A version of this article originally appeared in Cabins Etc, a substack newsletter for cabin daydreamers and leisure design lovers.
In the world of eye catching architecture few shapes hold as much significance as the geodesic dome. It’s scientifically proven to be both unique and cool. And that goes for pretty much every single geodesic dome structure iteration—geo dome mountain cabins, desert dome homes, industrial dome buildings like planetariums and observatories, even geodesic yurt treehouses. All dank!
Not with us yet? Well, keep reading. This comprehensive article will make a believer of you yet.
So, what is a geodesic dome and why should I care?
Ok, first, you should care because geodesic domes are literally incredible. Like, it’s fact. It’s math.
Born of the same wave of post WWII hope, optimism, and modernism that gave rise to America’s A-Frame obsession, the geodesic dome ascribes to the “do more with less” principle of architectural thinking. And boy do they. Geodesic domes enclose the largest volume of internal space with the least amount of surface area, thus minimizing materials and cost while maximizing living area and structural strength.
To illustrate the phenomenon, consider this: When you double the diameter of a sphere, you quadruple the square footage and produce eight times the volume. That’s wild! And true.
Enter Bucky Fuller, the godfather of geo domes
The geodesic dome was invented by R. Buckminster Fuller, the infinitely influential architect, author, designer, inventor, and futurist. Only, it wasn’t—technically some German dude named Dr. Walther Bauersfeld did while working as chief engineer at Carl Zeiss optics in the mid 1920s, which is also a pretty cool story tbh. And eons before that, indigenous people built adobe domes and structures of the like around the world…
But Bucky did coin the term “geodesic” in the late 1940s and received the US patent a decade later, and is fully responsible for any one of us knowing about these things nowadays. He dedicated his entire life to promoting the utopian potential of his revolutionary designs. So shout out Bucky Fuller, the spiritual inventor of geodesic domes. A man so confident and audacious that he once proposed covering midtown Manhattan with a three kilometer geodesic dome to regulate weather and reduce air pollution.
While the bonkers New York City dome didn’t happen, Bucky did succeed in building a number of truly incredible geodesic domes that captured the minds and hearts of postwar America as a modern form of sustainable, egalitarian architecture. Though not his first geodesic dome, Bucky’s largest and arguably most influential was erected as the United States Pavilion for the Expo ’67 World’s Fair in Montreal—voted #11 on the NYT list of The 25 Most Significant Works of Postwar Architecture—and soared more than 200 feet tall with a 250-foot diameter, before burning in 1976. Today, only the steel strut skeleton of Fuller’s geodesic dome remains, within which the city of Montreal operates a public museum dedicated to environmental preservation and education known as the Biosphere. Thank goodness it didn’t turn into a gas station or something.
(Editor’s Note: Buckmister Fuller and his work were heavily informed by the “Spaceship Earth” worldview, which denounces reliance on fossil fuels, expresses concern for the aggressive use of Earth’s limited resources, and encourages everyone to act as a harmonious crew working toward the greater good. I.e. Earth is spinning thru space and has a fine amount of resources and cannot be resupplied. Check out his books Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth and Earth, Inc for more influential and perpetually relevant futurism. It’s good.)
How do geodesic domes work?? Warning: extreme nerd shit to follow
I’ll spare you the icosahedron talk and simply say, It’s all about the triangle. (And a bunch of unbelievably complex geodesic math.)
The triangle shape is inherently rigid, especially compared to say, a rectangle, which is the most common building block for most modern buildings. And when connected to many other triangles to form a hemispherical or spherical structure (by way of hexagons, like a soccer ball), the ingenious triangular elements distribute weight and stress evenly throughout, creating a structure with unparalleled strength capable of withstanding tremendous forces—be it wind, weight, or pressure.
To prove the point, take for example this wild 1954 experiment by the U.S. Marines, who had been testing geodesic domes for potential use as quick-strike outposts capable of being either prefabricated and deployed via helicopter tow or quickly assembled on-site from a kit by generally inexperienced soldiers. With an airplane anchored in place, they blasted its 3,000 horsepower engine at a standard 30-foot geodesic dome for 24 hours straight. Sustaining the airflow force equivalent of 120 mph winds for the entire duration, the dome escaped unscathed.
Inside, geodesic domes create one of the most energy efficient interior atmospheres possible for human dwelling because air and energy (namely heat, but also, you know, ~vibes~) circulate without obstruction. Thus, heating and cooling a geo dome is extremely easy, regardless of environment. Sustainability in action.
In short, the geodesic dome is arguably the only structure naturally capable of existing in literally every climate on Earth, from Antarctica to the Sahara desert.
From EPCOT to Everest base camp (or vice versa)
In 1982 Walt Disney World opened the EPCOT Center in Florida with a spherical geodesic dome acting as main focal point both literally and for marketing purposes. It’s still there today, and still really cool. For the sake of tying all this back to our core themes of cabins and outdoors though, let’s backtrack a decade to the early 1970s when The North Face approached Bucky with a unique challenge.
Could geodesic geometry be applied to a camping tent? The unrivaled strength and efficiency of geodesic domes was well known by thinking minds the world over at this point, but like I said earlier, the math is impossible for most to figure out on their own. Surprisingly (and reportedly) Bucky had himself considered the question long before being approached by then owners of TNF, and so he got to work. In 1975, under the direct design guidance of Buckminster Fuller himself, TNF released the Oval Intention tent, and it changed tent design and outdoor exploration forever.
Now known as the 2-Meter Dome, the tent remains legendary today—a $5,500 icon trusted to withstand the most extreme conditions by the most hardcore alpinists and alpine expeditions (and one Japanese architect, who designed an entire weekend cabin around it, pictured above left).
More recently, TNF’s design team have updated the geodesic classic with an even more eye-catching design in the TNF Geodome 4. You might recognize the iteration from a certain living room photo (above right) that periodically circulates on IG cool kid moodboard pages.
Across the pond in Germany, the brainiacs at Heimplant have taken the geodesic concept a different route—their inflatable octagonal and hexagonal tents do away with traditional tent poles and instead rely on engineered air tubes for increased stability. Their Mavericks group tent (above right), which boasts ~140 square feet of living space and six feet of headroom, is designed to withstand winds of up to 111 mph. Bucky would be proud.
From utopian solution to yuppie vacation destination (aka the glamping boom!)
Though geodesic design does work wonders for expedition rated tents, Bucky and the early modernist enthusiasts that popularized the form in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s envisioned the geodesic dome as more of an everyday solution to the world’s housing needs. The utopian idea followed that if these structures could be manufactured in mass, for less, using fewer materials, they could promote sustainability and play an integral role in solving the growing problems of resource depletion and climate change.
Of course that didn’t happen, cus you know, no one could figure out how to make ungodly amounts of money doing it. But the groundwork laid in that era has paved the way for a new, infinitely more bougie movement to emerge in recent years. I’m talking about, of course, glamping.
Glamping, aka glamorous camping, takes the comforts of home (a real bed, electricity, a real roof over your head) and combines it with access to nature by way of safari tents, canvas tents, and you guessed it, geodesic dome tents.
Long maligned by the “core” outdoorists as strictly for Starbucks girls and Instagram boyfriends, glamping has in recent years evolved into a new form of ecotourism that appeals to new outdoor enthusiasts, lifelong campers, and of course, cabins lovers.
One of the most exciting examples of this surprising Venn diagram is Chile’s EcoCamp Patagonia, a collection of 33 geodesic dome slash a-frame tents in Torres del Paine National Park (ever wonder where the brand Patagonia gets its iconic mountainscape logo? Well there you go). Chosen for now-obvious reasons, their unique, hyper sustainable dome cabins host nature lovers year round. It’s high on my to-visit list.
More often though, geodesic dome glamping tents are made of less substantial materials. Think PVC coated polyester shells stretched over a stainless steel frame. A standard 16’ diameter dome glamping tent can weigh as little as 450 lbs fully built, and be erected or disassembled in a couple hours by just a couple people. They’re lightweight, portable, and still as efficient and awesome as ever.
All you gotta do is build a wood platform to anchor your dome to and you’re most of the way there.
(You can find more actually cool glamping locations elsewhere on our website.)
DIY or DIE, backyard geodesic dome edition
With the glamping boom well underway there’s no shortage of companies offering backyard dome kits for DIY enthusiasts. We’re talking dome homes, geodesic dome greenhouses, event domes, yoga domes, etc. Prices range from $5,000 - $20,000 depending on size, location, and building material. Regardless, to build your own dome, often all you’ll need for assembly is a ladder, ratchet set, and a spare pair of hands.
For the sake of wrapping this beautiful-but-perhaps-too-thorough article up nicely, let’s quickly shout out a handful of legit dome mfgs still in operation and send you on your daydreaming way.
5 Reputable Geodesic Dome Manufacturers
Pacific Domes: Self-styled as “The Original Dome Company,” the woman-owned, Ashland, OR-based manufacturer has been designing and making portable geodesic dome homes since 1980. Their website is very scientific and nerdy. I love it.
FDomes: Though much newer and much more slick, this Polish company seems to make quality products, especially for glamping and events.
Ekodome: Based in Brooklyn, NY and newly launched, this manufacturer isn't nearly as proven as others on the list, but their focus on innovation and variety make it worth a deeper dive.
Golden Trillium: Shared here to represent the many smaller, niche dome manufacturers. This heady artisanal company specializes in wood-frame domes (very cool). Pair with a wood fired hot tub and heck, I’ll be happy as a clam.
PS - Don’t forget the crystals!