Last edited 01 Dec 2017

Why are domes popular?


The dome has a long history in the built environment, and has been a design feature of many different kinds of architecture around the world. Domes are prominent features of Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, Italian Renaissance design and so on.

In its simplest form, a dome is a hollow, approximately semi-spherical structural element. However, there are many variations on this basic shape. The ‘Building Construction Handbook’ describes domesas: ‘Double curvature shells which can be rotationally formed by any curved geometrical plane figure rotating about a central vertical axis.’ For more information, see Types of domes.

Other than the monumental and impressive aesthetics of domes, they have several characteristics that have made them such a popular architectural feature.

  • Domes can be very efficient and cost-effective structures, as significantly less material may be required to construct them and they are often lighter in weight than other roof types.
  • There is typically a minimum of 30% less surface area in a dome than other comparable structural shapes. This reduced surface area can increase the energy efficiency of domes, as they can require 30% less energy for heating and cooling.
  • They are self-supporting, stabilised by the force of gravity acting on their weight to hold them in compression.
  • They are able to span large areas and require no intermediary columns, creating a free space below.
  • They are resistant to high wind conditions such as hurricanes because of the lack of corners, angles and flat surfaces. Instead, their curved shape allows wind to pass smoothly over their surface, creating minimal pressure or turbulence.
  • Domes can have good acoustic qualities, making them a popular choice for buildings where it is necessary for sound to travel over large distances, such as public arena.
  • Domes can be constructed from a variety of materials, from traditional masonry and concrete, to cast iron, timber and steel.
  • Lightweight materials such as architectural fabrics and cable structures can be used to create ‘domes’; for the most part these are not true domes as their components have an anticlastic shape, however inflated fabric structures can be dome shaped.
  • In terms of semiology, by reinforcing centrality and singularity, the form of the dome can establish the primacy of the circle of space directly below.
  • Philosophically, they can reinforce the notion of a centralised and singular power system, whether absolute monarchy, monotheism, hegemonic dictatorship and so on.
  • They have a visual simplicity, and internally can be virtually featureless, giving them an infinite quality that can be associated with the eternity or the heavens.

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