The managing partner for the Framing Futures Architectural Firm (FFAF) in Southern California, A. Alberto Lugo is more than just an architect. Beyond his Master of Architecture from Cornell University, he completed extensive postgraduate studies in building science and technology/environmental systems. A. Alberto Lugo is also a dedicated student of architectural culture and history who calls the geodesic dome the first great architectural development of the 20th century.
Alberto Lugo Recounts the History of the Geodesic Dome
Describing the geodesic dome as “a huge acrylic dome held aloft by a network of complicated steel tubes,” A. Alberto Lugo looks back to Walther Bauersfeld and Buckminster Fuller as the godfathers of this unique architectural form.
German engineer Walther Bauersfeld created the first geodesic dome in the early to middle 1920s, employing patterns of reinforcing triangles to create an empty spherical structure of tremendous strength. Designed to house a planetarium that surrounded viewers with projected imagery, this geodesic dome was first constructed on the roof of the Carl Zeiss factory in Jena, Germany. In 1926, a larger version of this dome opened to the public as the Zeiss Planetarium and nicknamed “The Wonder of Jena.”
Although Bauersfeld made the earliest geodesic domes, Buckminster Fuller, in the words of A. Alberto Lugo, certainly “polished them.” In fact, Fuller is responsible for coining and popularizing the term “geodesic” in the late 1940s before ultimately securing a US patent for the architectural form in 1954. Fuller would continue to build and proselytize geodesic domes for decades to come, designing or co-designing iconic examples of the concept that include the massive US Pavilion at Expo 67, a Category One World’s Fair held throughout the summer of 1967 in Montreal, Quebec.
The Geodesic Dome’s Ongoing Relevance and Legacy
Now known as the Montreal Biosphere, the US Pavilion at Expo 67 continues to stand as a lasting testament to the power of the geodesic dome. Other well-known examples of this enduring architectural form range from the Reichstag Dome in Berlin, Germany to Epcot’s Spaceship Earth at Walt Disney World in Orange County, Florida.
In fact, the geodesic dome has been widely accepted and incorporated into architectural structures that span the globe. The form has also found broad and far-ranging applications in the design and construction of tents and other forms of temporary shelter.
Beyond its profound impact in the world of architecture, the geodesic dome has sent ripples of influence across a spectrum of cultural and scientific fields.
In the 1980s, groundbreaking chemists used the geodesic dome to better understand and describe the newly discovered carbon-60 molecule, which had a spherical structure that bore a striking resemblance to many of Buckminster Fuller’s architectural designs. In fact, these chemists dubbed the carbon-60 molecule the “buckminsterfullerene.”
The geodesic dome has also been repurposed in the conceptual realm to define the structure of systems, processes, and organizations as well as the interconnections that make them work. In particular, British theorist and management professor Stafford Beer based his famous “transmigration” method of decision-making on the geodesic dome form.