by , 10/10/05

An interesting find from the recent spate of hurricanes in the U.S. is that a particular type of building structure seems to hold up surprisingly well to the ravages of extreme wind and water. The reinforced-concrete dome – or “Monolithic Dome” as one company has branded it – has shown time and time again that it is up to the task of surviving extreme weather conditions like hurricanes, earthquakes, and even tornadoes. After hurricane Katrina blew through Biloxi, Mississippi, the concrete-domed New Life Family Church, was one of the few large buildings in the area left standing. A couple in Pensacola, Florida are so taken with Monolithic Domes that they rent out their “Dome of a Home” in order to spread the dome gospel. The “Dome of a Home” has been through three major hurricanes – Dennis, Ivan and Katrina, and survived all intact.

In addition to being safe, sturdy and weather resistant – Monolithic domes are extremely cheap, easy to build, and energy efficient. They are also fire-resistant, mold-resistant and impervious to rot. They’ve become the building type of choice in disaster relief areas, as they can often be erected in a couple of weeks with minimal materials and resources. Building them basically just consists of pouring a concrete foundation, inflating a a heavy-duty, dome-shaped “balloon”, erecting steel rebar scaffolding around that, and then spraying Concrete (Shotcrete) over the outside. For more information on building a Monolithic Dome, check out The Monolithic Dome Institute’s guide

Their only major drawback to Monolithic Domes seem to be that they are so insulated that they usually require air-conditioning and de-humidifiers to keep them dry and ventilated. Also, the rounded walls make them more difficult to furnish and decorate. And of course your neighbors might complain.

For more information about Monolithic Domes, see The Monolithic Dome Institute >

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  1. phil allen August 24, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    I suggest both Yale’s (hockey team?) field house and Eugene Tsai’s home in west Berkeley California as prototypical for the entire subject of windstorm-resistant architecture. Nature forms should be explored. All such buildings, of course, should be oriented to the prevailing winds during storm season.

  2. perfectcirclecarpenter October 3, 2009 at 5:49 am

    For the record, monolithic domes are constructed from the inside… yes you blow up a large tent, but then you set up scaffolding inside, to spray foam, then hang rebar from the foam, then spray concrete.

    The foam is a very effective insulator, and fire resistant. The problems associated with this foam and heat are that it is fire resistant not fireproof… which is why it is on the outside of flame proof concrete. Great White concert was foamed on the inside… not good for pyrotechnics.

    Monolithic domes are very tightly sealed, thanks to the layered uniform surfaces. This combined with the round shape are the other reasons that it insulates from heat transfer so well. Everyone agrees that better sealed windows and doors and more effective insulation reduces the draw on your heat pump and air cooling ventilation machines. Normal houses are built from several materials forming joints with each other… this is where you have to use a lot of caulk to form a tight weather seal… because the different materials expand and contract at different rates, creating gaps.

    For inexpensive dome homes, check out the prices starting at $4000 for the frame. I have seen home plans advertised for that much… this is the actual frame sent to you pre cut. This dome uses an all wood joint solution, which creates fewer gaps because it is a uniform material (expanding and contracting at the same rate). You can have attractive shingles on these domes, and they do make composite shakes. You can also add extensions to the sides of the dome to make it more visually similar to neighboring homes.

    With a honeycomb floor plan, you can have 6 rooms surrounding a central area (great hall and stairwell), with each room having a pair of 90 degree angles and three obtuse angles. Most rooms have one corner occupied by the door anyway. The feel of these rooms is less confining… picture your normal square room opening up into 5 walls… yes you get an extra wall! So now you can have a bed there, a sofa there, a closet, flat screen tv, and a large patio door or window, and nothing is facing each other in a forced symmetry.

    I would personally want to see a new breed of architecture, where the bulk of the home is dug into the ground, away from the harsh weather, and reducing the need for footings and insulation. The top can be capped off with a dome covered in grass, with openings utilizing large aquatecture skylights. Could be a massive fortress under the guise of a hobbit home.

  3. Alyssa February 1, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    I was wondering how much it cost to make one. Is it easy to make

  4. CALEARTH DISASTER RESIS... June 13, 2007 at 4:28 am

    […] disaster-resistant architecture before, from Architecture For Humanity’s Biloxi Model Homes to monolithic domes, and considering the likelihood that we will be continually faced with more and more natural […]

  5. royalestel June 12, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    I visited a family in Craig, CO with a house like this. The only problem I had was getting lost in the oddly-shaped rooms.

  6. Inhabitat » CALEA... June 7, 2007 at 8:23 pm

    […] architecture before, from Architecture For Humanity’s Biloxi Model Homes to monolithic domes, and considering the likelihood that we will be continually faced with more and more natural […]

  7. Kelle May 4, 2007 at 9:28 pm

    i think it would not matter whether my neighbors liked it..they would be the ones coming to my house in the safety of a hurricane ….:]]

  8. Bev Lucas January 12, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    where could I get more information, and especially photos of dome prefab homes?

  9. Richie August 30, 2006 at 5:43 pm

    Monolithic Domes are cool… but to build a nice one is expensive. Then there are the issues already mentioned: maintenance(painting); AC ; dampness, etc. Putting something up on piers that wont blow away in high speed articulating winds is the challenge. Something that’s elevated on steel reinforced concrete piers would certainly accomodate the expected storm surge water levels of violent Hurricanes.

    Why not try a novel idea and create dwellings that utilize Buckminster Fuller’s ‘Octet Truss’ as the wall, ceiling, floor and roof superstructure elements ? If I’m not mistaken… airplane hangers regluarly withstand hurriacne force winds, and they use ‘space frame’ superstructure elements to support their superwide, clearspan, roofs ? Well ‘Octet Trusses’ are stronger than space frames, and they can be used for vertical pylons as well as roof & floor framing. So why not give it a shot ? Hey … these designs could be an ‘erecetor sets’ for adults !

    The Octet Truss combines alterating tetrahedrons and octahedrons… made from 90º angle bent, ‘L’ shaped, (aluminum) struts, bolted together, to create a super lighgtweight, yet superstrong ‘skeleton’. Additionally, any forces or loads impacting Octet Trusses are bourne equally by every member of the ‘skelton’ ! So they’re like spider webs…. super strong and super lightweight.

    At the 1934 World’s Fair, in Chicago, there was a fascinating House Designed and erected by George and Fred Keck. It was called the ‘Crystal House’… and it used what appears to be a system of 3 welded together, open web steel joists (Truscon O-T Joists ? ) to form 3 sided, hollow, vertical vertical pylons that were located on the exterior of the house. The These outer edge plyons(hollow ‘piers) could easily be fabricated from Octet Truss parts, which would then seamlessly make 90º connections with floor and roof spanning (also fabricated from Octet Truuses) … to create a super strong skeleton to be clad with various panelized elements. (They Octete Truss elements could also be welded, or riveted, together)

    So HEY ! All you Architects out there! Get busy ! Start designing dwellings that are Octet Trusses clad with a variety of suitable materials. (What about wall panels made from recycled plastic ? They’d never have to be painted, and would never rot or support mold.)


  10. Kim August 30, 2006 at 5:27 pm

    The neighbors can only complain if their houses dont’ get washed/blown away, otherwise they’ll ask how to get one too.

  11. James October 10, 2005 at 7:05 pm

    These are really catching on, I want one!

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