Geodesic domes have been reborn. Soon you might even be parking in one.
By Diane Pham
The geodesic dome certainly looks cool, but did you know it’s also one of the most energy-efficient and robust constructions around? This stunning structure was invented by legendary American architect Buckminster Fuller in the 1950s, after which geodesic dome-inspired design started popping up all over the world—for military radar stations, civic buildings, banks and exhibition attractions. Though interest in it eventually faded with the rest of the “spaceship” architectural vernacular of its time, the Bucky-inspired style has seen a resurgence over the last few years as designers look to more eco-friendly, durable modes of building that have a unique aesthetic. Today we’re seeing geodesic domes in everything from modern houses and private studios to high-tech museums and personal garages. They’re perfect safe havens for cutting-edge cars like the 2014 Chevrolet Impala, whose elegant cocoon-like interior they mirror.
Buckminster Fuller’s design for the geodesic dome came about during his stint at Black Mountain College in North Carolina back in 1949. Though the geodesic dome was technically first invented by Dr. Walther Bauersfeld nearly 30 years earlier, Fuller fully refined the idea, patented it and popularized the structure all over the world.
Undoubtedly a beautiful form that can’t help but glimmer in the light—like your Impala—the geodesic dome is also incredibly functional. Because it uses tensegrity—which optimizes the relationship and balance between tension and compression—it has relatively little mass. And its shape is conducive to substantial rigidity, so it can sustain its own weight with no practical limits. These characteristics, coupled with the minimal materials needed to construct these domes, made them popular building alternatives in the ’60s and ’70s. In fact, geodesic domes have been dubbed the most efficient structural design ever conceived. They require approximately one-third less surface area than a rectilinear structure of similar size, and don’t need any interior support. Their rounded interiors help regulate interior temperatures and their curved exterior surfaces allow wind to move easily around the building, mitigating potential damage caused by storms. In Antarctica, geodesic domes have stood for decades, resisting winds of up to 200 miles per hour.
Domes have also been known to survive earthquakes, fires and hurricanes. One such structure located on a beach in Pensacola, Florida—a home utilizing just a half sphere of concrete and steel—has withstood four catastrophic hurricanes.
The Dali Museum on the coast of St. Petersburg, Florida, designed by internationally renowned architects HOK, features a beautiful geodesic-inspired atrium that maximizes function and form. The structure not only allows natural light to permeate throughout all the spaces, but also can withstand a Category 5 hurricane. Funnily enough, Salvador Dali and Buckminster Fuller were friends back in the day—they surely would have appreciated this design.
Geodesic domes have found lots of fans on a smaller scale as well, among those looking to create modern, detached constructions like sheds, backyard retreats and, yes, personal garages. Today anyone can buy a dome kit or dome plans, from companies such as Pacific Domes, Timberline Geodesic Dome, Sonostar Domes, Aidomes and Natural Spaces Domes. While they may look complicated to construct, most of these domes can be assembled DIY-style with the help of friends or family in just a few days—and they can even be expanded if you need space for an additional car.
Buckminster Fuller hoped that his geodesic dome would one day take the built landscape by storm, and with cool kits and creative minds ready to try something new, who knows? It might still happen.
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Diane Pham is a senior editor at Inhabitat and a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, NY. She tweets @dianepham.