Domes play a quintessential role in architectural history. In Late Stone Age (approximately 50,000 years ago), the dome-shaped tombs were used to replicate God’s shelter and make permanent homes for the dead. Since then, every civilization has used domes: Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Arab Architecture has beautiful examples of domes. It’s intriguing to see how they pursued the same instincts at different eras without knowing each other.
But a 20th-century invention changed dome engineering forever. When Walther Bauersfeld was constructing the Zeiss-Planetarium in 1926, he used a radical new design, “a geodesic dome”, for the first time ever in architectural history. He probably wasn’t aware that he opened the doors to a new era in dome building.
Within the past hundred years, the world has seen countless geodesic dome buildings, some of which have become quite popular. Here’s our shortlist of some popular geodesic domes around the world.
1) Biosphere of Montreal (Montreal, Québec)
Designed by Buckminster Fuller, this relic of the 67 Expo survived fire and ice.
As their contribution to Montreal’s 1967 World’s Fair Exposition the United States government commissioned architect, scientist, and well-known genius Buckminster Fuller to design a pavilion for the Canadian exhibition.
Fuller, who popularized, perfected, and named the Geodesic Dome, designed a 20-story-tall dome in the fashion of his hallmark design to represent the USA. Done in a full two-thirds sphere, rather than the typical half dome, the massive steel structure was seen and admired by over 5.6 million visitors who went into the dome to see exhibits from actual spaceships from the Apollo missions to American works of art. The dome’s steel skeleton was fitted with a clear acrylic covering, making the structure look like a massive, glittering jewel.
When the fair ended, the pavilion remained. The dome was originally meant to be bolted together, allowing the pavilion to be dismantled when the fair was finished, but budget constraints led workers to weld the dome together instead, securing the dome’s place in Montreal’s landscape.
The sphere would remain open to the public for nine years until an accident involving some routine welding maintenance caused the acrylic covering to catch fire, engulfing the entire sphere in a spectacular ball of fire with flames that burned for 30 minutes. When the flames subsided, there was no sign of the acrylic walls to be seen, but the steel trusses of the dome remained. After the fire, the dome was closed to the public for over fifteen years.
In June 1995, the dome rose from the ashes and was re-purposed as a museum devoted to environmental action. The reopened dome sported no acrylics on its exterior this time around, due to the costs of keeping the gigantic dome warm and cool, and probably to prevent future accidents. However, the dome was hit with another disaster in 1998 when an ice storm forced the biosphere to close for five months.
The biosphere reopened, and still houses the museum. Through the fire and Canadian ice storms, the Biosphere of Montreal remains, a sturdy and beautiful example of “Bucky’s” geodesic architecture.
2) Eden Project (Cornwall, UK)
The world's largest greenhouse and botanical garden to demonstrate the world's heritage of nature.
The Eden Project is the largest biodome greenhouse in the world. There are three biodomes at the Eden Project: one with a tropical climate, one with a mediterranean, and one that is a local temperate biodome. These are constructed with tubular steel frames with hexagonal external cladding panels made from the thermoplastic ethylene tetrafluoroethylene aka ETFE. The structure is completely self-supporting, with no internal supports, and takes the form of a geodesic structure. The panels vary in size up to 9 m (29.5 ft) across, with the largest at the top of the structure.
3) Spaceship Earth (Orlando, FL, USA)
Full sphere geodesic dome of Epcot Center in Walt Disney World in Orlando
EPCOT was envisioned by Walt Disney in the 1960s as a planned community, an urban development of the future. Disney allotted 50 acres of his newly purchased Florida swampland to this project and presented the plan in 1966, as an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, a climate-controlled bubble community, with, perhaps, a geodesic dome atop. He died in 1966, shortly after he presented the master plan and shortly before Buckminster Fuller had great success with Biosphere at Montreal’s Expo ’67. After Disney’s death, amusement prevailed, and living under a dome transformed into being entertained inside a sphere representing Spaceship Earth.
Built in 1982, Spaceship Earth at Disney World encloses some 2,200,000 cubic feet of space inside a globe that is 165 feet in diameter. The outer surface is composed of 954 triangular panels made of a polyethylene core sandwiched between two anodized aluminum plates. These panels are not all the same size and shape.
4) La Géode (Paris, France)
May be the most spectacular movie theater in the world
La Géode is a mirror-finished geodesic dome that holds an Omnimax theatre in Parc de la Villette at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie (City of Science and Industry) in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, France. It was designed by architect Adrien Fainsilber and engineer Gérard Chamayou.
The geodesic dome is 36 metres (118 ft) in diameter, composed of 6,433 polished stainless steel equilateral triangles that form the sphere that reflects the sky. These triangles are 1.5 meters long and are fixed on a thin metal frame with the same triangular geodesic structure, consisting of 2,580 steel tube bars. The dome stands on a reinforced concrete base, which is attached to Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, the largest science museum in Europe. La Géode officially opened on May 6, 1985. After a similar venue located in La Défense closed in 2001, La Géode became the only spherical building in the Île-de-France region of France.
5) The Glass Dome in Dali Museum (Figueres, Spain)
A surreal feature in the "largest surrealistic object in the world"
The Dali Theatre and Museum in Figueras, Spain is dedicated to the surrealist artist Salvador Dali, and has been described as being ‘the largest surrealistic object in the world’. The artist worked on the design of the building for over a decade until its completion in 1974, saying “I want my museum to be like a single block, a labyrinth, a surrealist object… People who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.”
The complex includes Torre Galatea, a stone tower, and a glass geodesic dome which crowns the main building and has come to be seen as a symbol of the town of Figueres. Dali himself is buried underneath the stage illuminated by the transparent geodesic cupola.
6) Bloedel Conservatory (Vancouver, Canada)
Home to over 100 free-flying birds and thousands of exotic plants.
Located at Queen Elizabeth Park, the Bloedel Conservatory’s triodetic dome consists of over 1400 acrylic bubbles and an aluminum frame supported by a Brutalist concrete perimeter; the first of its kind in Canada and all very futuristic when it opened to the public in 1969. In 1971, the building was awarded the first Vincent Massey Award for Excellence in Urban Environment. More than 100 exotic birds, and 500 exotic plants and flowers thrive within its temperature-controlled environment.
7) Telus Sphere (Vancouver, Canada)
Voted most iconic building in Vancouver.
Made of 1-mm thick extruded aluminium and aluminium panels that weigh about 6,800 kg, this multi-million dollar geodesic dome was originally built for the 1986 World’s Fair.
This popular venue offers families a wide range of both permanent and changing interactive and educational science exhibits along with a variety of fascinating shows in the OMNIMAX theatre. It has quickly become a major city landmark and was voted the most iconic building in Vancouver in a Twitter poll.
8) Matrimandir at Auroville (Bommayapalayam, India)
A golden temple in an experimental utopian "city of the future" in rural India
The Matrimandir, which means “the dwelling place of Mother” took 37 years to complete from February 1971 to May 2008. Fortunately, those decades of drawn-out work have paid off as millions of yoga and meditation practitioners journey to this temple for silence and rumination.
Matrimandir is covered in golden discs, surrounded by 12 petals and propped up by four main pillars. Mirra Alfassa, known as the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, conceived the idea of this temple and entrusted French architect Roger Anger to come up with the blueprint for the build. This geodesic dome looks even more whimsical as sunlight bounces off the golden discs covering the dome, as if a giant goose has laid a golden egg in the centre of the field.
9) The Dome at The Queen Mary (Long Beach, CA, USA)
This Long Beach landmark was built to shelter a 200-ton wooden airplane.
Set near The Queen Mary, this massive white dome made of aluminium was built to house the Hughes H-4 Hercules aircraft or “Spruce Goose” as it was called by news media. The dome, at 115 feet high and 400 feet wide, is definitely an eyecatcher. It is the world’s largest, free-span aluminum geodesic structure.
The Spruce Goose is no longer located within the dome, so the dome is being used as a giant soundstage for several Hollywood movies, or as a roller derby rink and most recently as a boarding terminal for the Carnival Cruise line.
10) The Desert Dome (Omaha, NE, USA)
The World’s Largest Indoor Desert
The Desert Dome opened in April 2002 at a cost of $31.5 million. It is one of the world’s largest indoor deserts at around 42,000 ft2 (0.96 acres; 3,900 m2). Beneath the Desert Dome is the Kingdoms of the Night, and both levels make up a combined total of 84,000 sq ft (1.9 acres; 7,800 m2). The Desert Dome has geologic features from deserts around the world: Namib Desert of southern Africa, Red Center of Australia, and the Sonoran Desert of the southwest US.
In addition to being one of the world’s largest indoor deserts, the Desert Dome’s geodesic dome is also the world’s largest ‘glazed’ geodesic dome. The dome is 137 ft (42 m) above the main level and 230 ft (70 m) in diameter. The 1,760 acrylic windows with four shades (some clear) were placed to allow maximum shade in the summer and maximum light in the winter to reduce energy costs.