Rapper and aspiring home design guru Kanye West is on a mission to house the nation’s homeless. And his solution apparently takes its inspiration from a galaxy far, far away.
West thinks “Star Wars” might be the key to solving one of the nation’s most intractable issues.
In a recent interview with Forbes, the Yeezy founder revealed he’s been designing low-income housing units inspired by Luke Skywalker’s childhood homes on Tatooine. You know, those dome-shaped ones in the desert where a young Skywalker lived with his Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen.
To be clear, West’s goal is noble—particularly since homelessness in Los Angeles has shot up 16% over the past year.
Yet before you applaud his curvy creativity, keep in mind that dome-shaped homes predate the original 1977 movie (“A New Hope”) that put this beloved franchise on the map.
Architect Buckminster Fuller came up with the idea for geodesic dome homes in the 1920s, believing that the rounded shape of these dwellings was the most efficient use of resources possible.
And as intriguing as these igloolike structures might be, we got to wondering: How affordable are they?
A reality check on Kanye West’s ‘Star Wars’-style dome homes
While the exact details and building materials for West’s dome homes haven’t been shared yet, developers who’ve built dome homes in the past have some good guesses about what’s involved.
According to Los Angeles–based developer Tyler Drew, president of Anubis Properties Inc., “there are automated machines that can build these domes in a day.”
In addition to being built quickly, another benefit of dome-shape homes is that they’re energy-efficient.
Blair Wolfram—dome designer, builder, and manufacturer, as well as the founder of Dome Inc.—builds 15 to 20 domes per year, and points out that because the sphere-shape home has a smaller surface area, it’s much less likely to lose heat than a conventionally shaped home.
Additionally, if concrete is used as the building material (which is likely), it can prove cool in the warm-weather months. Prefab cement homes are also sturdy, and thus ideal for areas that face certain natural disasters.
“You will see that the dome is by far the strongest shape when it comes to earthquakes,” says David B. South, president of the Monolithic Dome Institute.
Those are the upsides, but dome homes have downsides as well.
“The walls are easy enough to build by machine, but getting the wiring and plumbing in place at affordable rates has proved to be the largest holdup for the future of these homes,” says Drew. “That’s where costs tend to eat up the affordable side of the project.”
Drew estimates that a one-bedroom studio similar to what West has in mind “probably costs in the low six figures.”
The dome expert told us costs could come down if a builder were able to scale up and build many domes at the same time. But he also put the kibosh on the concept.
“Sadly, this is never going to happen at a scale large enough to solve L.A.’s housing problems. You would need to build 100,000 of these every year for the next 10 years to scratch the housing backlog,” he explains.
And that’s if such developments get approved, which isn’t likely.
“The issue of L.A.’s homelessness isn’t the high cost of building, but rather that Los Angeles’ process for building is so overwhelmed by NIMBY complaints that any sort of affordable housing projects are almost immediately shot down, or delayed until they are dead,” Drew explains, referring to the “not in my backyard” sentiment. “Mr. West’s efforts would be better put to use by lobbying the L.A. City Council or local housing board to remove intransigent members who delay these projects.”
Yet even then, West will face hurdles with the community at large.
“For every millennial and Gen Xer looking for an affordable home, there are three baby boomers who vote in local elections to tank projects,” Drew adds. “I would challenge Mr. West to go to his local city council meetings on housing. They are both enlightening and depressing. I speak from personal experience.”
So although West’s hopes to house the homeless have some merits, Drew doesn’t think the force will be with the rapper in bringing his real estate fantasy to fruition.
“Prefabricated houses are probably going to be the future of new construction,” says Drew. “Unfortunately for Mr. West, this isn’t the future just yet.”
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