If you know us, you know we love weird architectural history from the height of the utopian design age, but the idea of spending lockdown inside a radical sci-fi social experiment might take some convincing. This odd cluster of spherical houses is known as Bolwoningen, built in 1984 by artist Dries Kreijkamp as part of an experimental housing development program launched from 1968 to 1984 in the Netherlands. There are 50 of them, and after 37 years of existence, they are still as strange and futuristic as ever. What may look like a subdivision of mini astronomical observatories or a batch of oversized golf balls (you decide) are in fact inhabited by everyday Dutch folk in the suburban town of Den Bosch….
Like extraterrestrial mushrooms emerging from riverbanks, they stand out even more because they’re located on the edge of an ordinary new housing estate.
“The globe-shape is totally self-evident,” explained Dries Kreijkamp of his unusual spherical design. “It’s the most organic and natural shape possible. After all, roundness is everywhere: we live on a globe, we’re born from a globe. The globe combines the biggest possible volume with the smallest possible surface area, so you need minimum material for it. It’s space saving, very ecological and nearly maintenance-free. Need I say more?”
The basic system consisted of two stacked parts: a cylindrical base for the staircase, storage and utility spaces, and a three-story freestanding sphere. In the original project, the spheres were designed to be produced in polyester but the fire regulations imposed concrete reinforced with fiberglass. Each capsule has a diameter of 5.5 meters and six windows.
The spherical houses have unusual floor plans too: the toilets and bathrooms are placed in the centre of the ball, while the living room is located upstairs and the bedrooms on the ground floor. There is also a small kitchen which is separated by a wall from the rest of the living room.
The advantages of this type of structure are that they do not require any type of permanent foundation, require low maintenance and consume little energy. They are also lightweight at 1250 kg, and can be easily assembled or transported.
The disadvantages? Well for one, they require rounded furniture. So try fitting your IKEA closet against the wall in here.
Uncube magazine has a hunch that the Bolwoningen complex may have been inspired by the houses from a French cartoon series, well-known in the 1970s, called “Barbapapa”.
As an art student, Dries Kreijkamp developed an obsession with spheres and was convinced he could revolutionise modern living with them. The media flocked to odd community of Bolwoningen and people did come from all over the world just to see the houses, but the government’s experimental mood (and financial support) came to an end in 1984.
In the 1990s, Kreijkamp’s career-defining sci-fi experiment was nearly scrapped entirely; slated for demolition after residents complained about maintenance issues with their houses. One of them was even said to be sinking into the ground. But after a some considerable renovation, the spherical homes were left in place. Kreijkamp however was never able to conquer the globe with his designs and he died in 2014, still trying to convert urban planners to get behind his futuristic pods.
“The Eskimos really knew what they were doing, with their igloos. And so do African tribes who build round clay huts”, Kreijkamp once told a journalist. When living becomes even less affordable than it is now, perhaps we’ll be taking his circular homes more seriously. What say you?