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What are Geodesic Domes?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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Geodesic domes are structures that approximate spheres or partial spheres by arranging struts in regular polyhedrons around the surface of the sphere. Geodesic domes may be made up of triangles, hexagons, or other polyhedrons. The structures are extremely strong and stable and offer the largest ratio of volume to weight of all known linear structures.

While Walter Bauersfield built the first geodesic dome in Germany in 1922, the structure is most often associated with Buckminster Fuller, who independently developed and popularized geodesic domes in the United States in the 1950s. Fuller also obtained a patent for the structure. Because of the many benefits of geodesic domes, including the relative ease with which they can be built and their more effective use of building materials, Fuller believed that they could relieve worldwide housing problems. He also lived in his own geodesic dome.

Geodesic domes have quite a few benefits in addition to those already mentioned. They are aerodynamic, holding up well in strong winds, and particularly amenable to solar heating. In addition to being very strong, the geodesic dome is the only man made structure that increases in strength in proportion to its size.

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Though there are quite a few geodesic domes worldwide, mostly comprising public and corporate structures, they never caught on as homes for a number of reasons. First, their complexity raises construction costs. Also, their unusual structure makes it difficult to follow certain building codes and regulations, such as those governing the placement of chimneys, fire escapes, and windows. Other problems include the unusual moisture distribution inside a dome, which can tend to degrade furniture, and the difficulty of partitioning the structure to provide privacy from others inside the home. Geodesic domes also have a tendency to leak during rain showers, and furniture made for standard rectangular homes can be awkward to arrange inside a dome.

Many of these problems have been remedied by improved construction over the years, and there are now simple-to-assemble kits with which people can build their own geodesic domes for much less than the cost of a conventional home. However, they are still unpopular as residential structures. There are many famous geodesic domes around the world, including Walt Disney's Spaceship Earth at Epcot in Orlando, Florida; the Fantasy Entertainment Complex and the Multi-Purpose Arena in Japan; and the Eden Project environmental complex in Cornwall, UK.

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