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Domebook 2, Geodesics: futuristic design meme of the past

April 2, 2009
A geodesic dome made of glass

A geodesic dome made of glass

The Library of Radiant Optimism is a project by Let’s Remake, a group of local artists/activist that live in our hood. They write: “The Library was begun to catalog a groundswell of optimistic and visionary activities in the late 1960s and early 1970s. We gathered a handful of books that embrace grass roots exchange of information and themes of self and community empowerment.” They put up a PDF of a book titled Domebook 2 and I’ve been fascinated with it the last couple days.

Domebook 2 was published in 1971 by Lloyd Kahn, at the height of geodesic dome excitement within the counterculture.   Geodesic domes were evangelized by Buckminster Fuller as being cheap, easy to construct, and structurally superior.  Sounds super-cool, right?  After spending some time reading through the book I did a bit of background research on domes, this book, and the author.

It turns out that Domebook 2 was taken out of print by Kahn a few years after publication after continued frustrations with dome building.  After building some 19 domes, Kahn abandoned domes altogether and shifted his inquiry towards elegantly built homes made from local material.  This new work was published in the books Shelter (1973) and Shelter II (1978).  However, he had created so much hype about domes that he continued to be asked about their construction for years and years.  He finally wrote up this piece, Refried Domes, along with a comparison of dome/rectangle construction.  His arguments against domebuilding are many and seem to have been earned through the pain of experience.

Reading Kahn’s later words killed some of the excitement I had upon discovering the book.  Over a hundred pages of beautiful people trying new and exciting ways of living resonated with my current view of the world.  Domes might make bad homes, but they certainly seem appealing when the rest of the world is so square.  I also love the idea of starting with a stack of triangles and a group of friends and building an object of wonder together.

Kahn, now 72, lives outside SF, CA.  He has a blog and wrote a new book, Builder’s of the Pacific Coast.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2010 6:22 am

    domes make bad homes?

  2. March 7, 2010 4:27 pm

    No, domes – if properly implemented – make excellent homes. However, after several years of experimenting with domes and dome construction, Lloyd Kahn and his entourage came to the conclusion that applied of geodesics -style structures simply aren’t well suited for modern living.

    Their rationales for this stemmed from the salient observation that most furniture is rectilinear – thereby making straight-lines a necessary consideration – coupled with their short-sighted insistence on using of a single large dome to house multiple rooms, separated only by rectangular walls. This creates a large parabolic amplifier so that no matter where you are in the structure, you can hear what’s going on anywhere else in the structure and as such, is not very well suited for a shared residential living space. Other problems that they discovered only added to their disenchantment: Specifically, the fact that most, if not all, building materials are manufactured and sold in rectilinear sheets, thereby making it difficult, if not impossible, to no waste the pieces that have been cut off.

    What many fail to recognize – even great minds like Kahn’s – is that this is only one possible application of the dome framework as a housing solution. Or that the secret to successful dome habitats, rests with a deeper and more subtle understanding of spatial organization and nesting environments.

    • JP permalink*
      March 10, 2010 1:47 am

      Indeed there have been agricultural applications for non-rectilinear structures. Economy of the Round Dairy Barn (1910) was published just down the street from us at the University of Illinois.

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