If I build it

Photo By D. Brian Burghart

John Martinson is technical adviser for a company called Biohome. They've made innovative homes that people have been living in for nearly a decade, but right now, they're exploring other applications for the technology. He's a congenial guy, excited with the challenges, and he's looking for someone with a little property to set up an experiment. And the best part? The collaborator gets to keep the results.

What’s this thing you’re involved in building?

We call it a growhouse. There are greenhouses, but we call ours a growhouse because we don’t have anything to do with those glass buildings called greenhouses. This is a well-insulated, controlled-environment structure in which we expect to grow things 12 months out of the year. … We have a thing called a water window. I’m going to give you an abbreviation. The five letters of the abbreviation spell the word SWIFT. So keep in mind the letters to the word swift: Spherical Water Instrument For Transmission.

Transmission, that means light transmission?

Absolutely. Now, imagine a clear plastic basketball. Ours is a little bigger, but visualize a clear plastic basketball filled with water. That is a lens. And when sunlight hits that plastic basketball—you’ve seen it on the website. And when the plastic basketball is mounted in the wall of the foam building, when the sun shines on that half a basketball—that’s the outer window—the light goes through the plastic basketball, though the water, and it’s refracted into the inside of the dome.

So these structures started as living places, and they’re highly insulated being made out of this foam, but they’re not up to building codes?

They are strong. They have a steel-rebar framework. And the steel-rebar framework will be buried in 6-to-8 inches of foam, and steel-rebar framework is sitting on a concrete foundation, so you have this hemispherical building, which is very resistant to strong winds because there’s no flat place on the building for the hurricane or the tornado to get a hold. So the air moves smoothly over the outside of the hemispheric surface, but the hemispheric surface is tied to the ground and its concrete foundation with the steel rebar.

Just because of code, humans can’t live in it, but it would be OK to build because it’s for plants?

Ultimately, that’s the plan [for humans to live within]. That’s the future. In the past, we have built these, and people certainly are living in these domes. We build what we call Foam Dome Homes. But now the proposal is to build a Foam Dome Home for tomatoes to live in. We want to build a dome, illuminated by these SWIFT lights, environmentally controlled, because that foam insulation is just a wonderful material to control the temperature inside the domes.

And you’re looking for someone to give you a place to do that?

What we’re saying is, “Free to a good home.” What we want to do is build this on a suitable public place. So people going by can see this and become curious about it, but if someone will in effect give us free rent on a space for 12 months, we will put up the dome, and we will begin growing things in it. At the end of the 12 months, we give it to them. It becomes their dome. If they gave us the space to do it, they get to keep the dome. And if they don’t want it, we’ll take the dome down. But if they’re in any way interested in gardening and agriculture, they’ll want the dome themselves, and it’s theirs.

If somebody wanted to get in touch with you, how do they do so?

Email me. The email address is cosmoreno@sbcglobal.net.