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Summer 1996 | Volume 12 |  Issue 1

Form Vs. Function

GLENN PORTER, IN “TROUBLED MAR riage: Raymond Loewy and the Pennsylvania Railroad” (Spring 1996), very nicely explains the conflict between the design consultant and the engineer. One is truly interested only in aesthetics, the other in the measured performance of the machine. That dichotomy has probably not disappeared from the scene, but it has evolved into more beneficial relationships in some industries. For example, the aerodynamic shapes of modern automobiles not only look pleasing but also cut drag to improve engine efficiency. And the aerodynamic design element is likely planned into the car from the start.

Mr. Loewy’s firm (or its later version) apparently continued to run into problems with the practicality of its designs as late as 1968. Raymond Loewy/William Snaith, Inc., designed that year’s R40 subway car, with sloping front ends that were futuristic in design, and I remember being impressed by them when I first saw them as a child. The New York City Transit Authority thought the design would improve the subway’s image, but the steeply slanted ends prevented safe passage between cars and diminished the seating capacity. Transit Authority engineers managed to get the slope reduced from 15 percent to 10 percent, but the danger of falling between cars remained. The addition of railings, chains, and pantograph gates between the cars was costly, and it certainly destroyed the sleek look of the R40. The cars are still in use and can be seen on the subway’s B line.

Mark L. Maiello
Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.

Form Vs. Function

I HAVE OFTEN THOUGHT IF THE JOB TO day were to redesign one of Raymond Loewy’s streamlined locomotives, it would probably pretty much revert to the squared-off, boxy original version.

Rich Bohan
Silver Spring, Md.

Edison’s Concrete Homes

IT IS AMAZING HOW PEOPLE GET IDEAS, give them a try, abandon them, and then others later pick them up where they left off. Edison’s idea for livable concrete homes (“Thomas Edison’s Concrete Houses,” Winter 1996) resurfaced in the 1960s when an engineer, an architect, and a lawyer in Independence, Missouri, patented a concrete dwelling called Terre Dome. The structure was formed from concrete and in most cases was covered over with soil, making what some call an “earth home” or “underground home.” Terre Domes have been franchised around the country.

My wife and I had a building lot in southern Arizona and decided to put up a Terre Dome. I dug out the hillside and poured concrete footings to their specifications. Aluminum and fiberglass forms were set, a web of structural steel tied in place, and highdensity concrete poured. The walls are nearly ten inches thick, and the domed roof ranges from ten to thirteen inches thick. The walls and roof were poured in one piece, so there is no joint where roof meets walls. Hot butyl rubber was applied outside to waterproof the entire structure, and urethane foam was sprayed over that to protect the butyl from rocks and other sharp objects.

I then completed the inside of the house—floors, partitions, utilities, and so on. We moved in four months after the concrete was poured and have lived in the home for twelve years. Its energy efficiency is unquestionable. We use very little cooling during the hottest part of the summer and heat with a mobile-home-size wood stove when necessary.

Thomas Edison was on the right track. I would not trade our concrete house for any of the frame or concrete-block homes in this part of Arizona. It was good to hear that some of Edison’s houses still stand in New Jersey. I expect ours will be here every bit as long.

George Post
Rio Rico, Ariz.

Edison’s Concrete Homes

MICHAEL PETERSON’S RECENT ARTICLE on Edison’s concrete houses made me think about the enameled steel homes that came out after World War II. There are still a few in my area, and they fit into the neighborhoods so well that until a friend pointed them out I did not know they existed. They were made by Lustron at the old CurtissWright aircraft factory in Columbus, Ohio. They appear to have held up very well.

Tom Lavender
Mansfield, Ohio

Edison’s Concrete Homes

IN THE 1960S A SUBSIDIARY OF A MAJOR women’s cosmetic firm erected a halfdozen or so concrete houses in New Iberia, Louisiana. I remember local appraisers assigning these homes values lower than similar ones of standard design. They acknowledged that the construction appeared adequate and the values probably should be higher but held to their figures because they had no market experience on how the public would accept the houses.

It turned out they were right. People would look at the houses with interest but were afraid to be the first ones to buy. Nevertheless, they eventually sold, and they all survive today. I went out yesterday to look at them. All are in good shape, and I spoke to the owner of one, who has lived in it for ten years, and he is very satisfied with his house.

Henry J. Dauterive, Jr.
New Iberia, La.

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