No Nails, No Lumber


How do you build a house in less than 48 hours without using lumber or nails that’s more resistant to fire, earthquakes and hurricanes than any traditionally built structure? Though it sounds like some kind of riddle or futuristic development, it’s not. The latest book from Los Angeles-based writer, Jeffrey Head, “No Nails, No Lumber” takes an in-depth look at Wallace Neff’s 1941 design. 

Neff was widely known throughout Southern California for the Mediterranean Revival residences that were constructed for his elite clientele like Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Mary Pickford. Privately, however, Neff’s real passion were his beloved dome-shaped structures called “bubble houses.”  


Andrew Neff house in Pasadena, California

Developing Airform construction in response to the global housing crisis, Neff  used reinforced concrete cast in position over an inflatable Goodyear balloon to create these futuristic residences. In talk that took place at Postopolis! LA, artist Steve Roden – who lives in the home Neff built for his brother Andrew – described the look and feel of these dwellings “as if someone hand-made a ceramic bowl, then flipped it over.”

Bubble home under construction

Exterior view of experimental bubble houses in Los Angeles, ca.1940-1949

The unique design of these multi-faceted dwellings are fully explored inside Head’s new book through previously unpublished illustrations, new and vintage photography and archival ephemera.

No Nails, No Lumber: The Bubble Houses of Wallace Neff (Princeton Architectural Press, $25) hits bookshelves December 1, 2011. 


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