Michael Jantzen's Amazing 1981 Modular Steel Dome House

Dome house exterior
credit: Michael Jantzen

Lately we've been covering some of the amazing early work by designer Michael Jantzen. For his mother's house, Jantzen turned to off-the-shelf agricultural building parts.

credit: Michael Jantzen

Jantzen writes: "My Modular Steel Dome House was designed to take advantage of low cost, prefabricated, high strength, easily assembled, totally recyclable, off the shelf agricultural building components. "These steel dome structures were marketed as roofs for circular grain silos. They were machine-made structures composed of thin pre-painted sheet metal pie shaped panels, which slid into one another edge to edge, forming very strong light weight hemi-spheres. Other steel components associated with the silo roofs were also available, such as vaulted steel components that hooked together to form archways, also used in the construction of the dome house."

credit: Michael Jantzen

"In this design, I merged four 26-foot diameter outer domes together (on a concrete slab floor) in a soap bubble fashion, with four more 24-foot diameter domes merged on the inside, leaving one foot of space between the two clusters of domes. "This space was then filled with cellulose insulation. I developed custom doors and windows, with special shade louvers mounted over the windows to control the amount of solar heat and light entering the structure." It is like a more modern passive house.

credit: Michael Jantzen

Jantzen continues: "The house was naturally ventilated in the summer along with a cooling system that pre-cooled and de-humidified outside air as it was drawn into the house through a heat exchanger, which I placed into a nearby water well. "The domestic water was solar heated, and the entire house was passively solar space heated, through a series of south facing insulated windows."

credit: Michael Jantzen

Here's the house shown with louvres closed, all sealed up. "Insulation however was the key to the energy efficiency of the house. The total square footage of the structure was 1640," says Jantzen. "The first winter the house was monitored, it only consumed one cord of wood (burnt in a small wood stove) the entire winter, and did not require air-conditioning during the summer, in southern Illinois where the Modular Steel Dome House was built."

credit: Michael Jantzen

Here's the interior structure, before insulation installed. Jantzen used spray cellulose insulation, a TreeHugger favourite because it is made from recycled newspapers and has extremely low embodied energy.

credit: Michael Jantzen

"Here's the finished interior living area overviews with custom furniture and wood stove," says Jantzen. "Interior steel wall surfaces are covered with a spray on cellulose finish material."

credit: Michael Jantzen

"This is an overview of the kitchen and dinning area with a multi-functional dinning table shown with built in storage," says Jantzen. "It also has a view of plug-in perimeter cabinets and the energy efficient refrigerator, where its waste heat is used to dry food products. All of the other appliances were the most energy-efficient available at the time."

credit: Michael Jantzen

"In addition to the energy efficiency of the heating and cooling of the house, only the most energy efficient lights and appliances were used," notes Jantzen. "Also the most efficient water conservation techniques were used such as flow control nozzles on all of the sinks and shower, as well as a two liter flush toilet. All of the furniture and furnishing were also custom designed to be as modular as the building itself. This included things like cabinets, closets, and work desks, which could be plugged in around the perimeter of the domes as needed."

credit: Michael Jantzen

Here's an overview of the bathroom with energy-efficient lights, low-flow faucets, and low-flush toilet.

credit: Michael Jantzen

"The master bedroom comes with modular plug-in closets, cabinets, and a bed -- all made of plywood," says Jantzen.

credit: Michael Jantzen

"Shown is an overview of the master bedroom with modular desks, and bathroom module," says Jantzen.

credit: Michael Jantzen

"This is an overview of the second bedroom with a modular bunk bed made for four people, and more plug in modular closets," says Jantzen.

credit: Michael Jantzen

Here's more detail of storage and the bed for four kids. "This house was intended to be a prototype for a potentially low cost, sustainably designed, mass produced housing system," says Jantzen. "The domes were available in many sizes, all of which could be merged together very quickly in any combination and/or number, to create any size structure. These domes could also be removed when they were no longer needed in order to reduce the size of the structure. The removed domes could then be recycled and re-assembled to start another house in a different location. Of course the Modular Steel Dome Housing system could be used for many other commercial functions as well."

credit: Michael Jantzen

"This is an overview of a 16-foot diameter storage dome structure, built near the main house, with a large sliding access door," says Jantzen. There was so much experimentation going on in the sixties and seventies, and Jantzen's work is among the most interesting I have seen. These dome and silo components are still made and are still cheap; perhaps someone will pick up where he left off.