American Masters Buckminster Fuller: Thinking Out Loud

Geodesic Domes
by J. Baldwin

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Domes have been around for centuries. What makes geodesic domes different?

Efficiency. A sphere is already efficient: it encloses the most volume with the least surface. Thus, any dome that is a portion of a sphere has the least surface through which to lose heat or intercept potentially damaging winds.

A geodesic dome uses a pattern of self-bracing triangles in a pattern that gives maximum structural advantage, thus theoretically using the least material possible. (A "geodesic" line on a sphere is the shortest distance between any two points.)

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Local loads are distributed throughout the geodesic dome, utilizing the entire structure. Geodesic domes get stronger, lighter (qt movie, 2.6mb, no sound), and cheaper per unit of volume as their size increases--just the opposite of conventional building.

Bucky cooled critics by erecting enormous geodesic domes of many different designs, very quickly--sometimes in mere hours instead of months or years. Serving atop mountains, sheltering Arctic radar installations, and even covering the South Pole, they have proved to be the strongest structures ever devised. Earthquakes cannot damage them unless the ground opens up and swallows the foundation (or it is undermined, as the South Pole dome has been.) There has been no report of hurricane damage of a properly designed geodesic dome; indeed, they are demonstrations of more-with-less, or "ephemeralization," as Bucky liked to say. The best ones are proportionally thinner than a chicken egg shell is to the egg.

More volume is sheltered by Bucky's domes than by the work of any other architect.

This open-air geodesic dome, the headquarters for ASM International, was completed in 1960. It stands 103 feet high and 250 feet in diameter. They also have a web site.