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Can a geodesic dome over a city work in practicality? – Quora

Can a geodesic dome over a city work in practicality?

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, Expert in complex urban real estate and economic development.

efore getting into the mechanics of whether a city-wide geodesic dome would physically work, its probably useful to take a step back and look at where the idea of a domed city came from in the first place. This will help to explain what makes the notion so tantalizing, and why the idea keeps coming up again and again over time. Because it turns out that domed cities are often as much about symbolism as they are about engineering.

Domed cities first achieved widespread attention in the pages of early science fiction. As such, they provided a practical, if largely theoretical, solution to the challenge of making hostile environments (such as those found on other planets or under the sea) suitable for human life. As a general rule, domes were not originally a solution for problems besetting traditional cities. They were a bold idea designed to make possible an era of vast, and otherwise unimaginable, exploration.

Because they were so often found in science fiction, over time domes became (somewhat tautologically) identified with the idea of the city of tomorrow: science fiction stories set in the future featured domed cities, and so naturally future cities would have domes. Freestanding transparent domes were understood as a futuristic shape, both technological and organic, sensuous in form yet massive in scale. They were profoundly different from the boring cubes and right angles of traditional architecture.

When Buckminster Fuller famously seized upon the possibilities of the geodesic dome, he did more than just identify the unique structural properties of a particular geometric form. He tapped into this longstanding idea of the dome as a new and profoundly future-oriented approach to the delineation of space. While he certainly did build a number of actual geodesic buildings, his concept for a massive dome over New York was — like many Fuller ideas — a mixture of both a genuine proposal and an audacious symbol of heroic technological optimism.

(Parenthetically, it is worth noting that the central architectural symbol of Disneys EPCOT center is a giant geodesic sphere. EPCOT stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, and so this use of a Fuller-inspired building is not accidental. Of course, it also conveniently resembles the logo of the buildings corporate sponsor, AT&T.)

But it is worth remembering that domes have not always symbolized a bold and utopian future. Over time, domed cities have been used in literature and film to symbolize just the opposite — tragedy, failure, and alienation.

Sometimes domes are depicted as a shield against dystopia, sheltering residents from nuclear holocaust, environmental contamination, or civic anarchy. In these stories, domes become the ultimate technological extension of the medieval walled city. And more often than not, these domes specifically protect their inhabitants from a disaster of our own making.

As a result, domes can also symbolize humanitys shame at its own failings. This interpretation was evident when noted environmental historian Roderick Nash suggested that perhaps the only way for people to cease injuring the planet would be to withdraw into domed or underground cities. This sort of idea inadvertently reverses the classic dystopic model, by trapping us inside the dome for the benefit of everything else. (A reverse zoo, if you will.)

Because of their ability to trap as well as protect, domes sometimes symbolize the cruel panopticon of authoritarian control. This possibility was on full display in films like The Truman Show and The Hunger Games. As a practical matter, structures of such scale could never be created without systems of tremendous wealth, complexity, and power. And so it is not unreasonable to wonder about the intentions of such an institution, and whether their goal might be as much about keeping things in as keeping them out.

And, of course, domes have been used to symbolize our alienation from one another. In fiction, it has almost become a trope for towns and cities to find themselves unexpectedly trapped by a mysterious hemispherical structure. From comic books like Girls and X-Men: Second Coming, to Stephen Kings popular (if unimaginatively-named) Under The Dome, the sudden division of a town from the world at large creates powerful anxiety.

I mention all this because it is sometimes genuinely hard to separate the reality of a massive, city-wide dome from the literary idea of such a thing. I probably wouldnt even be writing this if domed cities werent already a potent cultural symbol of The Future. When people speculate about domed cities, they are generally trying to bring daily life into alignment with a series of pre-existing cultural ideas, rather than seeking a specific technical solution to a well-defined urban problem.

In terms of engineering reality, giant domes at this scale are more easily imagined than built. For example, the dome would be massively heavy, and large glass panels are not ideally suited to hang horizontally without cracking. While some have suggested that new lightweight materials such as ETFE might solve the weight problem, this remains an untested solution, particularly given the need for long-term durability under harsh, exposed conditions.

Also, a glass dome is essentially giant greenhouse, trapping solar radiation. While this can be ameliorated to some extent with venting and shading, it is very hard to get around the fundamental physics of a greenhouse. As a result, unless your city is in an extremely cold climate, you would spend much of your time fighting against the core properties of the object itself. (The greenhouse problem was reportedly a major problem at Fullers Dome Restaurant in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, forcing the owner to eventually cover most of the formerly-glass structure in fiberglass.)

Meanwhile, geodesic domes are notorious for leaking, due to their complex multifaceted construction, which introduces a large number of joints at odd angles. This is particularly true in all-glass applications, where there is no roofing membrane or series of overlapping shingles to shed water.

Speaking of water, it is worth noting that in a non-leaking dome, all parks, street trees, and gardens would have to be mechanically watered at great expense. Given the shift in contemporary cities towards more green space and tree canopy, a dome would undermine decades of effort towards improving urban comfort and sustainability.

Next, even post-industrial cities are places with significant amounts of internal combustion from cars, trucks, gas stoves, furnaces, and boilers. They are home to restaurants, which generate smoke. And as any city resident can attest, they are prone to passive off-gassing from underground sewers, garbage. Unless your plan includes a strategy for radically reducing air pollution and/ or evacuating massive amounts of air, the city would quickly become dangerous to inhabit. Remember also that there are catastrophic events (such as building fires) that cannot be predicted or prevented. Contemporary ASHRAE standards require significant amounts of ventilation just for standard retail or office space; it is hard to imagine how much would be needed to maintain health and safety in an enclosed city.

All this need for air exchange undermines one of the purported benefits of a domed city, namely the opportunity to regulate air temperature at a massive scale. Some have argued that regulating climate at this scale would be more efficient than millions of smaller, individual HVAC units in each building or apartment. But even if climate control at that scale were possible to engineer, and there werent a massive greenhouse effect, and there were giant fans to prevent temperature stratification as warm air rose to the top of the dome, and there werent a massive tax revolt from residents forced to convert their private utility bills into public fees, the need to evacuate contaminated air could easily counteract the purported efficiency gains of a massively centralized HVAC system.

Next, remember that contemporary cities are extremely large. Even the speculative, quasi-serious 2010 proposal to protect Houston from hurricanes would only have covered 21 million square feet of the city. While large enough to protect downtown, it would have left the vast majority of Houston exposed to the elements. Even if you assume that the dome would work as planned, this introduces a profound question of equity: who gets to live in the protective shelter of the dome, and who doesnt?

Lastly, domed cities would require massive up-front cost, in exchange for a profoundly unclear benefit. It is honestly not clear from an engineering perspective whether a giant dome would actually protect downtown Houston from storm damage. But even if it did, it is conceivable that the construction cost could equal (or exceed) the net present value of that damage.

Domed cities are a dramatic idea, rich in symbolism. But there is a reason why they were first proposed for colonizing alien planets, rather than our own.

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Related QuestionsMore Answers Below

How big can the fuller dome (Geodesic Dome) built so that its financially viable?

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Ive often wondered about making a dome city. ( but More for living in deserts etc) .

1. Its not crazy. There is an inventive and somewhat detailed paper at thisPage on , which estimates about US$250M to cover Manhattan island… but its based on inflation, not rigid

2. Rigid Domes are probably not the way to go, because beating the environmental forces with conventional mechanical engineering is cost-prohibitive . I believe air (inflation) is your friend, and with evolved materials and manufacturing techniques, the cost-benefit will slowly tip towards realistic feasibility . There would have to be self-healing-systems and physical flexibility incorporated into any design.

3. I doubt any first attempt would be wise to cover an existing town/city. Such a social/engineering experiment would more likely succeed starting as a ground-up ( blank canvas) design, say, on the outskirts of an existing population.

, Interest in skyscraper constructionProbably not. The biggest problem would be wind. A structure of this size would have an enormous cross section, so even a light wind would exert a large force on the structure. A worst case scenario of a hurricane or a strong thunderstorm would put much more force on the structure, probably enough that the forces from the wind would be the dominating factor in designing the structure, and a city sized structure would already have to be extremely strong just to support itself. Because of this, while it may be technically possible to build a large dome over a city, it would probably be impractical, and uneconomical to do. An alternative could be linking existing buildings together with glass roofs over the streets and parks.The feedback you provide will help us show you more relevant content in the future.

I think the engineering challenge is tremendous. That is a huge structure. Secondly, managing climate, humidity, pollution inside such a structure would be a difficult.

Based on my earlier analysis of what it would take to build a dome over a medium size city (it is somewhere here on Quora) it did not seem nearly feasible.

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Still have a question? Ask your own!

How big can the fuller dome (Geodesic Dome) built so that its financially viable?

Why has no one thought about creating a domed city or a domed town?

What are the pros and cons of building and living in a geodesic dome house?

What is the use of a geodesic dome?

Could an inflatable geodesic dome be used for disaster relief?

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What is a geodesic dome? What are some of the different types?

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