Homebrewed Dome

Did you know that the geodesic dome is the only man-made structure (apart from, maybe, a "spirit vibe") that gets proportionally stronger as it increases in size? Truth: of all known structures made out of linear elements, a geodesic dome has the highest enclosed volume to weight ratio. It is no secret to my intimates that if I ever earn enough money to own anything, I will have a home with a room-sized dome inside of it, and inside of this dome I will hang a globe of Earth, and there will be a crystal bowl of fruits in the center.

Buckminster Fuller, incidentally, didn't invent the geodesic dome. That privilege is reserved for a certain Walter Bauersfeld, who built a like-structured planetarium right after World War One. Bucky, to be fair, may have absorbed the idea from cultural osmosis independently of Bauersfeld, and he did the rest. It is to him that we owe the word "geodesic," in any case. To think of young Buck and his friends at Black Mountain College, hanging like children from the early dome's struts, euphoric in the face of tensegrity, is heartwarming.

Wanting to experience a shadow of this joy, I set out to build my own dome, albeit on a smaller scale. I gathered an armful of the Pacific Northwest's twigs from Portland's Forest Park -- taking care to gather slender, sturdy branches -- and brought them home, where they were each whittled and sanded to the appropriate density.

Photo by Sarah Meadows

Following the invaluable guidelines of Desert Domes, which, despite its deeper Burning Man aesthetic, provides a simple strut-length calculator and ample mathematical formulae, I decided on a relatively simple 2V structure (the "V" represents the structure's chord factor). This meant that I needed only two strut sizes, and hence I cut my twigs accordingly, into 3" and 3.5" lengths. After that, I followed a diagram and carefully pieced it together. The glue was tricky: my original call of using polyurethane was a disaster, since it dries to rigid immovability. I disassembled and started again with rubber cement, which provided the necessary flexibility. The whole project took me weeks, which is probably about as long as it would take to construct a human-sized geodesic home.

The structure surprised me on many occasions; despite my shoddy craftsmanship, it held itself up without support very early in the construction. A moment of revelation, too, occurred midway through the process. Now building the dome firsthand, I suddenly understood that the edges of all the small triangles make up larger, remarkable circles -- "great circles," they're called -- that distribute stress across the sphere. These circles are the geodesics, and where they intersect, triangles are born. The beauty of this interconnectedness, once I saw it, was striking.

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Oh, shit!! Awesome. I saw some web how-tos about newspaper domes for schoolroom projects. That's so great that you did it!

sleep inside a giant geodesic dome-dream catcher. rule the night. i know you can do it

Have you come across Christopher Alexander? He's another good, wacko architect. And Shelter by Kahn and Easton is in this vein but more grounded. Nader Khalili also does simple structures. http://www.calearth.org/EcoDome.htm