Taking up a large section of the Eco Habitat zone at the recent Viv'expo exhibition in Bordeaux was a walk-in cutaway model of a rotating wooden house known as Domespace. Built on a central concrete pedestal, the Domespace home benefits from little or no damp penetration, and its aerodynamic shape has been found to be resistant to cyclonic winds of up to 174mph (280kph). It also makes the most of passive solar energy, has a central chimney with a designer open fire and is surprisingly spacious.

Approaching a Domespace home from a distance, you might be forgiven for thinking that you've wandered onto the set of a 1950s B-movie about aliens invading the earth. However, this particular saucer doesn't fly, even in high winds. In tests, the curved structure has been found to stand firm in winds of up to 149 mph (240kph), although one home in Taiwan managed to survive Cyclone Tim's winds of around 174mph in 1994.

The protective cocoon doesn't stop at wind resistance either. Domespace says that "every Domespace is erected over an elastomeric belt that works as a 'silencer block'... like a piece of rubber that cushions vibrations." The structure has been found to withstand earthquake activity registering up to eight on the Richter scale.

A wooden cocoon

The first thing to hit us as we wandered through the cutaway at Bordeaux's Viv'expo exhibition was the pleasant smell of wood and the feeling of warmth it seemed to generate, even in the fairly bland environment of the exhibition hall. In the center of the demonstration model sat a chimney which would normally house an open fireplace, many of which have been designed by Dominique Imbert.

Although placing an open fire chimney at the heart of a wooden house might seem like you're asking for trouble, the designers point out that the glued laminated timber construction is actually quite resistant to fire. Indeed, the American Institute of Timber Construction agrees that if fire breaks out in buildings using such heavy timber construction, the "wood retains a significantly higher percentage of its original strength for a longer period of time, losing strength only as material is lost through surface charring. Fire fighting is safer due to elimination of concealed spaces and the inherent structural integrity of large glued laminated timbers."

A Domespace home is constructed using FSC-certified (or equivalent) wood, including spruce beams, red cedar roof, cork or pulped wood insulation and plywood or oriented strand board. Strategically-placed sloped openings on both static and rotating versions of the design are said to benefit from light pouring through at some point during the day, brightening up the interior with more natural light than vertical windows can offer.

One disadvantage to such sloped windows is that when it rains heavily, it may sound like the ghosts of Cozy Powell and Keith Moon are having a showdown on the roof, but the double glazing is said to help a little. Shutters can be installed on the outside which may also help in this regard.

Following the sun

Those choosing the rotating Harmonique version are offered remote control positioning to make the most of passive solar energy to heat or cool areas of the house, or to ensure that any externally-fitted photovoltaic panels are given maximum exposure to bright sunlight, or even just to change the view. Also, being able to rotate your house about an axis means that if the neighbors are throwing a party, rather than move over to the quieter side of the house, you can just move the house around to suit.

The designers say that rotation is slow and smooth enough so as to be hardly noticeable – the user can choose between one and four inches per second with either manual or automated options available. The system doesn't simply spin around and around but rather swivels anywhere from 180 degrees to 330 and back again. Flexible utility cables running through the central structure turn with the house using much the same principle that allows us to drink water while we turn our heads.

Should the electric motor that drives the movement fail, the house can also be moved with a bit of manual persuasion. Of course, if the home is built on a sloping landscape, you'd need to be mindful of returning the door to a safe position before attempting to exit.

Other claimed benefits of the basic design include little (if any) penetrating humidity thanks to the bottom of the home being raised off the ground on a concrete pedestal, and marked energy savings inherent in the design. Green power and heating technologies such as photovoltaic, geothermal, aerothermal and water recycling can also be included if required. Such a design also lends itself to placement on land that's otherwise harder to develop, such as a steep incline, mountain side or ocean front.

Building a Domespace home

The company doesn't actually build a Domespace home itself. Rather, it provides the plans and materials, and is on hand to help with any design, construction and planning issues. There are a number of different build options and various sizes available. For example, a 23.6 feet (7.2m) radius property is said to offer some 2,260 square feet (210 square meters) of total living space over two floors (although due to the shape of the design, actual usable living space is likely to be in the region of 1,754 square feet, or 163 square meters).

Buyers could go down the do-it-yourself route, whereby Domespace would provide all of the materials needed to build the home, with the buyer putting all the bits together and hopefully not being left with any spare bits at the end. The company says that the most popular option is for a contractor to erect the basic structure and then leave the customer to complete the final internal design stage. The path of least resistance is to engage a specialized company to do the lot.

It generally takes anywhere from six to nine months for a Domespace construction to be completed, and while every construction shares common characteristics, opportunities for unique installations abound, opening up numerous domestic, commercial or community possibilities.

More information

The brainchild of Patrick Marsilli – who is said to have been inspired by similar shapes used in nature, traditional human dwellings and even churches and cathedrals – the very first Domespace was built in 1988 in Brittany using sustainably-sourced wood for its construction. Since then, hundreds of dome residences have popped up in France, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Taiwan, and the United States. Visits to existing installations may be possible by contacting the company.

Domespace construction is offered in rotating Harmonique or static Elevation versions of various sizes and from one to three floors. There's also a smaller Transit version available for use as mini-lofts, guest rooms and so on. U.S. readers can download a Domespace brochure from Solaleya in zip format and more detailed information is available from Domespace International.

The following promotional video outlines much of what to expect from a Domespace home:

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