3: Collected sketches, cuttings, pictures and genesis of a pitch


Here is a picture of my assembled cuttings, sketches and musings on geodesic domes and alternative building technologies:

IMG_5101You can see there is a fantastic element to some of the designs, especially the aquatic domes – as an outlet from the mundane task of actually manufacturing geodesic domes, it became clear that the possibilities for inhabitation were endless. With my mentor Patrick Martin, I spent hours theorising, modelling, dreaming and philosophising about the practical applications of dome technology. I’d like to stress here the term practical – while the term “practical application” may seem a little less than fanciful, this is merely a tacit appreciation that once constructed, the built environment is completely open to the inhabitant to inhabit as they see fit.

You may also note the pamphlets by Oregon Domes, an American company that builds pre-fabricated domes to order. Their catalogs are very comprehensive, and make use of combinations of domes of different sizes, riser walls and regular rectilinear architecture to ease the customer into thinking they aren’t completely buying some crazy hippie dwelling. Great for looking at pictures of American decor of the 1970s…

During our dome-building, Patrick and I fielded numerous queries about the domes we built, and were often given options for what the domes could be used for – as we rarely used them for any one identifiable thing (often they were a mix of workshop, hangout, recording studio/practice, sleeping space, “men’s shed”, studio etc etc depending on the time of year, visitor/guest requirements and current personal orientation/interest) this seemed to prompt people to “fill in the gaps” as if we really hadn’t considered giving them an actual “use”. We heard that they could be soundproofed as recording studios, used for workshops, meditation cells, granny flats, dojos/physical training, crèches, artist’s studios, greenhouses, chicken coops, libraries/studies, cafés, market stalls, barracks, disaster shelters, motor workshops, stables for livestock, planting sheds. Our favourite reply when people told us what domes might be used for was “ how about a composting toilet?”

It was as if because of its unusual geometry, the dome somehow needed to be filled with interesting ideas – as if it wasn’t an interesting idea just as it was, or rather, to put it another way, that rectilinear buildings are assumed to have all manner of uses without remark, whereas these strange objects of architectural curiosity need to be somehow quantified or qualified with all manner of urbane or esoteric purposes.

Patrick likes to characterise dome-tech as “spaceship kindy” – these are the tools and habitats that are perfectly suited to extra-terrestrial and orbiting/vaccuum environments – modular, incredibly strong and able to be constructed from super-lightweight materials.

My favorite comment came from Patrick’s then teenaged son who summarised a dome as a “demountable cave”. This perfectly sums up the span of human technological innovation in architecture, and captures the simplicity and source of my fascination with domes – from caves to the stars…

And here are some photos of domes I have built…

This is a wooden frame on a 900 mm riser:


which became this – clad and including a floored second story with adult headroom:

WM9 and then this with a cupola creating a third story:


Here’s the dome used at the reception of my wedding:

WD5looking somewhat bedraggled here:


A tiny, tiny greenhouse, used years later in my pitch for this course:


Our workshop getting a riser put on:


to look like this:


The two post-apocalyptic trash domes “blending in” to the neighborhood:


A more people-sized propagating greenhouse used at my brother’s house for a number of years before being removed to make way for a deck:



My nieces and nephew spent a lot of fun hours in this:
CD5 and my son regularly makes us go and eat lunch/breakfast/random meals in this – frame manufactured by Adam “Art” Hughes, cladding, external blister and floor by yours truly:

photo-2 copy


Here’s a cardboard dome that shows the possibilities of a panel approach – it is possible to remove the corner area of each panel without losing structural integrity, this also provides welcome opportunities for air vents or insertion of utilities:domelampshade I even take time to turn playing with my son into dome tech tinkering like this, recreating a scene from Cars:


or this:


And finally, here’s a random pic of a wistful niece at the threshold of a beautifully accessorized dome, and perhaps the threshold of a bright future of geodesic architecture:




2: Domes in popular culture

 So, Domes are obviously way cool, but does popular culture think so too?

* Bob the Builder does: http://www.bobthebuilder.com/ca/english/flash/activities/Stories14.swf

In the BBC children’s television show Bob the Builder, Bob enters a competition to win a contract to develop Sunflower Valley – a nearby wilderness that he used to roam as a kid. We see some of Bob’s home movie footage – a younger, barefoot, unkempt tie-dye wearing Bob camping and enjoying the great outdoors. Bob’s competition is an architect who wants to plonk casinos, malls, high rises and motels onto the valley, which slightly perturbs Bob.

The theme for the Sunflower Valley run of episodes is Reuse, Reduce, Recycle, and it very heavy-handedly impresses these throughout the cycle. One of the architectural innovations and sustainable practices Bob implements is a geodesic dome, though sadly the dome is not exactly explained for its amazing properties per se as other sustainable practices are. Definitely a missed opportunity for educating the next generation of dome-dwellers.

* Disney does:


In the Disney movie Cars, the resident hippie in Radiator Springs is a stoner Kombi Van named Fillmore, whose fluoro psychedelically painted dome houses an alternative fuel still. This is classic dome-as-hippie icon, and even though the dome doesn’t feature heavily as a plot device, its striking colors and architecture is at sharp variance to the rest of Radiator Springs.

I’ve seen a dome in an episode of sci-fi Firefly, in the sci-horror Resident Evil 2, and of course the  terribad 1996 Biodome movie. In fact, if ever Hollywood filmmakers want to impress the viewer with a government/scientific temporary lab or research outpost – a fabric skinned dome is the way to go… They project a sense of futurism, of mystery and high-tech government or military materiel, made out of…material. This echoes the interest that the military had in Buckminster Fuller’s domes.



1: Domicile Blogs – geodesic history and my history with geodesics

The first geodesic dome was built in the 1920’s by Walther Bauersfeld in the early 1920’s for the Zeiss Company as a planetarium (http://www.physics.princeton.edu/~trothman/domes.html) – it opened publicly in 1926. Polymath, social thinker and inventor Buckminster Fuller popularised the dome and domes as homes for Americans and the world in the early 1960’s. Domes were also popular with the counterculture movement in America in the late 1960’s – the organic round shape achieved by simple triangular geometry obviously very conducive to leaving a “square” life with its rectilinear housing behind. The infamous Drop City artist commune (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drop_City) took Buckminster Fuller’s designs to heart, attempting to break away from societal norms and pressures and forge a new synergistic way of life.

I came across geodesic domes in the counter-cultural architecture bible Shelter (http://www.amazon.com/Shelter-Lloyd-Kahn/dp/0936070110) in the 1990’s as part of my interest in tree-changing, sustainability practices and alternative building methods and architecture in general. Geotecture ( http://www.bioreference.net/encyclopedia/wikipedia/g/ge/geotecture.html ) , temporary housing and nomadism equally interested me, and geodesic forms seemed to be the answer to all of these questions.

Fun story – I once manufactured a geodesic dome out of bamboo struts 3m in length, and pre-assembled the pentagonal faces for an Environmental/Activist fundraising festival in East Gippsland. A couple of the pentagons were slightly damaged en route to the festival site (transport by ex-army truck!) and it was there I learnt the name “Buckminster Fuller”. I was lampooned for having attempted to build the thing without even knowing about dear old Bucky.

Once on site, I had to wrangle the remaining pieces of bamboo (separately transported the day before) away from my fellow activists who had begun to pilfer them for every use imaginable. The dome itself collapsed under its own weight/poor construction, and the vestiges removed to a location closer to the main part of the festival as a “healing space”. Ironically, this mirrors the perhaps apocryphal story of Fuller’s own failed attempt to build a dome out of venetian blinds…

Moral of the story – make sure your structural integrity is… integrally structural. A bamboo constructed dome is not only a fantastic idea, but eminently possible, and need not be as poorly constructed as mine…