hygienic dark retreat

profound rest for the self‑healing psyche

a book by andrew durham

formerly darkroomretreat.com




For their simplicity, ease, economy, speed, strength, beauty, and elegance, I recommend the following designs/methods for shelter construction.

(Fastest possible construction times):

Self-Strutting Geodesic Plydome (days)
Steve Miller’s perfection of Buckminster Fuller’s design for a frameless sphere. Write me for detailed plans.

Conic Shelter (days)
Chuck Henderson’s sweeping, simple, brilliant, circled-square construction

hygienic house / conic (days)
My adaptation of Chuck’s conic with a cylindrical wall using the same building method.

Hexayurt (hours)
Vinay Gupta’s 3-hour, $200, portable pop-up shelter + autonomous infrastructure

Superadobe (days)
Nadir Khalili’s giant upside down coil pot shelters elegantly made from war materials

Cardboard Geodesic Dome (hours)
Fun for kids and grown-ups alike

The above designs are all shell constructions. That is, they are frameless. Why? It is true architecture: the technique of forming arches from separate pieces of materials to create covered space.

Post and beam construction does not make arches but boxes. It only has abstract arches through the cantilevered strength inside its rigid materials. Its flat ceilings and roofs then require triangles—more abstract arches—to shed water outside. More rigid materials are necessary to span the horizontal frame gaps. These materials are expensive, hard to work with, and require complex fastening.

When arches exist from the first pieces, individual pieces of material pass most of their stress to the ground. This simplifies everything else about construction and makes occupants more relaxed as well.

Frames should not be used to hold up materials that can hold up themselves (or shoddy materials like drywall.) This approach has no integrity. It doesn’t respect the nature of the materials. One puts up a frame, then hangs on it a rigid or semi-rigid material which can hold up itself and the whole building. It does have the advantages of requiring no imagination or economy on the part of the owner, builder, or designer.

Here’s another way to look at shell vs framed construction.

When you stand on a construction site, you face only one hole that has to be filled: the one between the future occupants and the surrounding space.

When you put up a frame, you create hundreds of little holes to fill. Filling them makes cracks you have to fill. All the pieces want to come apart. It’s a tedius, brutalizing nightmare.

Shell construction just starts filling the one hole. Pieces push each other together. It is not only more elegant, but it is more practical in every way. Cheaper, faster, simpler, more durable, resilient, lighter (requiring a simpler foundation),

I have chosen frameless designs that embody: a dynamic elegance bordering on anti-gravity; simplicity any 5 year-old can grasp; and an economy any schmuck can achieve.


The two designs below are proper applications of the frame-and-skin method of construction. That is, a very lightweight frame supports fabric or film that cannot hold itself up. It is a thin, flexible material possessing only tensile, not compressive strength (nor their combination: cantileverage).

Pillowdome (pdf)
Jay Baldwin’s perfection of Bucky’s Skybreak concept: a very light, “ephemeralized” frame-and-skin geodesic dome, with panels of noble gas-inflated fluoropolymeric (teflon/ptfe plastic) pillows. This ultimately led to the gigantic greenhouses at The Eden Project in England. Inflatability reinforces—and minimizes—the frame.

Warmlite Tent
Jack Stephenson’s masterful 2-5-man tents. He and his designs have had a huge influence on all my design thinking since 1995. Can you imagine, he went from being an insulation engineer on space rockets to designing camping gear! After 40 years, his stuff is still decades ahead of its time. Only a few of his ideas have started to be copied. I used to talk to him for hours on the phone while buying his gear and materials. Great guy. RIP.


  • Portable Keyboard Layout - Dvorak by M Farkas: unintrusive Dvorak keyboard for Windows, times out. Works on public computers, too! Download, extract, open, click pkl.exe. See instructions.txt.