 170.

Dora De Larios greeting Brando and pilot shortly after completion of the airstrip. From "Waltzing with Brando," p. 192.

Starting construction on one of the bungalows for what was to be called Hotel Tetiaroa Village. From "Waltzing with Brando," p. 207.

Dining room of the communal hut. From "Waltzing with Brando," p. 279. 

I highly recommend reading the entire saga of overcoming the seemingly insurmountable challenges of bringing the eco-friendly development of Tetiaroa to fruition in Judge's fascinating "Waltzing with Brando: Planning a Paradise in Tahiti." (See below). I also recommend "Trouble in Paradise," by Matthew Heller which appeared in the Los Angeles Times Home Section in 2005. A final recommendation is an article William Hall wrote for the Los Angeles Times after an unauthorized [by Brando] visit to Tetiaroa about a year before it was ready to open in which Judge is quoted. (Hall, William, "And Brando as a Tourist Attraction: Last Tango in Tahiti," Los Angeles Times Calendar Section, March 11, 1973, pp. 1, 18, 20). 

"Waltzing with Brando: Planning a Paradise in Tahiti," by Bernard Judge, ORO Editions, Berkeley, 2011.

Bernard Judge "Tree" House, Hollywood Hills, 1977. From "Is this also tomorrow?" Sunset, November, 1978, cover, pp. 108-9. Glenn Christiansen cover photo.

Upon completion of Tetiaroa, Judge could again focus more time towards the completion of his "Tree" House. Finally completed in 1977, the house soon won an AIA-Sunset Western Home Award. (See above). The jury applauded a residence that literally could be built on any site. The house was soon thereafter featured on the cover on an issue dedicated to exploring the potential of factory-built housing.

 Judge "Tree" house on a lot that slopes at a 35-degree angle down from the street. The view is to the southwest. Photo by Julius Shulman. (From MacMasters, Dan, "A Tree House for the Hills," Los Angeles Times Home Magazine, April 10, 1977, p. 12). 

Plans above show two versions of the tree house shown. The living area of the Judge house is 1,100 sq. ft. with another 500 in decks and garage. The area of each level can vary f'rom 700 to 1000 square feet.

The house has two levels of 700 square feet each, including decks. (See above). It can be built larger, smaller, or as one of a cluster. Judge used a structural system based on four 10 by 10-inch steel columns set on 8-foot centers that run from the roof down to bedrock (in this case, 50 feet). Encased in concrete above ground and beneath the house, the columns form an 8 by 8-foot pedestal that houses all the mechanical systems - water heater, forced air furnace, sump pump (because the bathroom in the house is below street level), and storage. (See below).

Bernard Judge "Tree" House on a 35 degree lot above the Bird Streets adjacent to Trousdale Estates in the Hollywood Hills. Julius Shulman photo. (From Sunset, p. 108). 

The house was built on a shoestring budget using mostly his and partner Ron Smart's labor. A number of ideas Judge incorporated into this house helped minimize costs: none of the wood is finished; all structure is exposed; floors are sub-flooring, sanded and sealed; the ceiling on the lower level is the underside of the upper level floor, with 2 by 8 floor joists seen as beams from below. The 10x10-inch steel columns seen below were set in place in 1969, just before the earlier-mentioned Tahitian work began. These had been fabricated in a shop, then trucked to the site and set in place by a crane. Judge recalls that while he was in Tahiti, Julius Shulman visited the site to capture the amazing construction photo below.

Steel columns set on 8-foot centers form the basic core of the house. Wood framework of house attached to the steel plates welded on before the columns were set.  Photo by Julius Shulman. (From MacMasters, p. 13).

This is how the Judge tree house is put together. Four caissons are sunk on the hillside and are filled with concrete. They are set in an 8-foot square and are quick and relatively cheap to install. On them are placed by crane the steel columns which are 50 feet tall; these the architect refers to as flagpoles. (See above). Trusses are fixed to the columns to support the structure of the house. These columns can be of timber or glue-laminated wood as well as of steel. Once the basic frame is in place you can use whatever materials you like for walls, roof, floors and other parts. And the interior can be arranged in many ways, for none of the walls is load-bearing. (MacMasters, p. 108).

Cross-section showing frame. Trusses are attached to the central columns and support the lower floor and the roof. The upper floor is suspended between them. From "Is this also tomorrow?" Sunset, November 1978, p. 108.

The upper floor is one big room divided according to use. Photo taken from above the central stairwell, lighted by a clerestory. Edge of circular stairway rail is seen at bottom. Stairway was relocated from Judge's "Triponent" House when it was demolished in 1971. From MacMasters, p. 13. Photo by Julius Shulman.

Painted steel posts contrast with dark stained timbers. Spiral stair goes down center. Kitchen is defined by low white walls at right that also hide the counter clutter. From Sunset, p. 109.

Kitchen partly screened in by display cases. Julius Shulman photo from MacMasters, p. 13.

Another view of the living area, with the kitchen at the back. Interior walls are gypsum board. Julius Shulman photo from MacMasters, p. 13.

Dramatic and extremely informal, the house is as easy-going as a summer cabin, with little furniture needed besides the built-ins. The entire upper level (see above images) has an open ceiling with living room, dining room, and kitchen all within conversational range. The spiral staircase at the center of the house helps define areas of use. (Sunset, p. 109). Two bedrooms and a bath occupy the lower level, plus a library-study at the foot of the stairs. Each bedroom has its own private deck. A 5 by 26-foot deck serves the upper floor on the view side. The house performs very well in earthquakes with only minor swaying and has sustained no damage since Judge moved in 35 years ago.

United States Patent No. 4,173,102 granted to Bernard Judge, November 6, 1979, p. 1 of 6.

Liking the potential for prefabrication of his "Tree" House and its use on difficult sites, Judge applied for a patent soon after completion on June 28, 1977. The patent was approved November 6, 1979, but unlike his hero Bucky Fuller, Judge did not pursue marketing the idea as he was by then deeply involved with the restoration of Schindler's Kings Road House purchased by the non-profit Friends of the Schindler House from the Schindler family upon the death of Pauline. 

Judge was named project director for development and implementation of the Schindler House Restoration Plan in 1979 by the FOSH of which he was also vice-president. He prepared the voluminous plans and specifications in September 1980 which included an exhaustive "room by room, surface by surface, verbal and pictorial work description." ("Restoration of the R. M. Schindler House: Adaptive Use of the Kings Road House as a Center for the Study of 20th Century Architecture in Los Angeles," Friends of the Schindler House, September, 1980, 362 pp.). ("Grant Will Help in Restoring Schindler House," Los Angeles Times, November 25, 1979, p. VII-1).  

In a 1983 article on the Friends of the Schindler House, Ruth Ryon quoted Friends president Michael Bobrow,
"Judge lived there for awhile, too. He maintained a studio in Schindler's old studio. He introduced me to Mrs. Schindler about 1966. He embodies the spirit of the place."
     Judge is in charge of restoring the house, a project expected to cost $150,000 to $200,000. The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded FOSH a matching grant of $15,393 for restoration work, and this grant has been matched by several professionals.
     "So many people have contributed their time," Bobrow said. "For Instance, Kathryn Smith organized the house tour and lecture series lest year-fund raisers to help pay some of the operational expenses. She also was a part-time curator, getting the grant applications ready to send in.
     "Then there is the firm of Latham & Watkins, attorneys, who have contributed several hundred hours of their time. We would have been in bad shape without them.
     "The Redwood Assn. has indicated it will provide all the redwood to restore the house, and we are looking for contributions from the construction industry.
     "Donations of time have been made by FOSH's historians-Smith, Esther McCoy, David Gebhard and Stefanos Polyzoides, who is secretary of FOSH and is in charge of the educational program-an ambitious proposal involving competitions, archives, research, a library, exhibitions, publications, lectures and seminars that ultimately would tum the Schindler House into the Los Angeles Architectural Center.
     Restoration work must be done first, and the historians have prepared the way.
     "They have researched the house," Judge said, "to see what it looked like at different periods."
     As a result, FOSH will restore the place to the time of Schindler's death.
     "We're doing drawings for the restoration and designing a plan for remedial work to be done immediately," Judge said, "work like fixing the leaky roof and some broken windows.
     "Then we will have to raise money to do the rest-removing wood that is termite Infested, rotted or in bad shape; taking off the floor material to set down to the concrete slab, taking off the paint from the concrete walls.
     "When Schindler had it, there were only five materials in the house-redwood, glass, canvas, concrete and Celotex-a board made out of sugar cane -which was also unpainted. Half the house had been painted since Schindler died." There is also some fire damage from the 1930 that he said needs repair.
     That fire happened long before Judge knew the house so well. He moved into it about 15 years ago after Mrs. Schindler answered an ad.
     "I advertised that I wanted to live in a garden atmosphere In the middle of the city," Judge recalled. "Mrs. Schindler said, 'I have what you want if I like your work.' .. He paused. "She did."
     Later, Judge moved his famlly out but kept his office there. "About half of the house was used as Schindler's office," he said, "and after his death, that was passed on from architect to architect. I was the last in a series."
     After restoration "about half of the house still will be used as offices," he said, "and we have made arrangements with the Friends of the Schindler House, the group representing Watts Towers and the new museum for architects. So this will be a headquarters for the architectural profession in Los Angeles. It will be open to the public, and there will be a docent service."
(Ryon, Ruth, "Group Saves House Designed as Social Experiment," Los Angeles Times, July 6, 1980, pp. VIII-1-2).
Judge further recalled,
"I got involved in the saving of the Schinder house because I lived and worked there for so many years, that I knew Pauline until her death, and promised her that I would be sure to save the house after her demise. Because of that, I became involved in other "preservation projects." The Watts Towers Restoration Committee, the Frank Lloyd Wright Ennis House, The Master plan for El Pueblo State Historic Park, and member of the LA City Cultural Heritage Commission (1980-86). Those activities led to actual paying jobs as an architect, like saving the Subway Terminal Building downtown, (1970) The Clark Hotel, LA, Restoration Plan, (1991), the Original Broadway Department Store, downtown, (1991),  the Hollywood Professional Building, (1994), and the Max Factor Building (1996). One thing leads to another- as it did in the South Pacific, i.e., Site analysis in Fiji and Western Samoa." (Bernard Judge e-mail to the author, 08-31-2011).
Based upon his involvement in helping save the Watts Towers in the late 1970s, Judge was appointed by Mayor Tom Bradley to the City of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission in 1981 where he served for 6 years. He has also lectured at UCLA on histrorical preservation issues.

In researching this article I have gained the sense that Bernard Judge, like his idol and inspiration Buckminster Fuller before him, is a totally "free-spirited" and adventurous architect who is unafraid to tackle projects in uncharted territory. Whether using indigenous materials on the nearly inaccessible, coral reef-enclosed Tetiaroa or new space age materials to economically solve seemingly insurmountable design problems on his "Triponent" House in Beachwood Canyon, he was able to achieve his life-long goal of creating an architecture that "lives lightly on the land." He continues to live that dream in his "Tree" House aerie in the Hollywood Hills. His work on the restoration plan for the Schindler House, arguably the most important icon of modern architecture in Los Angeles, or the world for that matter, is terribly under-recognized and noteworthy.

I highly recommend as a follow-up to this story the upcoming exhibition at the Schindler Kings Road House


Also stay tuned for a possible book-signing event for Judge's "Waltzing with Brando" in conjunction with the exhibition.