The Magic of Geodesic Domes
The Magic of Geodesic Domes
by Niall of The Grow Dome Project
Bored of that straightforward, rigidly right-angled life of yours? Relishing a rabbit hole deep enough for this, or indeed any future, pandemic? Or do you just want to gift yourself the coolest, most symmetrical multi-purpose space imaginable where you can grow food year round (or host a dinner when we can again)?
If so, geodesic domes are delightfully addictive yet their construction can and will inspire a far fuller and more comprehensive range of emotions. Designing one from scratch you quickly notice how spider web-like the dome and interior are. Changing one thing pulls on and changes everything else and the sheer scale of possible material combinations that unfurls quickly boggles the mind.
Anyway, you can also keep it really simple and buy a pre-made kit - if you have 3 metres (m) or preferably 4.5m to 4.8m width of space to play with, you can buy all the triangles pre-made and have them assembled for you on site - and you can support your local social enterprise (ahem, us - The Grow Dome) in the process.
It is of course incredibly satisfying to build your own from scratch! It is possible to build your own with basic tools so long as you are very accurate. Not the type of accuracy that would trouble a master furniture maker now, but, if like me back in the day, you’re starting off a little further down the scale, maybe somewhere around the “I know what a hammer is” level, do not be put off. Just go slow. Start calling mistakes ‘lessons’ (one of the best tips an engineer ever gave me), and someday, you too can enjoy the fruits of the hopelessly obsessed, or at least have something nice to look at out the kitchen window.
First up - Space: How much space do you need? Ideally a 4.5m by 4.5m or 4.8m by 4.8m space, but if you only have a 3m by 3m wide space you can still build a geodesic-y looking thing that is in fairness a great use of space. If you have more space and are tempted to go bigger, 6m, 9m or even 11m think about whether you really need the extra space as the frame of the dome is by far the cheapest part of the project; and everything else, covering, waterproofing, flooring, and heating and cooling costs, will increase a lot with each jump in size.
Tools: The next biggest hurdle to most will be the need for a decent table saw. For a small dome you could perhaps get away with a circular saw and a good homemade guide (or jig). But for a larger dome like the 11m diameter one we’ve built you're looking at nearly half a kilometre of wood cut lengthways at a very precise angle. So, do yourself a favour and rent a good machine if you're going big.
So you’ve got your site sorted and decided on a dome size, now what?
Materials: Wood or metal frame? This one’s easy, if your dome is less than 11m wide use a wood only frame, (easy to find designs online) if it’s more than 11m you'll definitely need to incorporate metal hubs into the design, which obviously increases the complexity, and tools and skills needed.
Waterproofing: I’m going to save you years of torment here. If budgets are tight cover the dome with polytunnel covering, cover the seals with repair tape, and calmly await the leaks. How long till they appear depends on how diligently you apply the tape. Do not fight this, the die is cast.
The better, but more expensive option is polycarbonate sheeting (4-10mm multiwall for greenhouse domes, 2mm solid for other uses) and the even more expensive specifically-designed-to-seal-polycarbonate tape, that’s easy to find, and hey presto that’s it. Again, no variations of this practice exist.
Once your dome is up, firstly, congratulations! It’s actually better than you thought it would be right? And here’s the best news, that feeling you get when you walk in the door for the first time, it never stops! We’ve had hundreds, if not thousands of community members pass through the doors of our first dome in Dublin 8, and whether they are 4 or 84 the first words are nearly always the same, “Wow”. This is the geodome effect. There really is something indefinable about the atmosphere within them, which appears to be universally felt and has got to be one of the best garden upgrades you could ever make.
The very next thing universally felt, is the oppressive heat the split second the sun shines so ventilation (a bloody big fan, or 7, depending) is paramount – but can be easily achieved. If you’re going full Grow Dome you’ll need to automate this, and everything else, which is a thoroughly scientific affair, but otherwise that’s it, you’re all set for some seriously symmetrical space enjoyment... enjoy!
For extra lols we built our Grow Domes off-grid and added a couple of industrial scale vertical farming systems... a challenge akin to teaching your dog calculus - except we’re actually almost there... you can follow the howling on The Grow Dome Project on Facebook