There’s No Place Like Dome in Peter Bognanni’s ‘The House of Tomorrow’

BY Carolyn O'Hara  April 20, 2010 at 12:06 PM EST

'House of Tomorrow' by Peter BognanniRichard Buckminster Fuller made design history in the middle of the twentieth century with his architectural calling card, the geodesic dome. Fuller, a self-described “comprehensive anticipatory design scientist,” promoted his spherical dome structure on the basis that they were lightweight, strong and easy to build. Soon, they appeared on the roof of Ford Motor Company in Michigan, were adopted by the U.S. Defense Department Marine Corps as temporary shelters (they were easily conveyed by in the midst of the Cold War.

Along with Fuller’s innovative successes came an equal measure of failure — his Dymaxion car, a tear-drop shaped silver bullet built on three wheels, was scrapped when a crash with another car killed a driver. But more on, Fuller’s particular utopian vision for the future never materialized, while his eccentric tendencies, dictated by his own exhaustively-articulated personal philosophy, only increased over the decades.

In recent years, he has been the subject of a major touring retrospective, and immortalized with his very own commemorative postage stamp (complete with a geodesic dome skull). And Fuller’s emphasis on sustainable architecture, the overwhelming design buzz word of the past decade, is no minor foresight.

You can now add literary inspiration to the list of “Bucky’s” pop culture legacies. Fuller’s designs provide the inspiration for the setting of “The House of Tomorrow,” a first novel by Peter Bognanni that charts the life of an adolescent growing up inside — and venturing out of — a geodesic dome.

Sebastian Prendergast and his grandmother reside in one of Fuller’s own geodesic homes — the same sort of utopian 1960s design that enthusiasts can find in the slick pages of Dwell magazine today — and run it as a museum. Sebastian, an adolescent, has been raised under the tutelage of his grandmother, an intense believer in the Fuller philosophy of life.

“In the beginning of the book [Sebastian] sees [the dome] as a sort of translucent prison,” Bognanni told Art Beat, “in a way that he’s endlessly curious about what’s going on outside of it and very rarely allowed to figure it out on his own.”

Listen to author Peter Bognanni talk about Buckminster Fuller and his new novel:

Peter Bognanni
 
 

 
 
 
But illness befalls his grandmother, pushing her to the point of delusion, and pushing him out of the (modern design) nest.

Ejected from the dome, Sebastian is thrust into a new suburban world, and is confronted with the book’s other dominating theme: punk rock.

The family that takes Sebastian in has problems of its own: An absent father, a promiscuous daughter, and a rebellious adolescent son Jared, who is recovering from a heart transplant. But the healthy, unwavering heart that Jared receives is nothing short of the heart of a true punk band front man. Under Jared’s tutelage, Sebastian is indoctrinated into a gritty, new aesthetic.

The story of Sebastian’s adventure outside of the dome is part bildungsroman, part ‘Back Beat.’ His home-schooled mannerisms make him an instant outsider and a perfect fit for a movement based on the rejection of social norms. The boys form an amateur band, The Rash, their combined passion as infectious as Sebastian’s naive, Fullerian insights on all of the new things he encounters out in the world (record stores, teenage girls, cinnamon rolls).

For author Peter Bognanni, the spirit of Fuller and punk rock music was a happy coincidence: “They both have to do with striking out on your own and very much a kind of DIY-approach to life.”

Listen to Peter Bognanni read an excerpt from “The House of Tomorrow”:

In the end, Sebastian returns to the dome, and faces the ultimate adolescent challenge — reconciliation with the people who raised us and the people we want to become.

The real Buckminster Fuller chronicled his entire life’s works (including his autobiography, notes and sketches, among other things) in what he termed the Chronofile, which weighed over 90,000 lbs by the end of his life.

“The House of Tomorrow” acts as a sort of Chronofile-cum adolescent novel; along the way, it does justice to Fuller’s designs, both physical and philosophical. It leaves us thinking about the way that “home” — be it conventionally suburban or iconoclastically futuristic – leaves a permanent imprint, and how finding a life that’s sustainable is often more than just a fleeting design trend.