The geodesic dome was developed by the American engineer and architect Richard Buckminster Fuller in the late 1940s. Geodesic domes are sphere-like structures consisting of a network of triangles which provide a self-balancing structural framework whilst using minimal materials. The word geodesic is Latin and means 'earth dividing'.
Buckminster Fuller designed the geodesic dome following World War II as part of his experimentation to create affordable and efficient housing that could be built quickly from mass-produced parts. They tend to be lightweight and easy to assemble and can enclose large areas without requiring internal columns like many other structures.
In 1953 Buckminster Fuller designed the first commercial dome for the Ford Motor Company headquarters in Michigan, and he received a patent for the dome in 1954. He also supplied a large number of domes to the US military where they were used to cover radar stations (radomes) at installations around the Arctic Circle.
Geodesic domes are efficient structures in several ways:
- They are based on a network of triangles which are very stable shapes. For example if a force is applied to the corner of a triangle, it will retain its form, whereas other shapes, such as rectangles will be distort. This means that geodesic dome buildings are strong and resistant to forces such as snow loading, earthquakes, wind, and so on.
- The structural efficiency of geodesic domes means that they require less material than conventional buildings.
- For the volume that they enclose, geodesic domes have a much smaller surface area than traditional 'box-shaped' buildings. This means there is a reduced area exposed to external temperature changes which means they can be less expensive to heat and cool.
- The construction of geodesic domes can be very fast, and may not require the use of heavy equipment. This buildability can be further enhanced through the use of prefabricated components.
 Uses of geodesic domes
It is believed that there are more than 300,000 geodesic domes around the world today. They can be constructed in a variety of sizes, with the largest being 216m in diameter (the Fukuoka Dome, a baseball stadium in Japan) making them suitable for a wide range of uses:
- Sports stadiums.
- Exhibition halls.
- Children’s playgrounds.
- Emergency shelters.
- Military shelters.
With a large range of size, the construction materials used for geodesic domes vary widely. For simple, movable structures, timber, PVC or galvanized steel frames covered with a thin architectural membrane (such as PVC polyester or ETFE foil) can be used. Larger, more permanent structures such as sports stadiums have been constructed with aluminium and steel frames covered with copper, aluminium, acrylic, plexiglas panels and so on.
 Examples of geodesic domes
Geodesic domes can be seen around the world including:
- The American exhibit at Expo 67 in Montreal.
- The largest geodesic dome at 216m in Fukuoka in Japan.
- Epcot Centre’s Spaceship Earth centre.
- The Aviary at Queen’s Zoo in America.
- EcoCamp Patagonia hotel – the first geodesic dome hotel, constructed in Chile.
- The biomes at the Eden Project in Cornwall in the UK.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki.
- Buckminster Fuller.
- Dali Theatre and Museum.
- Habitat 67.
- The history of fabric structures.
- Thermal behaviour of architectural fabric structures
- Frei Otto.
- Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture.
- Long span roof.
- Millennium Dome.
- Nakagin Capsule Tower.
- Pendentive dome.
- The development of structural membranes.
- The thermal behaviour of spaces enclosed by fabric membranes.
- Types of dome.
Featured articles and news
Do you know all the various types of defects in brickwork?
US museum reveals plans for an installation made entirely of paper tubes.
Review of a book looking at how contemporary architecture found its expression within neoliberal capitalism.
The Great Mosque of Djenne, the largest mud-brick building in the world.
Amanda Clack, RICS President offers recommendations to government on Brexit and the construction skills shortage.
Tired of the commute? This architecture firm believes the best solution is to take cars underground.
Why do so many women leave engineering? Probably not for the reason you’re thinking.
For over 30 years David Trench was one of the UK's leading project managers. Read about his career through some of his most famous projects.
Leading institutes join forces calling for property flood resilience measures to help householders avoid repeat flooding.
CITB publish new report calling for the development of new skills standards for offsite construction.
Residents of neighbouring building go to High Court claiming viewing platform infringes their human rights.
If only Easter eggs came as large as this one in a Japanese bird sanctuary.