Derelict Dome

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

Will Coley

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

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 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 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.

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.

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.

  1. Sid from New Jersey

    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.

  2. ted c

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

  3. Ryan B

    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.”

    1. RR Fiske

      That is a great line.. and yet, (ahem!) .. it just does sting a little to see these dome buildings that are probably just still a bit too ODD for our essentially square culture to know what to do with them.. I’d love to look at where they have had engineering and weatherizing issues.. surely there are solutions to that, if they weren’t so stingy on decent places to put paintings up and couches against!

  4. Jack Armstrong

    There are a number of dome homes in Wisconsin. I’m an electrician and three years ago I wired a dome home. It was an interesting project. The only glitch I noticed was the framing was made from 2×6 lumber. That severely limited the insulation and thus the energy efficiency of the home. If it were mine, I would have asked for another non structural dome inside, offset, and adding thickness,

  5. Carolina

    Have you guys ever checked the Biosphere in Montreal?
    It was designed by Bucky for the expo 67.
    It burned down, restored and now its a museum!!

    1. Andrea

      I was in it in 1967! And have the slides somewhere to prove it …

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