Pasadena Bubble House

Pasadena Bubble House — Los Angeles Explorers Guild

Pasadena Bubble House

If you’ve ever wondered what a house would happen if a giant balloon was covered with wire mesh and sprayed with concrete, then head on over to Pasadena to see the Bubble House.

A House of Bubbles

Wallace Neff, mid-century architect to the stars (Groucho Marx, Douglas Fairbanks, Judy Garland, and more), the man most responsible for what is termed today as “California Style,” had a dream. He wanted to provide affordable housing to an increasing post-war population of willing home-buyers relocating to city suburbs.

Neff was one of the most famous architects working in Los Angeles at the time, and to combat the global challenge of too many people and not enough homes, he dreamed up the idea of a way to build monolithic-dome homes. It’s said he got the idea for these structures while shaving and observing a particularly large soap bubble, so he branded this new building concept with the term “Airform.”

Pasadena Bubble House
The Wallace Neff-designed Airform Pasadena Bubble House. Photo from the author’s collection.

Neff’s Airform houses could be built very quickly — two days or less — and didn’t require nails, wood, or the skill of a carpenter. The building process went something like this:

  • Inflate a giant balloon.
  • Cover it with an interlaced wire frame.
  • Spray the result with gunite (a mix of cement, sand, and water sprayed through a hose).
  • Deflate the balloon.

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Neff had a plan to build upward of 400,000 of his Airform homes all across the world, but the weird, curvy design just didn’t float with American ideals. Neff tried, but he couldn’t convince anyone that living inside a dome was the wave of the future. Neff’s dream eventually deflated, and only about 3,000 of these open-plan dome homes were ever built in the United States.

Today, the only remaining Airform Bubble House on U.S. soil sits in Pasadena at the corner of Los Robles Avenue and Wallis Street, where it’s still a private residence.

For more details about Neff and his Airform houses, check out No Nails, No Lumber: The Bubble Houses of Wallace Neff by Jeffrey Head.


Pasadena Bubble House


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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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