FOUR-ROOM APARTMENT IN TENEMENT
Location East Village
Rent $2100 (market)
Square feet 450
Occupants Jeff Rabb (Web designer-musician), Karen Bronzo (marketing executive)
Before we discuss how Jeff is Dome Boy, we have to talk about money. You moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan in February, partly because you were inspired by December news reports saying rents have tumbled and landlords are giving months free and begging people to live in their buildings, though I suspect that would be some beige high-rise in Murray Hill or somewhere. If I lived in one, I’d jump out the window. Come home on Friday night, heat a can of soup, and stare out the window at the NYU hospital. That’s the rest of one’s life. [Jeff] We started looking in late January. We literally looked for six days, saw 15 to 20 places. Things were definitely cheaper than we expected them to be. We were under the impression that a year ago, it would have been at least $2500 for a place like this around here.
It’s small—the apartment. [Jeff] Anything we saw that was less expensive was smaller. This was the one apartment that had a bedroom and a studio. [Karen] We finally found a building that allowed dogs. I really want one. One place didn’t allow dogs because a dog had left paw prints in the fresh concrete.
The injustice! [Jeff] We didn’t move to the East Village just because of money. Karen was living in Carroll Gardens. I was in Williamsburg. [Karen] We wanted to move in together. [Jeff] We were attached to our own neighborhoods. The East Village was a compromise. [Karen] We’d been together five years and we wanted to go somewhere fresh.
Jeff, you grew up in a geodesic dome in Baptist Town, New Jersey. Two domes. One was very open, 16 feet high. You could see all the way to the top.
Roofs that aren’t flat can be terrifying. Once I was in a teepee; it was in my youth. Though it may have been one of those motels that were made to look like teepees. Anyway, looking up into that narrow, rising darkness of a space becoming smaller and higher, it was like being pushed out, away from the world and, well, it was . . . difficult. The other dome was divided into rooms. My parents built the domes from a kit. They had a barn raising. That was before I was born—1972. My parents wrote a book about modular homes.
Here’s the book—Good Shelter—there’s a photo of your father in a corduroy jacket. I did a little research myself. So let me be the professor: the geodesic dome was made popular by Buckminster Fuller, the great genius, who said true revolutions have to involve design insights and not just be about shallow political rhetoric. He said the geodesic dome is the lightest, strongest, most cost-effective structure ever devised. If you had some toothpicks, we could build a model one right now. It is proportionally lighter and stronger the larger it is. Fuller believed the dome would make it possible to take care of everybody at a higher standard of living than ever known. He wrote 28 books. Einstein said to him, “Young man, you amaze me.” In his later years, Fuller stripped down to a simple life so he could be more energy efficient and ate only steak and cottage cheese. I haven’t read all his books, but he just seems to undercut everyone’s chatter about how “Oh God, we could have saved $200 if we lived on the left side of Carroll Gardens and rented in the second month of February” or something. I wonder what he would have done with Manhattan today? I heard he wanted to put a big dome over midtown in 1950. Reading all this, I got inspired. Maybe we should mow down all the tenements—excuse me if I sound like Robert Moses. But enough with the cobblestones and Dutch history and let’s just set up thousands of domes for everyone to live in—domes on Fifth Avenue, in the Bronx, on the waterfront. . . . [Jeff] Domes like the one I grew up in are meant for low density. Our domes had to be shingled. They leaked.