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Last edited 26 Nov 2020
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 that uses 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. The domes tend to be lightweight and easy to assemble and, in contrast to many other structural systems, can enclose large areas without requiring internal columns.
In 1953, Buckminster Fuller designed the first commercial dome for the Ford Motor Company headquarters in Michigan, after which he received a patent for the dome in 1954. He also supplied a large number of domes to the US military which used them 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. If a force is applied to the corner of a triangle, it will retain its form, whereas other shapes, such as rectangles, will distort. This means that geodesic dome buildings are strong and resistant to forces such as those from snow loads, earthquakes and wind.
- 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 and so 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 is enhanced by 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 the 216m diameter Fukuoka Dome, a baseball stadium in Japan.
They are suitable for a wide range of uses:
- Sports stadiums.
- Exhibition halls.
- Children’s playgrounds.
- Emergency shelters.
- Military shelters.
The materials used for geodesic domes vary widely. For simple, movable structures, timber, PVC or galvanised 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 materials such as copper, aluminium, acrylic and Plexiglas panels.
 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, Japan.
- Epcot Centre’s Spaceship Earth centre.
- The Aviary at Queen’s Zoo, US.
- EcoCamp Patagonia hotel – the first geodesic dome hotel, Chile.
- The biomes at the Eden Project in Cornwall, UK.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki.
- Buckminster Fuller.
- Dali Theatre and Museum.
- Glass fibre.
- 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 building.
- Types of dome.
- Why are domes popular?
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