A new book pays tribute to architect Wallace Neff and his iconic bubble houses
If the name Wallace Neff is familiar to you, it might be for the Spanish Colonial-style homes the architect built in Southern California. But Neff’s primary passion—and legacy—was the Bubble House, the subject of Jeffrey Head’s No Nails, No Lumber: The Bubble Houses of Wallace Neff. Only 2,500 of these Airform balloon-constructed houses were ever built, although 400,000 were planned for in his lifetime. By 2010, only one remained; the Pasadena home where Neff lived with his brother before passing away in 1982.
The compact coffee table book—not round, sadly, but an elegant seven-inch square—documents Neff’s futuristic engineering with sketches and photographs of seven examples across the United States and additional projects on four continents. Characterized by their domes, the houses were constructed using an inflated neoprene-nylon balloon to define their form and structure, followed by reinforced concrete. While the aim of the homes was practical—Neff came up with the design in 1941 as a solution to the global housing crisis—the artistic nature cannot be ignored. Head calls Neff a “genius who allowed air to become a sculptor.” More so, he was an innovator whose work should inspire a new generation to think big, and to explore unconventional building methods.
No Nails, No Lumber: The Bubble Houses of Wallace Neff, by Jeffrey Head, Princeton Architectural Press, $25; papress.com
A newly completed double-bubble house, 1942
An Airform residence with garden
View of Airform interior with free-standing fireplace
A Noyes Airform in Hobes Sound, Florida
No Nails, No Lumber: The Bubble Houses of Wallace Neff on ELLE DECOR-Page 5