The Science Behind Geodesic Domes

The sight of a geodesic dome often takes many people aback. They have a futuristic disposition and an aesthetic feel that is almost non-tangible. Aside from their unmistakable beauty, they appear to be self supporting structures. You do not get to see supporting structures such as supporting beams protruding from the ground to their sides. The question that comes up rather obviously is: What keeps them from crashing?

The Origin of Geodesic Domes

The first geodesic dome was designed and put up to house a planetarium projector. That's right; the use of a geodesic dome couldn't have gotten any simpler. At that time, the designer was not interested in encouraging people to take up the design. It took Robert Buckminister Fuller (Bucky) to undertake a massive pro-geodesic dome campaign. In fact, he even gave those spherical or sometimes semi-spherical structures riddled with triangular elements their name-geodesic domes.

The Science Behind Geodesic Domes

Geodesic domes are extremely strong structures able to withstand significant stress loads. That is why they are resilient in the face of natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornados and typhoons. Their strength boils down to geometry. Unlike the domes of yore which required strong supporting beams to keep them from crashing, geodesic domes are self supporting. This is because they make use of the advantages of triangles-the most stable shape with fixed angles and ability to equally spread weight at all of its ends.

The Magical Triangle

Bucky must have wondered why he had never thought of incorporating triangles into building structures before as he eventually incorporated them into the structure of geodesic domes. The triangle is truly a magical shape and the strongest of them all. This is because of their permanent angles and their resistance to distortion. If you apply pressure to a triangle, the stress will be distributed evenly throughout it.

The Tensional Integrity of Geodesic Domes

Simply put, tensional integrity is a continuous dance between compressed members and tensed members not allowed to touch. In the context of a geodesic dome, the compressed members are the struts while the tensed members are the cables. This continuous dance ensures that none of the compressed members or the tensed members bends during the dance. As a result, extraordinarily rigid structures result such as geodesic domes. In geodesic domes, this tensional integrity relies on the magical triangles for complete strength.

The Strong Structures That Result

The magical triangle gives geodesic domes their tremendous strength while the tensional integrity contributes to their structural integrity. Moreover, geodesic domes are made of materials such as magnesium oxide and basalt. These materials are extremely reliable as they can be found in historic jewels such as The Taj Mahal in India. This reliability contributes to the structural integrity of geodesic domes. The effects on spheres increase geometrically with size. The strength of geodesic domes therefore also increase as their sizes increase; how about that! To test just how geodesic domes are strong, builders often subject them to stress that is five times that required by building codes. Geodesic domes come out victorious.


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