A Dome (Originated from Domus in Latin) is a remarkably efficient way to enclose a large amount of space, and the form can be seen topping some of the world’s most well-known and impressive buildings. A dome is a self-supporting structural element that resembles the curved hollow upper half of a sphere. A dome can rest directly upon walls, columns, a drum, or a system of squinches or pendentives used to support the transition of shape from a square or rectangle to the round or polygonal base of the dome. A dome’s apex may be closed or open in the form of an oculus covered with a cupola or a lantern, depending upon the function.
Dome Architecture is used since prehistory with technological advancements to achieve desirable spans. Domes have been constructed over the centuries of different materials like mud, snow, stone, wood, brick, concrete, metal, glass, and plastic. Domes are also associated with the symbolism of the spaces like a mortuary, celestial, governmental traditions, scientific, etc. Domes now in the modern world can be found over religious buildings, legislative chambers, sports stadiums, and a variety of functional structures.

Here are ten things probably you didn’t know about Dome Architecture:

1. ‘Wigwam’ was the earliest simple dome-like structures that have been documented

In the Ojibwe language, a wiigiiwaam is a semi-permanent domed dwelling formerly used by American tribes and First Nations people. They are still used for ceremonial and ritual events. These structures constitute a frame of arched poles, often wooden, covered with some bark roofing material. Specifications of construction diversify with the culture, region, and local availability of materials. Remarkable materials used for roofing are grass, brush, bark, rushes, mats, reeds, hides, or cloth. 

'Wigwam' was the earliest simple dome-like structures that have been documented
Apache wigwam, by Edward S. Curtis, 1903 ©en.wikipedia.org

2. Hagia Sophia is an original design that covers a basilica plan with a dome

After the divergence with the Roman West, the Byzantine era took rise. Justinian’s Hagia Sophia was an unusual and innovative design with no identified precedents of the way it covers a basilica plan with dome and semi-domes. Recurrent earthquakes have caused three partial collapses of the dome and also had compelled repairs. It employs a distinctive style of putting a dome on a square base that combines the secular power of a dome and Christianity’s spirituality with a basilica form. Before the completion of St Peter’s Basilica, it was the largest pendentive dome in the world and had a lower height than any other dome of such a large diameter. 

Hagia Sophia is an original design that covers a basilica plan with a dome - Sheet1
Interior view showing Christian and Islamic elements on the top of the main dome ©en.wikipedia.org
Hagia Sophia is an original design that covers a basilica plan with a dome - Sheet2
Cross-section of the Hagia Sophia ©scihi.org
Hagia Sophia is an original design that covers a basilica plan with a dome - Sheet3
Dome of the Hagia Sophia illustrating Pendentive Construction ©www.alamy.com

3. Domes were gilded through gold electroplating for the first time in Moscow

The multi-domed church is a typical form of Russian church architecture that distinguishes Russia from other Orthodox nations and Christian denominations. Plentiful timber in Russia made wooden domes familiar and contributed to the popularity of onion domes, as they are easier to shape in wood than in masonry. One such example is Saint Basil’s Cathedral, in Red Square of Moscow, one of Russia’s most famous cultural symbols. Russian domes are generally brightly painted where chemical gilding using mercury was applied on some occasions until the mid-19th century, most notably in Saint Isaac’s Cathedral’s giant dome. The modern method of gold electroplating was utilized for the first time in gilding the domes of Christ the Saviour’s Cathedral in Moscow, the tallest Eastern Orthodox church in the world.

Domes were gilded through gold electroplating for the first time in Moscow - Sheet1
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow ©www.reddit.com
Domes were gilded through gold electroplating for the first time in Moscow - Sheet2
St Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow ©www.inyourpocket.com

4. Santa Maria Del Fiore’s dome is the largest masonry dome ever built

Filippo Brunelleschi designed an octagonal brick domical vault over Florence Cathedral and the lantern surmounting the dome. Brunelleschi employed a novel herringbone pattern that admitted the brick to self-reinforce as being laid, and hence the bricks didn’t fall off the wall as they became inclined. To this day, the dome of the Florence Cathedral is the largest masonry dome ever built. Brunelleschi won the competition without showing any plans with just an egg. He told the commission that he would reveal his plans if they could make the egg stand on the table. As they failed to do so, he smashed the egg into two parts and put one half-shell on the top of the other, causing the egg to stand upright.

Santa Maria Del Fiore's dome is the largest masonry dome ever built - Sheet1
The Cathedral of Florence with Brunelleschi’s dome, Italy ©en.wikipedia.org
Santa Maria Del Fiore's dome is the largest masonry dome ever built - Sheet2
Drawings of the Dome ©www.metalocus.es

5. Domes in India illustrates the fusion of Persian and Indian architecture

The fusion of Persian and Indian architecture can be seen in the domes of different architectural pieces. In the dome of the Taj Mahal, the bulbous shape descends from Persian Timurid domes and the finial with lotus leaf base from Hindu temples. The Gol Gumbaz, or Round Dome, is one of the most massive masonry domes with the most technically advanced techniques used in the Deccan. The last prominent Islamic tomb built in India was the tomb of Safdar Jang. The central dome is triple-shelled, with two layers of flat inner brick and an outer layer of bulbous marble with a lotus leaf finial at the top.

Domes in India illustrates the fusion of Persian and Indian architecture - Sheet1
Dome of Taj Mahal ©www.trekearth.com
Domes in India illustrates the fusion of Persian and Indian architecture - Sheet2
Gol Gumbaz ©en.wikipedia.org

6. The first permanent air-supported membrane domes were the Radomes built after World War II

The U.S. was developing a transcontinental network to surveil the Soviet threat. Hence the radar domes were designed and built by Walter Bird after World War II called Radomes. Bird discovered a new material used by NASA for the Apollo mission spacesuits–a fiberglass fabric coated in Teflon. The Radomes’ low-cost plan was able to create permanent versions using Teflon-coated fiberglass, and by 1985 the majority of the domed stadiums around the world used this system and are still the most iconic figures of Cold War history.

The first permanent air-supported membrane domes were the Radomes built after World War II
Walter Bird standing on his first air-supported radome ©www.fastcompany.com

7. Buckminster Fuller- The architect of Geodesic Domes

Fuller’s most recognizable architecture, all relatively avant-garde for its time now, has claimed fame. The geodesic dome, a spherical structure Fuller patented with an Omni-triangulated surface that gave it super strength. The dome created in the U.S. Pavilion at the 1967 World Fair, and now a science museum called the Montreal Biosphère is one of his most known works. An initial model of Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Dome House is also currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1960, Fuller also described a 3 km geodesic dome spanning Midtown Manhattan to regulate weather and reduce air pollution.

Buckminster Fuller- The architect of Geodesic Domes
Montreal Biosphère ©www.architecturaldigest.com

8. Biosphere 2: Largest closed system dome structure

Biosphere 2 intended to demonstrate the viability of closed ecological systems to support and maintain human life in outer space. Its initial experiment housed eight people and remained the largest closed system attempted to date. It was planned to explore the web of interactions within life systems on various biological biomes with a crew of eight humans called “Biospherians.” It advocated Buckminster Fuller’s “Spaceship Earth” concept and explored the idea of biospheres as a refuge from disasters such as nuclear war. During the day, the sun’s heat caused the air inside to expand, and during the night, it cooled and contracted. To avoid dealing with the enormous forces yet maintaining a constant volume, the structure employed large diaphragms called “lungs.”

Sheet1
Biosphere 2 exterior view ©en.wikipedia.org
 Sheet2
Biosphere 2 exterior view ©en.wikipedia.org

9. Millennium Dome, a lightweight tensile structure

Millennium Dome is constructed of a fiberglass fabric coated with PTFE (Teflon). Cables are connected to the piers that help to stretch the membrane. It is the ninth largest building of Dome Architecture by usable volume in the world. London-based architect Richard Rogers designed the porcupine-shaped Millennium Dome as a temporary structure to lead in humanity’s next thousand years but eventually became the centerpiece for the O2 entertainment district. The entire roof structure weighs lighter than the air enclosed within the building. Although attributed as a dome, it is not indeed one as it is not self-supporting but is a giant canopy supported by a dome-shaped cable network from twelve king posts.

Millennium Dome, a lightweight tensile structure - Sheet1
Millennium Dome, a porcupine type structure ©en.wikipedia.org
Millennium Dome, a lightweight tensile structure - Sheet2
IMG 2-Tensile structure over the dome ©en.wikipedia.org

10. Lunar Dome Colony proposal by NASA

Around 2005, a domed lunar city design 25 miles in diameter and 5,000 feet tall over Shackleton Crater began circulating in aerospace conferences. The city is planned to consist of several sections connected by a transportation system of commuter rail lines. As underground infrastructure expands, subscale domes of increasingly larger sizes will be built and integrated into the system. Therefore, the underground base continues to protect from damage to the dome structure, even after completion. The dome itself will be a sturdy structure and, when complete, will support actual living, recreation, and business quarters for the first lunar settlement.

Lunar Dome Colony proposal by NASA - Sheet1
Lunar Dome colony ©medium.com
Lunar Dome Colony proposal by NASA - Sheet2
Proposal by NASA ©medium.com
Lunar Dome Colony proposal by NASA - Sheet3
Glass dome over the colony with unitized tiling ©medium.com

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dome

https://www.florenceinferno.com/the-brunelleschi-dome/

https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/buckminster-fuller-architecture

Swara Ganatra
Author

Swara is an architect and a keen traveler with a significant interest in writing and blogging. She likes to work on exploratory yet grounded approaches and understands architecture from the perspective of human values and sensitivity. She believes that if drawings speak more, words articulate the most.

Write A Comment