What Is Geodesic?

Ray Hawk

Geodesic objects are based on a geometry of curved surfaces that often resemble the curvature of the Earth, with the root term coming from Greek and referring to a method of dividing up land. Structures such as greenhouses, homes, sports arenas, and so on have been built with the geodesic dome form as a efficient method of capturing sunlight and being structurally sound against wind and storms. Chemical compounds such as buckyballs, a polyhedral carbon molecule, naturally take on a very strong, spherical geodesic form as well.

Scientist with beakers
Scientist with beakers

Buckminster Fuller is known to have popularized the idea of the value of the geodesic form when, as an American engineer teaching at Black Mountain College in the U.S. state of North Carolina in 1949, he constructed his first geodesic dome structure. Later in the 1980s, when pure carbon molecules were discovered to resemble the geodesic structure in both cylindrical and spherical forms, they were named Fullerenes in honor of Buckminster Fuller. One molecule in particular, C60, was given his full name, being officially called a Buckminsterfullerene by its discoverers in 1985. Fullerenes in general are now known to exist naturally in nature, not just in the chemist's laboratory, as well as being detected in outer space.

One of the advantages of a geodesic sphere or standard geodesic plans is that the dome structure is based upon a series of arched, interconnected triangles, which make it an exceedingly strong natural form. Spherical forms also have unique advantages over other types of human buildings, in that their interior square footage increases by a factor of four when the diameter of the dome is doubled, and the free flow of air and energy in a dome structure makes it easier to heat and cool than conventional buildings.

Fuller was a researcher into improving human forms of shelter, and his discovery of the advantages of the geodesic shape have led to over half a million geodesic dome structures being constructed around the world to date. Some of the key advantages the design offers over conventional buildings are that it requires less building materials, because surface area is more efficiently used, it offers heating and cooling energy savings of 30% over traditional structures, and it can withstand high winds and extreme temperatures. Domes have now been built for shelter in such remote places as the Earth's polar regions.

The ultimate drive behind Fuller's design of geodesic living quarters, and one now responsible for their widespread use, was that the environmental cost of a home should be taken into account when building it. This included both the cost of construction materials and the cost to maintain it, and climate control of the interior. It was a green, or Earth-friendly, approach to using the planet's limited resources in a wise way that was not part of popular culture at the time, but has since become increasingly important in the modern age.

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