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The geodesic dome is a very strong structure due to the use of triangles in the design. It is rigid and stable and transmits any stress evenly through the structure. They are extremely strong for their weight and enclose the largest volume of space to the smallest surface.
They can withstand extreme storms and wind and have been tested in extreme weather conditions around the world. Two cases are the distance Early Warning Line Domes in Canada, and in 1975 a dome was built at the South Pole, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station (1975-2003), where resistance to snow and wind load is very important. The dome was 50 meters wide and 16 meters high, with steel arches of 14 × 24 m (46x79 ft), modular buildings, fuel bubbles and equipment. Detached buildings within dome housing instruments for monitoring upper and lower atmosphere and for many and complex projects.
"Pillow Dome" was invented by James Tennant Baldwin, the American industrial designer. This transparent, insulated aluminum and Teflon structure is used in the Eden Project in Cornwall, England. This is a steel frame with an inflated skin of hexagonal cells extending over it. The hexagons are sealed at the edges and form a thermal blanket that insulates the buildings. Two large enclosed domes are linked together, and with several smaller domes they provide habitats for plant species from all over the world. The first dome has a tropical environment and the other a Mediterranean environment. A computer-controlled environmental control system regulates temperature and humidity in each dome
Geodesic domes have many drawbacks, especially where they are used to provide accommodation. The construction has a large number of cutting surfaces, compared to conventional designs, and all of these must be waterproof.
The coating is a problem due to the continuous series of flat areas, each joined together on several sides and falling away to form the surface of a large curve. Access to repair and maintenance is difficult because nothing is flat, there is no ridge and, depending on the material, may need to be larger than normal care to avoid damage. The need to let in light and lack of suitable flexible materials is also a problem. Flexing structures due to normal atmospheric heating and cooling puts much more stress on the waterproof seals.
The curvature on the sides makes the interior difficult to use. The most effective roof method is tile or single. This leads to problems near the top of the dome as the angle flattens - it is difficult to keep water out here. One method is to arrange a single piece of "lid" or arrange a steep pointed top that covers this area. Some domes have been constructed of plastic plates that are arranged to overlap and throw water.
Lloyd Kahn (pioneer in Green Building and Green Architecture) was influenced by Buckminster Fuller, and in 1968 he began to build geodesic domes. He became the coordinator for the construction of 17 domes at Pacific High School and in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Experimental geodesic domes were made of plywood, aluminum, sprayed foam and vinyl. Children built their own domes and lived in them.
Having lived in a dome for a year, Kahn domes decided not to work well: He calls domes "smart but not wise".
He lists problems -
The dome shape makes it difficult to accommodate various objects - chimneys, earth valves, fire escape.
The convention's rectangular shape of material leads to a great waste of cutting the triangular sections commonly used.
Windows can be 10 to 15 times more expensive.
The labor costs are high for wiring.
The inner shape makes it more difficult to construct inner walls.
There may be problems with integrity, smell, sound sensation, furniture assembly and lack of ceiling height next to upper level walls.