Day 62/365 of Steel – Bernard Judge

Bernard Judge (June 9, 1931 – November 15, 2021)

There are few people who could say they met Buckminster Fuller, lived in Rudolph Schindler’s house, then helped preserve it, and then camped out on a private South Pacific atoll to build a rustic lodge for Marlon Brando. In fact, there may be only one: Los Angeles architect Bernard Judge.

Fig 1: Hollywood Hills Dome (Triponent House)
 ©Julius Shulman

It was Judge’s effort to find an economically sound solution to housing using the finest technology of the day. He called his experimental house “Triponent” for its three intrinsic elements: the envelope, utility core, and interior spaces. The envelope consisted of a 50-foot diameter geodesic dome covered with transparent Mylar, and shaded by photo-electric cells. The utility core contained the manufactured plumbing, utilities, kitchen and bathroom appliances, mechanical and electrical systems. Interior spaces were left open for the individuals using them to design for themselves accordingly.

Bernard Judge "Tree" House, Hollywood Hills
Fig 2: Bernard Judge “Tree” House, Hollywood Hills
Cover photo by Glenn Christiansen

Judge was a designer intrigued by experimental and low-cost designs that reused materials and sat lightly on the land. The architect, in fact, took his last breath in an award-winning building of his own design: a treehouse-inspired home perched on four steel columns against a steep slope in the Hollywood Hills that was described as “a lark of a house” by a Times design writer in 1977 and graced the cover of Sunset magazine in 1978.

Inside Judge’s own home, known as Tree House.
Fig 3: Inside Judge’s own home, known as Tree House.
Photo: Christina House / Los Angeles Times

The modest 1,300-square-foot home hovers 30 feet into the air on steel tubes sunk 20 feet into the bedrock of an impossibly steep ridgeline above L.A.’s Sunset Strip. In his patent, awarded in 1979, Judge explained that the steel columns were the mainstays of a system of trusses that allowed the structure to expand, like spreading wings, from its artificial trunks.
In the 1970s, Judge told The Times that living in the house was “like living in a huge toy.” But as we design with an eye toward density and climate change, this unusual Los Angeles home also offers intriguing food for thought.

About the Author:

Bruno Dursin – Managing Director at Believe in Steel. Bruno has more than 30 years of experience in promoting steel & steel solutions. His clients benefit from his extensive network within the building industry.

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