Originally published in Arkadia magazine, July 2014.
In a recent covert operation, we crossed the border (with Wiltshire) in search of a man rumoured to be single-handedly revolutionising the way we think about providing people with shelter. It turns out the rumours are true.
Not so long ago, James Towner-Coston, a charismatic professional musician, was looking for a way to turn things around when the banks and corporations who had previously hired his services were forced to tighten their belts. James had always had an affinity with the traditional self-build culture of indigenous people such as Native Americans and set out to look for a 21st century take on what he likes to call ‘comfortable nomadity’.
This led to the re-kindling of an idea that had first taken shape in James’s mind some 20 years earlier. Inspired by nature, James developed a modular method of construction, using orange-like segments, to offer a funky, lightweight sectional building with infinite design possibilities and almost as many uses. The Unidome had arrived.
As with all great inventions, the idea is a simple one. Ash-framed curved segments are hand laminated on purpose-built formers and fitted with a range of different in-fills, from state-of-the-art Rivertex textiles to plexiglass, before being linked together in-situ to form a dome. The result is not only a weather-proof structure like no other; it is also the coolest place on earth! The combination of materials can be specified to produce a custom built dome, just the way you want it. After an exciting time on the road, ex-festival domes can look forward to retirement when they are beautifully clad in oak before taking up permanent residence at some of the UKs coolest camp sites.
The Unidome is the perfect festival glamping solution but James has more serious applications in mind too. The portability and speed of build makes the Unidome ideal for refugee housing, where conflict or natural disaster necessitates rapid relocation. James also delivers a persuasive case for the use of Unidomes as affordable eco-housing – how cool would that be! Projects currently in the pipeline, including a 20-dome eco-hotel and a 10-dome village at Dartmoor Zoo, will become the first permanent sites demonstrating the possibilities for Unidome communities.
James worked menial jobs to raise the money needed to build the first batch of domes. He immediately landed a festival contract and just 12 hours later (yes, just 12 hours later) the demand for Unidomes was ringing the phone off the hook! In no time at all domes were popping up all over the place with backstage and VIP boutique camping areas at festivals soon becoming Unidome villages. At the Isle of Wight Festival, the village also became a media frenzy, Sky Arts choosing the domes as the venue for interviews with performing stars.
As we walked around ‘Domeland’ – essentially the Unidome workshops – there was an overwhelming feeling that we had somehow taken a wrong turn and stumbled upon a super-cool loft apartment. It soon became clear that this is what James does; he creates spaces that people want to explore – spaces that people want to live in. The large two-storey building is filled with domes in various stages of fabrication and, as we explore the ground floor, we weave our way through steel formers, used to build up the layers of laminate that ultimately become the dome segments. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot an electric guitar and a vintage amp, lined up with the other essential tools of James’s creative trade. The guitar is positioned where it is easily accessible, giving the impression that this is where James can be found when he’s working through an idea.
Up on the mezzanine, there’s some serious product development going on, with prototype modular walls and more dome sections. There’s another guitar, amidst the ash segments, as well as some retro signage and a picture of Bob Marley. It’s a great place to be and what a cool place to work – creative heaven!