When you think of Bucky Fuller, you think of the dome. What really appealed to Bucky was the fact that a geodesic dome’s interlocking triangular beams were far stronger than their rectangular counterparts. When you apply pressure to one side of a rectangle it buckles under the weight and folds in on itself. A triangle, on the other hand, distributes the pressure more evenly and can handle greater loads. True to Bucky's environmental ideals, the dome also proved to be incredibly energy efficient. Aside from simply requiring less building materials, the concave design of the dome allows for a natural airflow within the structure, thus minimizing the need for central ducts. According to the Oregon Dome Company, the net annual energy savings for a dome owner is 30% less than normal rectilinear structure!
The Dome Home
After World War II, the United States faced a housing shortage for returning military veterans. The US government heard that Bucky had developed a prototype for a single family dwelling that could be set up rapidly and installed anywhere. When an official flew to Wichita, Kansas to see the house, the man reportedly gasped, "My God! This is the house of the future!"
Unfortunately, the mass production of dome homes was not to be. Complications arose because only union contractors were able to hook houses up to water, power, and sewage systems in many cities. Since many of the homes came preinstalled with these features, union trade companies wouldn’t work on them. There was also a difference in vision between Bucky and the shareholders. Bucky believed the house was a work in progress, while the shareholders wanted to get the house to market as fast as possible. These two issues made it impossible for the the dome home to get funding from any major bank and US housing shortage was solved by different companies. Who knows, if things had been different we could all be living in our very own dome home right now!
The Missouri Botanical Garden’s Climatron was perhaps the greatest use of Bucky’s geodesic dome design. In 1959 the Garden was celebrating its 100th year anniversary and, as you can imagine, some of the buildings were out of date. The board of trustees wanted something bold and dramatic to boost attendance, and the beauty of the geodesic dome was the perfect choice.
Designed by the architecture firm Murphy and Mackey (but based on Bucky’s idea), the Missouri Climatron was completed in 1970 and was the first geodesic dome to be built from aluminum rods and tubes. The tropical forest in the dome spans half an acre, and at its highest the dome reaches 70 feet. In 1976 the Climatron was named one of the 100 most significant achievements in US architectural history.
To learn more about Buckminster Fuller and his ideas, including other geodesic domes he designed and a whole lot more, be sure to check out Buckminster Fuller: Poet of Geometry. Happy World Environment Day!