On a sunny morning in 1991, at a home site on Sullivans Island, South Carolina, George Paul, designer and builder of dome structures, anxiously watched an Airform inflating. Paul had watched many such inflations before — but never with this much anxiety.
This Airform was for a permanent house for his parents, Huiet and Helen Paul, who lost their original summer home on that site to Hurricane Hugo in 1989. “That Airform had to hit its mark, or the house would not be what I wanted,” Paul said.
Unexpectedly, a neighbor woman who routinely walked that beach approached. She looked at the Airform; she looked at Paul, and, without breaking stride, snapped, “Do your parents know you are doing this?”
“They did know, of course,” Paul said. “They were not my concern; the Airform was. But I need not have worried. The [air] structure Monolithic Constructors built met every hope I dreamed of for myself and my parents.”
That dream became Eye of the Storm, a prolate ellipse measuring 80-feet by 57-feet by 34-feet. Its four levels provide 3,884 square feet of inside living space plus outside porches and cost about $600,000 to build.
Since it’s in a hurricane-prone area, Paul designed the Eye’s ground level with eight huge openings — five of which are large enough to drive through. In bad weather, particularly a hurricane, storm surge rushes through the openings under the house, often leaving debris in its wake but the main structure unharmed. Pilings sunk into the crust or solid part of the substrate also contribute sturdiness.
In addition to stability, the ground level provides parking and storage, has an elevator that goes to the second and third floors, and two stairways.
But its not just functional. It has its uniqueness: two shower rooms — one for the ladies and one for the gentlemen — built like sculpted shells or underwater coves. Their benches flow out of and along the walls and their showers become waterfalls, that feel and sound like real waterfalls, with the turn of a valve.
The second or main level includes living, dining, and entertaining areas; a kitchen; three full bathrooms; and two bedrooms, all with an ocean view and a generous porch. Paul said, “The building code required a 36-inch high safety railing on the porch. We learned we could build a bench, 18 inches high by 24 inches wide, instead, and it’s become both seat and table.”
A fireplace, invisibly incorporating bricks from the original house, adds its charm and uniqueness. “Facing the inside living area, it’s a fireplace,” Paul said. “Facing the outside porch, it’s a barbecue, so it has one chimney but two flues.”
The kitchen features an eating island and a work counter, built-in opposite curves of Corian. The work counter has sink bowls molded right into it, making it seamless and easy to clean.
A white oak, hand-crafted stairway, following the slope of the interior wall, leads to the third level. It encompasses the master bedroom and bath, an entertainment area, a full kitchen, large closets and access to two porches.
Paul said, “The shower room in the master bath is built like a snail, in a winding fashion. That winding walk provides privacy, so there is no need for shower doors or curtains which promote mildew.” It also has resting benches and light sconces which appear sculpted or flowing from the walls.
The Eye’s fourth floor is a hanging loft with a hide-a-bed sofa and an electrically operated, oval skylight that is six feet long and three feet wide. “Mom loves to relax and read up here,” Paul said, “and the kids love to sleep up here. They like the height and the skylight.”
On the outside, hurricane louvers can be closed over the windows within fifteen seconds-even in the worst weather, since the Eye has its own generator. These louvers provide security, insulation, and sunlight control, and can be rolled into a drum when not in use.
Visitors to the Eye of the Storm marvel at its uniqueness. “The levels hang from the shell. That’s 250 tons hanging from the shell, and it’s mind-boggling to most people,” Paul said. “I tell them that you couldn’t do that in a conventional building, but this one doesn’t even care!”
Not only is this home unique, but Paul has discovered that ways in which people respond to the Eye are equally unique. He said, “I should have been collecting what folks say when they first enter this house — their first impressions. Women, especially, use terms that are never associated with structures. They say this home makes them ‘feel embraced,’ or that it’s ‘alive,’ or that it’s ‘fun.’ I think it’s all of those.”
Reprinted from the Winter 1998 issue of the Roundup: Journal of the Monolithic Dome Institute
Eye of the Storm is coated on the exterior with acrylic stucco. This protects the Airform. It also covers the “added on” features such as the “eyebrows” and curved stairways. This provides a pleasing continuous surface over the entire structure. It can be washed and repainted as necessary.
The Acrylic stucco is available from several manufacturers. There are differences so be sure to use one that is tested. They can be applied by roller, trowel, and spray. They can be tinted for color.
Concrete stuccos enhanced with the right copolymers also work very well. A concrete mixture of cement, sand, Kel-Crete, and CON-TROL fibers is one example.
Other exterior treatments include simple elastomeric coatings; heavy-duty layers of reinforced concrete; coverings of metal or wood shingles, as well as direct burial.