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The B.E.L.L. (Biogenic Ecodesic Living Lighthouse)


The Simple Dwelling *

For thousands of years, human beings have lived on this planet in small, humble dwellings.  It is only modem industrialization that has brought the kind of affluence which has afforded people the opportunity to live beyond their means, and has thus created a terrible consequence for future generations and the environment.

Realizing this, we cannot but praise the small house, a simple dwelling, modest, practical and comfortable. The mania that insists on having an elaborate estate, filled with all the latest automatic things is ludicrous. It is laced with entrapment. Not only does such a house have to be cleaned and cared for with hours of maintenance, but paying for it usually requires dual incomes. Young couples are buying $250,000 homes and spending 45% to 50% of their time away from it because of work and recreational activities. This makes no sense.

Home is the place where we should spend the majority of our day, caring for ourselves and one another, comfortable and content.  Instead, most of us are required to spend ten to twelve hours a day away from our homes just to pay for the necessities of life, and because of rising material and utility costs, such homes are fast becoming a luxury that few can afford. Where is the line that defines how big is big enough?

Several years ago we came across a small pamphlet by Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, published by the International Biogenic Society. Szekely describes, in general details only, a circular dwelling which he called a B.E.L.L. (Biogenic Ecodesic Living Lighthouse). We were at once fascinated. The idea was very appealing to us in that it naturally supported the kind of diet we had been working on. We saw that after working on our ability to eat a simple, natural diet, and becoming healthier as a result, the next step naturally led us to the "skill" of being able to live in a small, inexpensive, and efficient shelter.

When diet becomes simplified, and raw fruit, vegetables and sprouts are predominant in ones' diet, the need for a modem kitchen is instantly eliminated. The tiny amount of cooked food in a natural diet can be prepared by using a small alcohol stove,
such as the Trangia model, made in Sweden and available from Mountain Safety Research, P.O. Box 24547, Seattle, WA 98124. (De‑natured alcohol is an ideal fuel because it is clean burning, easily stored, produces no toxic fumes and can be extinguished with water.)  Another good investment is a Sun
Oven. It cooks rice, soups, beans, bread and almost anything  using only sunlight. No other fuel is required. The number to call for information about the Sun Oven is 800‑408‑7919.

The design of the B.E.L.L. offers one an opportunity to live in harmony with nature, rather than being insulated and shut away from it. The original design featured 24equal sides, each 2’ –0” wide so that windows could be placed all around, providing adequate lighting and airflow Szekely suggested building the B.E.L.L. using a 12"square post in the center for supporting the roof .  We used a 12" diameter log from a fallen pine tree and modified the basic design to an eight‑sided structure, approximately 20'‑0" in diameter and provided a wider door.

The building can easily be constructed with standard building materials, providing 309 square feet of living area, enough room for a kitchen sink and counter, queen‑size day bed and storage area, shelves for books and entertainment system or TV. There is also enough room to grow indoor greens and sprouts in the windows. It is ideal for a couple choosing to live a simple and modest lifestyle.

For larger families, two or more structures can be linked together to form cellular-type configurations, providing all the room necessary without waste of heat or space. Our modified B.E.L.L. is surprisingly easy to construct and as of 1999, the cost of the materials to complete the building was less than $5000. Although we had no building experience whatsoever, we have successfully built our own simple dwelling. It has been an incredible, empowering experience.

Why a BELL?

Man's rightful place is to live in partnership with nature. His body, mind and emotions are gratified only when he is in harmony with the natural world, when fresh air, organic food and simple shelter are available to him. These basics are the natural formula for happiness, offering freedom from the dissatisfaction of enormous debt, and a life of anxiety or mental desperation. Our intent has been to promote the idea of the B.E.L.L. as a workable, realistic solution for modem day homelessness and anyone wisely unwilling to go deeply into debt with thirty-year mortgages:

As we have stated before, the key to living in a B.E.L.L. is the skill of natural diet. It would be almost impossible to live in this type of dwelling without a radical change in one's diet. There is no extra space in the B.E.L.L. to accommodate the necessary equipment, appliances and storage space needed for the traditional cooked‑food American diet, such as large refrigerators, stoves, microwave ovens, bread machines, food processors, freezers, pots of every size and shape and numerous gadgets.

The following is an inspirational excerpt from Szekely's pamphlet on the B.E.L.L.

  "This ideal of simple, natural, creative living is perfectly expressed in the miniature biogenic dwelling, the B.E.L.L. The average person, with simple tools can easily build its polygonal construction. The basic building materials are easily obtained and are variable according to financial resources and local availability. The dwelling can be adapted easily to different climates. Due to the tremendous savings in labor and materials, it is accessible to virtually everyone. It is resistant to earthquakes and strong winds. Because it is constructed of identical small parts, it is very easy to repair. It requires minimal property taxes, minimal maintenance, and no expense for utilities. The lot required is the smallest possible: only a hundred square yards which may include an additional 100 square yards for a miniature orchard and vegetable garden, with the outdoor asset of a toilet. The B.E.L L. is a life generating (with its indoor green garden) and human life sustaining living unit utilizing light, heat, coolness, air, sun, water, and soil, for optimal human health, not interfering ecologically with the environment and able to recycle everything (vegetable by-products, waste paper, human solid and liquid by-products, etc.) into biodegradable, clean, useful substances belonging to the permanently moving Wheel of Life. Its shape and construction is simple and easy, it can be designed for one, two, or more persons, the cost is minimal, and to live in it in voluntary simplicity and spiritual awareness of nature, combined with intellectual creativity, leads to a symbiosis with Nature, the Spiritual, and Culture."

[The Biogenic Ecodesic Living Lighthouse, A Supplement for I.B.S. Members by
Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, Published by The International Biogenic Society, Matsqui, B.C., Canada, VOX ISO, 1988].

Szekely goes on to describe how the windows in the B.E.L.L. can easily be opened or closed, depending upon weather conditions, to allow one the opportunity to live as close to nature as possible. The amount of heat, light and ventilation can be
regulated very efficiently. In cold weather all the double insulated windows can be closed and the B.E.L.L. heated with a small wood stove for warmth and simple cooking. In summer and winter the 22 windows provide a panoramic view of all the delightful sights and sounds of nature, such as refreshing rain showers, the cool breezes of spring and fall, or the beauty of fresh, white  snowfall. 

There is little doubt that the B.E.L.L. is one of the most viable, easily constructed small dwelling designs we have ever seen. It is unfortunate that this incredible knowledge has not been widely available to the thousands of people who struggle daily in cities, trying to maintain a roof over their heads, paying outrageous fuel costs just to stay comfortable in standard box-shaped houses or apartment buildings.

Construction Details 

Szekely made it clear in his pamphlet that people should adapt the B.E.L.L. design to their own needs and environmental conditions. He didn't believe there was only one right way. So for those of us who start off without any kind of carpentry skills, it is overwhelming to know what to do. We were one such couple.

Before attempting to build a B.E.L.L., we decided to construct a tiny cabin at EarthStar. We needed the building practice, and it has served as storage for tools, a bathhouse and a place to use for weekend camping.

We worked on the cabin each weekend for about 6 months. It is a 10' x 12' building with a ½ story sleeping loft and 8' x 15' porch. We used rough-sawn, 1” X 10" boards for siding, added an aluminum roof, installed a 70‑gallon water tank in the loft and built in a gravity fed shower, sink and toilet. The total cost was $3,600.00. It provides tool storage, collects rainwater from the roof to an underground 850‑gallon cement cistern (see Plate 1) and the loft is roomy enough for a queen size bed, small table, bookshelf and clothes storage. Building this small cabin gave us the confidence we needed to begin the construction of the B.E.L.L.

We decided to modify Szekely's original idea of the B.E.L.L. Instead of a 24 sided polygonal structure, we opted for an eight‑sided, gazebo style building. Each wall, being eight feet wide, makes the building diameter.  The total square footage is approximately 309 sq. ft. The roof is insulated on the topside so we didn't have to provide a drop ceiling. Since we sheathed the open ceiling with rough sawn 1" x 8" boards, from rafter to rafter, the look and feel of the building is very rustic. 

Each wall contains (3) 2’x3’ insulated aluminum windows, except for the wall that contains the door, which has only one window. There is storage space beneath the windows either in the form of shelves or cabinets. We built a kitchen cabinet along one wall where we store our few cooking utensils as well as the alcohol stove. The cabinet has a kitchen sink with running water supplied by rainwater collected off the porch roof.  At the end of the book are detailed drawings illustrating how we constructed our biogenic dwelling. See Plates 2 & 3. 

Eventually we plan to add a bathroom, water storage tower, and a screened porch. For sleeping, there is a queen‑size bed that is built similar to a day bed, providing storage underneath. One wall is lined with shelves (below the windows) where we store books, a small TV and short‑wave radio. Above the windows, over the kitchen cabinet, are shelves for storing our jars of sprouting seeds, grains, dried herbs, spices, etc. 

The B.E.L.L. is wired both AC and DC. Lights and fans are strictly DC and a small inverter is used to run the TV, computer, and low watt appliances. Two 6 volt, deep cycle golf cart batteries and one 75 waft solar panel provide enough power capacity to run everything except the small refrigerator, which is powered by AC. Our monthly electric bill seldom exceeds $10.00 a month. 

In this kind of set-up, using modem insulation material, one propane heater or a small, electric radiant heater can provide adequate warmth at a fraction of the cost of maintaining comfort in a traditional box‑style home. Also, a simple wood stove/heater can be installed and used for simple cooking and supplying hot water as long as wood is available. 

Our little homestead provides us with the opportunity to seek refuge from city life. The dwelling is a sacred sanctuary which offers community with nature. It allows us to preserve natural resources through minimal fuel consumption and facilitates a peaceful life away from the frenzied materialism of contemporary American society. 

General List of Lumber & Building Materials

The following is a general list of standard building materials. This should serve to help one estimate the cost of construction. Whenever possible take advantage of utility grade (#3) lumber. This allowed us to save up to 7% on materials for framing. Utility grade is generally a poorer quality lumber, containing more knots or slightly less straight boards. But since the B.E.L.L. uses smaller lengths, one can minimize wasted lumber and money without much hassle using lesser grade boards. Also, if a sawmill is accessible, consider using rough sawn (1 x) pine or fir boards for siding, roof decking, trim, etc.  Generally, these can be purchased for around .50 cents per board foot.

 Framing List

  (12) Foundation block piers (concrete)
(126) 2x6x 8'‑0" deck framing and plank floor
(40) 1 x2x 8'‑0" for securing insulation beneath raised floor
(96) 2x4x 8'‑0" for wall framing (studs and header footer boards)
(16) 2x6x 8'‑0" for wall framing
(16) 2x6x 12'‑0" roof rafters
(1) 10"‑ 12" diameter post, approx. 16'‑0" long (anchored in concrete)
(145) 1 x8x 8'‑0" for siding and roof decking (rough sawn)
(1) door
(22) 2x3 insulated aluminum widows with screens
(24) 4x8 sheets of 7/16" exterior grade plywood for outside walls and roof

(144) 1 x4x 8'‑0" for inside walls and trim

Additional Materials

  • Enough insulation to cover floor, walls and roof

  • Wood putty and wood glue Screws, nails (at least 20 pounds of I OD ‑ 3" long nails)

  •  Stain

  •  Polyurethane

  •  Asphalt felt (tar paper)

  •  Enough roofing shingles to cover approx. 452 sq. ft.

  •  Small wood stove and exhaust piping

  •  Black plastic roofing cement

  •  Additional lumber for shelves, cabinets, bed frame, small table, sink, plumbing fixtures, piping

  •  2 bags of concrete for securing post

    *Update: 04/2006

    If you are a skilled carpenter, the B.E.L.L. design is wonderful and we don't have any regrets about living in it or the floor plan, etc. But, because we were very unskilled carpenters, we would not recommend the B.E.L.L. design to first time builders. 

    It is basically a large gazebo with 8 sides and that is NOT for beginners. The roof was especially difficult, with a lot of cuts and special fits and odd shaped pieces of plywood and shingles and a lot of waste. We have since learned the beauty and efficiency of post-and-beam construction and you might want to consider building a small rectangle cabin to start out with and adding on later, especially if you might be trying to build
    without getting a mortgage. 

 Pictures of the  B.E.L.L.

The B.E.L.L. Construction Plans

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