The Inspired Design Of The Geodesic Dome

Some of the greatest inventions throughout history were really discoveries of existing phenomena that pre-dated the inventors. This is true for R. Buckminster Fuller’s design of the geodesic dome. The properties of the geodesic dome can be found in microscopic molecules as well as in structures encompassing skyscrapers. The story of how these structures came to be begins with one man’s humble life and expands into the worlds of architecture, physics, and spirituality.




Buckminster Fuller was interested in the geodesic dome because of it’s inherent properties of strength, stability and efficiency. These structures enclose the greatest amount of volume using the least amount of surface area.




Buckminster Fuller spent much of the 20th Century looking for ways to improve human shelter. A geodesic dome is a spherical structure composed of triangular elements forming part of a network of circles, or ‘geodesics’, on the surface. When used in architecture, this creates an extraordinarily strong abode which, even when made with lightweight materials, can withstand hurricanes and earthquakes.




When compared with a similar sized rectangular-shaped house, a dome home has 30 percent less surface area, which results in 1/3 less lumber needed to build it. Even though the dome uses less material, it’s about five times stronger than a rectangular-shaped house.




The spherical structure is one of the most efficient interior atmospheres for human dwellings because air and energy are allowed to circulate without obstruction. This allows heating and cooling to occur naturally, maintaining temperatures even in places with the most extreme climates. They are said to be 30-50% more energy efficient.




These homes have also proven to be practically disaster proof. When the Loma Prieta earthquake in the Santa Cruz mountains hit in 1989, the only home to survive the quake in the area was a geodesic dome home, and it was quickly set up as a shelter for survivors. Time and time again, dome homes have survived earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes when all other homes were destroyed.




One of the most famous geodesic domes ever built by Fuller was the Montreal Biosphere. At a diameter of seventy-six meters, the expansive sphere reaches an astounding sixty-two meters into the sky and thoroughly dominates the island on which it is located. The volume contained within it is so spacious that it comfortably fits a seven-story building.




For twelve years, Fuller himself lived in a geodesic dome home in Illinois. Recently added to the National Register of Historic Places, the home is a prime example of the dome at work in a private residence.




“I did not set out to design a geodesic dome,” Fuller once said, “I set out to discover the principles operative in the Universe.” The molecule pictured above is called a Buckminsterfullerene affectionately nicknamed the Bucky Ball. The molecule’s name is a reference to Buckminster Fuller, because it resembles his trademark geodesic domes. It is evidence that the design conforms to basic laws of nature. Buckminsterfullerene molecules have been detected far out in deep space as well as on earth. His design is, quite literally, universal.




Looking back on the marvels that Fuller created it is easy to loose sight of the man amongst his creations. Here’s an interesting story about his humble beginnings which I would like to leave you with. As Buckminster Fuller himself told it; when he was 32 he had a wife and new born child and was living in Chicago. He was a hopeless drinker after the death of his first daughter with little ability to provide for his new family. On one of his long walks through the city streets he was pondering his situation and he found himself on the banks of Lake Michigan. In his misery he considered drowning himself. At least then, he thought, his family could collect some insurance money.


Before he could lunge into the water he suddenly found himself enclosed in a “sparkling white sphere of light.” Time appeared to stop while he listened to a voice speaking directly to him. Although the experience was difficult for the pragmatic Fuller to accept as reality, he remembered not resisting and allowing himself to savor it fully. Because of this, he was able to remember the exact words he heard. The voice declared, “From now on you need never await temporal attestation to your thought. You think the truth.” It continued, “You do not have the right to eliminate yourself. You do not belong to you. You belong to Universe. Your significance will remain forever obscure to you, but you may assume that you are fulfilling your role if you apply yourself to converting your experiences to the highest advantage of others.” This is an excerpt from L. Steven Sieden’s book Buckminster Fuller’s Universe. You can read more about it if you click here.


Buckminster Fuller is also credited with creating the term “synergetics” – a form of geometry based on the patterns of energy seen in nature. The structural principles behind the dome are based on the natural system of humans and trees. The framework of self bracing triangles became the most economical structure ever designed for it’s time. Thanks Bucky!