Posted by: wadahp | October 20, 2009

STYLE GUIDE: GEODESIC DOMES

Originally invented in Germany in 1922, Geodesic Domes did not see widespread use until the mid 1970s when prefabricated kits enticed a generation of do-it-yourselfers. Companies such as Cathedralite Domes and Oregon Domes, provided many of the kits for structures here in the Pacific Northwest. Geodesic Domes are often identified with the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, and became popular after inventor, architect, engineer, and mathematician R. Buckminster Fuller, lectured world-wide on the potential use and efficiency of the structure. Fuller had received an American patent for the design in 1954.

The basic spherical shape of a Geodesic Dome is derived from a complex engineering system of triangular frames, often called “space frames”. The frames are made by joining triangular-shaped panels in such way as to form a dome-shaped building in which all planes or facets, are straight, flat surfaces. The frames, usually made of wood or tubular metal, create a self-reinforcing roof and siding unit all in one structure. This eliminates the need for any internal supports or “load-bearing” walls.

Depending on the size, most domes could be assembled by a few unskilled men with simple tools in a couple of days. For construction, the panels are bolted together, then finished materials are installed on the inside and outside. Typical domes for residential applications range in size from 26’ to 39’ in diameter. Larger domes for commercial and institutional applications can span up to hundreds of feet in diameter. The Tacoma Dome, at 530’ in diameter, is the largest public Geodesic Dome in the world.

Geodesic Dome frames can be clad in a variety of materials from asphalt to cedar singles on smaller buildings, to metal or plastic sheets on large exhibit or recreational facilities. Skylights were often installed, and can be found on any surface as long as they are within the basic triangular frame. Dormers, copulas, and flat-roofed wings can be also found. Geodesic Domes have been used for just about every building type from playground equipment to military radar stations, to civic and recreation buildings, exhibition attractions, and single family homes. While thousands have been built and are still being manufactured today, the use of Geodesic Domes achieved only limited popularity. Most were built in isolation as single structures.

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  1. […] a bank in Vancouver to a business center in Kennewick. An earlier piece in the series looked at geodesic domes around the state. It’s amazing what you can find roving the byways with a digital camera. I […]


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