Pyramid House Design Notes

This page was written July 1997. Once I get all the stuff I want in here, I'll organize it better, so please excuse the lack of continuity, etc. Thanks, --jm

A number of people have written to me expressing interest in building a pyramid house. I do not have plans to offer, or engineering studies. Nor can I help with your local approval process!

Here is The Man, an Architect who specializes in Pyramid houses and structures: Ron Hexum! Here is Ron's website.

I've heard that there was a book published on building a pyramid house, but I've been unable to locate anything about it. I have my own designs and preliminary structural analysis for them. From that experience (c1976), I offer this page of suggestions.

Structural Engineering

Till recently I've thought that wood beams and steel brackets would be the way to go for 2-4+ storys. But the trees need a rest, so I've begun thinking in terms of steel-framing, using wood only where you'd personally come in contact with it, like certain floors. However, it looks like the steel framing industry is just trying to compete with traditional contruction methods (I may be wrong of course). Most steel & glass pyramids are built using a space-truss technique that may not be appropriate for residential designs either.

I'd also like the design to be as modular as possible - meaning employing unconventional techniques, which may make the whole thing very hard to finance.

Small pyramids made of Wood Beams and Steel Brackets

Typical construction of this size pyramid is split-beam with steel brackets. The end of each beam has a kerf cut into it so that it can rcv a steel bracket. The sides of the end of each beam have flat plates with holes for bolting though the beam and bracket.

I think you'd only need four corner brackets and an apex bracket, maybe something half-way up each side for some minor members to carry the framing members. I have designed such brackets. They aren't patented, but there is nothing particularly special about them - I see similar construction all around.

Shape and Space

The initial response to the notion of a pyramid house is usually Wouldn't there be a lot of wasted space? Perhaps. Wasted if you compare the space (volume and floorspace) that you would have in a 3 story box vs a 3 story pyramid of the same height. However, single family houses today are typically 2 story at best.

Pyramids present the interesting challenge of how to use the decreasingly smaller floors for different functions.

The pyramid shape forces you to go up, and use vertical space, but without casting a box-like shadow, etc.

The surface-to-volume ratio is not that much difference from a dome. (A tetrahedral pyramid is very bad however).

While it may seem that you lose space due to the inward-sloping sides, the space can be used for a variety of shelves, drawers, and applicances, even raceways for heating, plumbing, electrical and other systems.

There are so many design possibilities, the combinations for using the space inside a pyramid are limitless.

So, it is not (in my opinion) a matter of wasted space, just different ways of using different space. From our living in boxes, we tend to think in terms of stand-up room — floor space where you can stand up. However (for example) you typically don't need to stand up where your television sits, and so on.

The larger the pyramid, the less the ratio of lost standup space to the overall floor space of the building. In fact, for very large pyramids, there is essentially none, but more of the space is interior space, so you can have an inner atrium, such as the Luxor in Las Vegas.

I like the fact that the roof and sides are the one and the same. The roof goes all the way to the ground, and you have no siding to worry about or paint. Windows and doors become your main challenge.

Gutters are just above ground level (assuming a level site), not two or three stories above ground!

I designed a very small single bedroom 2-story pyramid on a 32' base using conventional energy systems. Big enough for one or two persons... but a big foot print!

A 52' base would yield a 3+ story pyramid. I planned a 1250 sq ft garden on the ground floor (half the base), and a 2 car garage, and a 'system' room on the base. Leaving room for 2 large bedrooms, a kitchen, and an open space (¼ of the 2nd floor) over the garden space. The 3rd floor was atleast 24' square. There would be room for a crows nest or observatory above the 3rd floor. Eliminating the garden and garage, etc, you would have a huge amount of space, so perhaps something smaller than 52' would work for a house.

I think that a copper roof would be cool, and I don't think that it would create a negative effect.

Real Pyramid Houses

There are a couple pyramid houses, notably the Onan house in Gurnee, IL. (See main page). There is evidently one in the hills above Los Angeles, but I don't have any data on it yet.


Are you planning to build this within the city limits - or meeting local building codes? If so — check around. Some places wouldn't know what to do with the plans. You'll certainly need a certified architect to draw up the plans, and since s/he may have no way to figure loads, etc, they'll probably over-engineer it.

If you are thinking about building a pyramid house, please write and tell me about what you might want to have in your house, anything unique about integrating the pyramid into its environment, the building site, timeframe, use of materials, etc. Whatever you do, please keep in touch. I would like to track all such projects.

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