Dome Building

Drop City Chicken Coop

Whenever the entwined notions of sustainability, green building, environmentalism and the lingering remains of the 60s counterculture address architecture and the places we live in, inevitably Buckminster Fuller influenced forms seem to just spring from the landscape like mushrooms after a particularly wet winter. Perhaps the idealism of folks interested in saving the world, especially do-it-yourself types, lends itself to visionary solutions. But these same dome building visionaries are also known for leaky, impractical, expensive and ugly geodesic domes draped in ill-fitting brown asphalt roofing material.

There are some basic problems with domes. The primary one is that, like it or not, building materials tend to come in 4 by 8 foot dimensions or some even numbered and square shaped variation. This makes Buckminster Fuller’s complex geodesic shapes very impractical to build, at least if you care about cost and wasted materials. The other problem is that people, especially Westerners are square. We sit, stand and lay down–for the most part all 90º activities. Our square and vertical beds, chairs and tables reflect this reality. Square people with their square furniture tend not to fit well in the round shape of your typical hippie dome. This is not to mention all those complex angles involved in building the damn things, and the fact that all of these intersecting angles will someday leak. And we can’t also forget the embarrassing possibilities of the whispering dome effect, where the shape of the dome acts as a sound reflector, bouncing intimate sounds from one end of your domed domicile to the other.

The Integratron

But domes have an undeniable beauty, a pureness of form and it’s no coincidence that domes are often used for religions temples and governmental buildings. Homegrown Revolution was lucky to be able to visit one of the more eccentric domes in the world, UFO contactee George Van Tassel’s enigmatic Integratron, located in Landers California. The Integratron, originally built as a sort of cosmic healing device or perhaps as a time machine, is a startling dome build entirely out of wood without a single nail.

So having spent a delightful hour in the Integratron, we thought we’d do a quick roundup of domes for all the DIY visionaries out there.

First off, Homegrown Revolution reader andrewed tipped us off to C.E. Henderson’s Conic Shelterâ„¢. Henderson has devised an attractive not-really-a-dome form that works with, rather than against the ubiquitous 4 x 8′ sheet of plywood.

The Zome dome is a geometrical form that also works better with standard building materials. It’s most popular in rural France, but there are numerous examples in North America, as well as a children’s toy that looks like fun. Passive solar guru Steve Baer is responsible both for the Zome as architecture and toy.

For those who want to get busy in the backyard and construct a simple dome out of scavenged materials, here’s a great resource.

And on also on the simpler end of the visionary spectrum we have this humble geodesic chicken coop.

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  1. While we worked to modernize our method of doing the graph-paper structural designs that we got to try since we were old enough to draw, my cousin and I had the 60-agin-90 argument in junior high. Now he’s an engineer [90]; I’m an applied-art ist. If reasoning about small things is, really is, so indicative… it’s no wonder people want so badly to pigeonhole significances and leave them at that.

    From what little I know about Fuller – heavily consistent of the book BuckyWorks plus some criticism by physicist friends – your presentation could be more delightful (it’s well written though). Modern architecture is deservedly known for the leaky rooves it created in trying to free itself from traditional plebeian gabled surface. In Fuller’s own designs, in contrast to the kits and asphalt-shingle geodesic jobs, he thought that trying to keep each seam watertight was not only futile but misdirected effort; his Dymaxion house anticipated putting thin chutes under the radial joints. They would fill a cistern when they emptied into a rain gutter around the interior base of the roof panels. In stead of ignoring builders’ waste from 4×8 panels, he was faced with keeping (for instance) Beechcraft’s enormous wartime bomber factories from going to waste afterwards, and he very much wanted to use that opportunity in order to reform the entire housing industry while he was at it. Round, icosahedric or hexagonal modules were important because they were tuned with cables under tension. What I mean is that they could be built with many times less material [than shelters of normal stick-built compression squares] because their skeletons actively redistributed structural stresses pulled from one component across the whole ensemble’s strength. This matters because it let a building remain lightweight enough to be delivered by air to any town in the nation and anywhere in the world whether or not terrain or weather conditions allow ground access or ground construction. Fuller always specified light, high-energy-cost, next-to-no-maintenance aluminum because continuing to do shelter out of wood and caulk, as in your examples, struck him as immobile, planned obsolescence. Balloon-frame homebuilders and hippie domes alike reflect that reality.

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