Trying to save R. Buckminster Fuller's dome home
With the help of a $125,000 grant, a nonprofit group is attempting to restore the geodesic dome house where the inventor and philosopher lived in Illinois.
Back in 1960, inventor and philosopher R. Buckminster Fuller built a dome-shaped home in Carbondale, Ill., in seven hours.
He and his wife, Anne, lived there through about 1971, while Fuller taught at Southern Illinois University. While Fuller did not invent the geodesic dome, he received the U.S. patent and was the one who popularized the concept.
Time has not been kind to Fuller's geodesic dome home. The house was used as a rental property for years until a friend of Fuller's bought it in 1999 with the goal of seeing it preserved. A nonprofit group is raising money to finish restoration and open the home as a museum next year.
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RBF Dome NFP got a $125,000 grant from Save America's Treasures last year, but the group needs to raise more money to pay for the estimated $300,000 restoration.
"Bucky was the father of the 'green' and sustainability movement. He was talking about these issues 60, 70 years ago," Brent Ritzel, president of RBF Dome NFB, told The St. Louis Beacon.
Throughout his life, Fuller was interested in ways to create less expensive and more energy-efficient housing. The Buckminster Fuller Institute explains the appeal of the dome:
The spherical structure of a dome is one of the most efficient interior atmospheres for human dwellings because air and energy are allowed to circulate without obstruction. This enables heating and cooling to occur naturally. Geodesic shelters have been built all around the world in different climates and temperatures and still they have proven to be the most efficient human shelter one can find.
Fuller also designed the Dymaxion, which was considered the first green car.
If you want your own dome home, a Fuller home built from a kit is for sale on New York's Long Island. The $595,000 price likely reflects the location near the ocean on Fire Island.
We built and live in a geodesic dome since 1991. We have not had any trouble with this one leaking. I have seen first hand how the air circulates in it by chance when our child's helium balloon went up into the coupola and days later started coming down and then came down the outer walls with the cooler air, came across the floor to the center and up the center and rose with the heat of the woodstove to make the same circulation again. I will say it heats better than it cools. They are a lot more expensive to build. We are still working on this one and probably will for the rest of our lives. LOL. But it is a very interesting house. The other down side that we have come across of late is that we have been trying to refinance to get a lower interest rate and shorten the term. We have a high credit score and lenders are excited to lend to us until they see we have a dome. They tell us no everytime. One dome just sold close to us and the buyer couldn't get a loan. They had to come in with cash. That is so unfair! A house is a house! Just go by the sq. ft.
I can understand the cost to repair it. Not only the cost of things have gone up but to do or build in a dome is just expensive because the angles are different and nothing fits together like you think. Our builders even used chainsaws for compound angles for some of the beams. Also most contractors won't contract a dome. We had to do it for time and materials.
The main reason Buckys dome didn't catch on is that there was no cheap way to keep them from leaking. They are all roof and the more joints you have the harder it is to keep them from leaking.
Long term maintenance was always more costly than more conventional housing.
I know this first hand built and lived in one back in the day.
As for people in trouble with their mortgages, Bucky was a trailblazer in downsized living. He designed very affordable and efficient living spaces. We would be saving people from living outside in their cars and tents if we were to put his pods into practical use. A small step toward stemming the problem of homelessness and it happens to a great many people today. I would like to see a village of these shelters or something similar become reality to help ease the dis-ease of on the edge living today. It's time has come (a couple years ago) and unless we start building experimental communities, we as a society have failed in our own vision of the future.
About Teresa Mears
Teresa Mears is a veteran journalist who has been interested in houses since her father took her to tax auctions to carry the cash at age 10. A former editor of The Miami Herald's Home & Design section, she lives in South Florida where, in addition to writing about real estate, she publishes Miami on the Cheap to help her neighbors adjust to the loss of 60% of their property value.