Geodesic Domes

R. Buckminster Fuller spent much of the early 20th Century looking for ways to improve human shelter by:

  • Applying modern technological know-how to shelter construction.
  • Making shelter more comfortable and efficient.
  • Making shelter more economically available to a greater number of people.

After acquiring some experience in the building industry and discovering the traditional practices and perceptions which severely limit changes and improvements in construction practices, Fuller carefully examined, and improved, interior structure equipment, including the toilet (similar to the ones now used in airplanes), the shower (which cleans more efficiently using less water), and the bathroom as a whole. He studied structure shells, and devised a number of alternatives, each less expensive, lighter, and stronger than traditional wood, brick, and stone buildings.

He could do this, in part, because newer building materials were available, and partly because his structures use the principle of tension instead of the usual compression. About these homes, Fuller writes in 1928, "These new homes are structured after the natural system of humans and trees with a central stem or backbone, from which all else is independently hung, utilizing gravity instead of opposing it. This results in a construction similar to an airplane, light, taut, and profoundly strong." (4D Timelock)

In 1944, the United States suffered a serious housing shortage. Government officials knew that Fuller had developed a prototype single family dwelling which could be produced rapidly, using the same equipment which had previously built war-time airplanes. They could be "installed" anywhere, the way a telephone is installed, and with little additional difficulty. When one official flew to Wichita, Kansas to see this house, which Beech Aircraft and Fuller built, the man reportedly gasped, "My God! This is the house of the future!"

Soon, unsolicited checks poured in from people who wanted to purchase this new kind of house, but Fuller was never able to get it into full production. This was due to many obstacles such as only union contractors were able to hook the houses up to water, power and sewers in many cities. However, because the houses were already wired and had the plumbing installed by the aircraft company, many construction trade unions made it clear that they would not work on the houses. There were also in-house differences between Fuller and the stockholders. Fuller did not feel the house design was complete; there were problems he wanted to fix. But the stockholders wanted to move ahead. However, the main obstruction was obtaining the financing for the tooling costs, which were purposfully not included in the negotiations with Beech. No bank would finance the project with union problems and stockholder battles.

After the war, Fuller's efforts focused on the problem of how to build a shelter which is so lightweight, it can be delivered by air. Shelter should be mobile which would require great breakthroughs in the weight-reduction of the materials. Technology would have to follow nature's design as seen by the spider's web which can float in a hurricane because of its high strength-to-weight ratio. New shelter would have to be designed that incorporates these principles and that was Fuller's intent.

The Concepts Behind the Dome

One of the ways Buckminster Fuller ("Bucky") would describe the differences in strength between a rectangle and a triangle would be to apply pressure to both structures. The rectangle would fold up and be unstable but the triangle withstands the pressure and is much more rigid--in fact the triangle is twice as strong. This principle directed his studies toward creating a new architectural design, the geodesic dome, based also upon his idea of "doing more with less." Fuller discovered that if a spherical structure was created from triangles, it would have unparalleled strength.

The sphere uses the "doing more with less" principle in that it encloses the largest volume of interior space with the least amount of surface area thus saving on materials and cost. Fuller reintroduced the idea that when the sphere's diameter is doubled it will quadruple its square footage and produce eight times the volume.

The spherical structure of a dome is one of the most efficient interior atmospheres for human dwellings because air and energy are allowed to circulate without obstruction. This enables heating and cooling to occur naturally. Geodesic shelters have been built all around the world in different climates and temperatures and still they have proven to be the most efficient human shelter one can find.

More specifically, the dome is energy efficient for many reasons:

  • Its decreased surface area requires less building materials.
  • Exposure to cold in the winter and heat in the summer is decreased because, being spherical, there is the least surface area per unity of volume per structure.
  • The concave interior creates a natural airflow that allows the hot or cool air to flow evenly throughout the dome with the help of return air ducts.
  • Extreme wind turbulence is lessened because the winds that contribute to heat loss flow smoothly around the dome.
  • It acts like a type of giant down-pointing headlight reflector and reflects and concentrates interior heat. This helps prevent radiant heat loss.

The net annual energy savings for a dome owner is 30% less than normal rectilinear homes according to the Oregon Dome Co. This is quite an improvement and helps save the environment from wasted energy. Domes have been designed by Bucky and others to withstand high winds and extreme temperatures as seen in the Polar regions.

Many dome manufacturers on the list in this section offer various designs in geodesic dome housing with little assembly time required. Some houses can be assembled in less than a day with others taking up to six months. Many also come in dome kits that you can build yourself or with the help of friends. The options are many. It all depends on how complex you want the design to be. Please feel free to contact them for more information.

The Public's First View of the Domes

R. Buckminster Fuller's first world wide acceptance by the architectural community occurred with the 1954 Triennale where his cardboard dome was displayed for the first time. The Milan Triennale was established to stage international exhibitions aimed to present the most innovative accomplishments in the fields of design, crafts, architecture and city planning.

The theme for 1954 was Life Between Artifact and Nature: Design and the Environmental Challenge which fit in perfectly with Bucky's work. Bucky had begun efforts towards the development of a Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science which he defined as, "the effective application of the principles of science to the conscious design of our total environment in order to help make the Earth's finite resources meet the needs of all humanity without disrupting the ecological processes of the planet." The cardboard shelter that was part of his exhibit could be easily shipped and assembled with the directions printed right on the cardboard. The 42-foot paperboard Geodesic was installed in old Sforza garden in Milan and came away with the highest award, the Gran Premio.

Fuller's domes gained world wide attention upon his Italian premiere and by that time the U.S. military had already begun to explore the options of using domes in their military projects because they needed speedy but strong housing for soldiers overseas. With the interest of the military and coming away from the 1954 Triennale with the Gran Premio, domes began to gain in public appeal and exposure.

*ASM Materials Park Dome and Climatron Dome designed by TC Howard of Synergetics, Inc.