Episode 64: Derelict Dome

In the Cape Cod town of Woods Hole, buildings do not usually look like this:

(Credit:  Will Coley)

Producer Katie Klocksin was pretty surprised when she came across it.  She found a way inside.

(Credit:  JP Davidson)

Katie started asking around about the Dome.  She found it was built by the late Buckminster Fuller, who called himself a “comprehensive anticipatory design scientist,” out to solve the problems confronting “Spaceship Earth” by changing the way we make buildings.

(Courtesy of the Fuller Institute)

“Bucky” Fuller invented and patented the geodesic dome, a spherical structure made from small triangles.  The design is based on a lot of complicated math, but the idea is that by relying on the strength of of the triangle, these buildings could be made from cheaper materials, like plastic and aluminum instead of steel and concrete.

In 1953, Fuller was commissioned to build a dome in Woods Hole by architect (and aspiring restauranteur) Gunnar Peterson.  The dome would become the posh Dome Restaurant.  Diners could gaze through the building’s triangular windows out on onto the sea.  A zither player named Ruth Welcome entertained guests.

(Courtesy of Woods Hole Historical Museum)

Despite its Utopian aspirations, the building had some structural problems.  The glass windows heated the restaurant up like a greenhouse, so the owner installed fiberglass over most of the dome, blocking the ocean views.  It leaked constantly, and was difficult to maintain.  The dome was also hit pretty hard by 1970’s interior decorating.

(Courtesy of Woods Hole Historical Museum)

Even though the Woods Hole dome did not radically change the world, Bucky Fuller would go on to become one of the most influential thinkers in design and architecture of the 20th Century.  A painting of Fuller by Boris Atzybasheff appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1964, and then again as a US Postage stamp in 2004.

Today, the Dome Restaurant lies vacant.

(Credit:  JP Davidson)

A new development project could lead to the dome’s restoration, but for now, it remains a decaying curiosity, inviting exploration from microphone-wielding out-of-towners.

(Credit:  Will Coley)

Katie Klocksin is an independent radio producer based in Chicago.  She made a different version of this piece at the Transom Story Workshop, which ran on  the PRX podcast HowSound. Thanks to Rob Rosenthal (who runs both the Transom Story Workshop and HowSound) for pointing us to Katie’s story.

For more on Bucky and his domes, find out if The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller is playing anywhere near you.  It’s a live documentary (my new favorite media format) from Sam Green, whom listeners may remember from Episode #16 about Esperanto.

12 thoughts on “Derelict Dome

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  4. I believe that Mr. Fuller is the namesake of Buckminsterfullerenes, an allotrope of carbon, which consists of 60- to 70- atoms arranged in a geodesic format, in a spherical shape.
    Just a thought for Science Boy Mars.

  5. Have you ever heard of a Yaca-Dome? They were designed/patented/built by Joseph Yacaboni. His original dome was built in Pittsburgh in 1969. Like the derelict dome in this podcast, the original Yaca-Dome was eventually abandoned and fell into disrepair. My BF bought it a few years ago, and put a lot of work into it and lived in it for a while. We currently have it listed on Airbnb.


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  8. In trivia contests… the correct answer is almost always B. Fuller or Ben Franklin…. the two of them did just about everything!

  9. I had to laugh when you mentioned how quotable Bucky is, because I opened my masters of architecture thesis with a Bucky quote, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

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