Dome home

Popular Science - - FEATURES -

In re­gions that reg­u­larly face gale-force winds, pri­or­i­ties like mak­ing a house fire- or snow-proof take a back­seat to the more-im­por­tant goal of en­sur­ing the build­ing won’t go fly­ing off its foun­da­tions dur­ing the next big storm. Some ar­chi­tects have got­ten creative with this aim, turn­ing to an eye-catch­ing, su­per-sturdy de­sign: a sim­ple dome.

Most build­ings have lots of stuff that can come fly­ing off in a storm—like, say, a roof. But the top won’t pop off a gi­gan­tic con­crete hemi­sphere. Build­ing a house from one solid piece of con­crete cer­tainly helps de­fend against weather: A sin­gle curved slab lacks those points of weak­ness that, when struck, can make a reg­u­lar four-walls-anda-roof col­lapse. But this home’s real strength comes from its rounded shape. That’s be­cause, when some­thing strikes a sphere, the force gets dis­trib­uted evenly over the curved sur­face. So a blow that might shake the seams of a stan­dard house won’t find a sim­i­lar weak point on a dome. To build that per­fectly round shape, builders in­flate a gi­ant bal­loon in the shape of the out­side shell. They then spray that bub­ble with 3 inches of ure­thane foam in­su­la­tion. When the coat­ing cures, they add 3 inches of con­crete, re­in­forced with re­bar, on top of it, kind of like con­struct­ing a swim­ming pool in re­verse. How well does the dome de­sign work? One beach­front res­i­dence, built in 2003 in Pen­sacola, Florida, with­stood 2004’s Hur­ri­cane Ivan as it dec­i­mated the sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hood. That house has gone on to weather two more ma­jor storms. And hemi­spheres aren’t just suited to squalls. In 2003, a 5,000-pound bomb re­port­edly hit a rounded Iraqi mosque that was built us­ing the same com­pany’s de­signs. The blast de­stroyed ev­ery­thing inside the build­ing but left its ex­te­rior struc­ture stand­ing. Most home­own­ers seek out fa­mil­iar shapes. But as sur­vival­ists and doomsday prep­pers look for se­cure build­ings, more peo­ple are mov­ing out­side the box and into the dome. These houses pro­vide all the se­cu­rity of an un­der­ground shel­ter—with the added bonus of sun­light.

Spe­cial thanks to: the staff at Kingspan Pan­els, Equitone, Tech­ni­cal Glass Prod­ucts, Fortress Storm Rooms, BuildBlock Build­ing Sys­tems, and the Mono­lithic Dome In­sti­tute, par­tic­u­larly Gary Clark and David B. South; and the ar­chi­tects John Berg of Berg De­sign Ar­chi­tec­ture, Hec­tor Mag­nus of Ar­chi­tects Mag­nus, and Robert Klob of Robert Klob De­signs.

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