The Fuller Dome: Bucky’s Personal Residence Preservation Project: Carbondale, IL


Newsletter November
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Dome ExteriorBy Shannon McDonald 

“All of humanity now has the option to “make it” successfully and sustainably, by virtue of our having minds, discovering principles, and being able to employ these principles to do more with less”

R. Buckminster Fuller Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, 1969 © The Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller. All rights reserved.
Many do not know that Southern Illinois University, Carbondale (SIUC) was a hotbed of modernism in the 1960’s. Academics, artists, writers, poets, doers and thinkers found shelter and conversation in the complex landscape of southern Illinois where the hills and forest mediate the confluence of the farming plains and the Mississippi delta. The area is defined by its railroads and river boats, the New Madrid fault and where coal, timber, salt and the river trade developing our country long before the city of Chicago emerged. As a professor for 12 years at SIUC, R. Buckminster Fuller was one of those visionaries that made Carbondale his home base to connect with the world.
"Roam Home to a Dome" by Buckminster Fuller and sung to "Home on the Range"

There once was a square with a romantic flare,
Pure Beaux Arts, McKim, Meade and White;
In the mood than ensued, he went factory-nude
Mies, Gropy, Corbussy and Wright.

Roam home to a dome
Where Georgian and gothic once stood;
Now chemical bonds alone guard our blondes.
And even the plumbing looks good.

In 1983, just months before his death, R. Buckminster Fuller was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award given by the United States government. His ideas as an architect, author, engineer, designer, philosopher, educator, mathematician, futurist, entrepreneur and inventor prompted Marshall McLuhan to call him the “Leonardo Da Vinci of our time”. His beliefs of doing more with less, making the world work for 100% of humanity, and an understanding of the critical role that humans play in their own success are words that are resonating today. Building upon this foundation, his contributions to the world are now underway: sustainability, whole-systems approach to problem solving, synergy (the whole being greater than the sum of its parts) and comprehensive anticipatory design science. Bucky believed in creating change by focusing on the artifacts with the environment in which humans interact. The physical landscape of southern Illinois created just the environment to stimulate his fertile mind.

Image: During Construction Of The Dome Home Of R. Buckminster Fuller, Carbondale, IL. Credit:The Late Ben Gelman, Photographer For The Southern Illinoisan


Fuller patented the dome in 1954 as a solution the need for safe, affordable and accessible housing. In April 1960, a dome was assembled on a corner lot in a quiet Carbondale neighborhood of small older homes, at 407 South Forest Ave. While living there with his wife Anne he made the cover of TIME Magazine and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Six of his patents were issued with the South Forest address, and 12 of his books were published during his residence in the home. This is the only home that he and Anne lived in and owned. After many years experimenting on the concept of the dome with students from different universities and at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, his personal home became the prototype for all other dome homes that followed.

Let architects sing of the aesthetics that bring
Rich clients in hordes to their knees,
Just give me a home in a great circle dome
Where stressed and strains are at ease

Rome home to a dome
On the crest of a neighboring hill
Where the chores are all done, before they’re begun
And eclectic nonsense is nil.

Image: R. Buckminster Fuller And His Wife Anne In Their Home, Carbondale, IL.
Credit:  The late Ben Gelman, photographer for The Southern Illinoisan

Currently on the National Register of Historic Places, the goal for the dome’s restoration and preservation as a museum and education center has been a vision of many in the community. The National Park Service awarded a Save Americas Treasures matching grant that is now in actively in the matching funding stage. Thad Heckman, architect and professor in the SIUC architecture department, one who remembers R. Buckminster Fuller as a professor in the SIUC Department of Design, has produced measured documents of the home and has just received the Leicester B. Holland Prize for these renderings. Photographs by Ben Gelman, photographer for the Southern Illinoisan document the construction process, the dome, Buckminster Fuller and his many famous guests in Carbondale, IL. The restoration is set to begin in 2013 as funds continue to be raised to match the grant. 

Image: The library of R. Buckminster Fuller with the integrated peg-board ventilated base,Carbondale, IL
Credit:The Late Ben Gelman, Photographer For The Southern Illinoisan

The geodesic dome, based on a natural pattern of interlocking triangles is considered one of the strongest and most efficient built structures and can be constructed at many different scales. Currently there are over 500,000 worldwide. Assembled in just seven hours the panelized wood frame assembly, with foundation and mechanical/electrical systems cost only $7,000.00 to $8,000.00 for the final product. It was prefabricated by the Pease Woodworking Company of Hamilton, Ohio and constructed by Ira Parrish, a Carbondale contractor. 

Let modern folks dream of glass boxes with steam
Out along super-burbia way;
Split-levels, split-loans, split-breadwinner homes
No down money, lifetime to pay.

Rome home to a dome,
No banker would back with a dime,
No mortgage to show, no payments to go,
Where you dwell, dream, and spend only time.

The geometry of the home is a 3 frequency, 3/8th sphere geodesic dome consisting of six pentagons and five hexagons comprised of three differing length modular struts forming a total of 60 triangular panels. Natural lighting was through skylights. Interior ventilation incorporated a stack effect and central fan allowing air to circulate from the lower level to the upper level via ceiling grills and a perforated “peg-board” base at the built- in bookcase in the loft. Radiant hot water circulating heat was incorporated into the floor slab and is still active.

Although computer documentation has not been found for the original Pease Woodworking Company’s shop drawings, from the report and description of the documentation work of Thad Heckman, the requirements due to the geometry of the home demanded unique procedures to verify it’s “closeness to sphere”. The requirement for which geodesics, in this case, icosahedral, is needed in order to determine preservation strategies for its structural repairs. He used a Hilti PM 24 multi-axis laser plumb device and laser range-finding instruments to determine sphericity above and beyond concerns for obviously damaged pentagons and hexagons and the corresponding triangulation along with three-dimensional computer simulation model. Please refer to the Holland report submitted by Thad Heckman. 

Image:Thad Heckman, Leicester B. Holland Prize Submission Rendering. Credit: The National Park Service 

Your financial support is needed to secure our success. Whatever your contribution, your support is valued and will help us preserve and promote comprehensive solutions and Bucky’s spirit of service that is vital to our community and the world today. Donations up to $125,000 will be matched by the Save America’s Treasures Grant. Please donate at or mail your donation to P.O. Box 1261, Carbondale, IL 62903.

All quotes and The Roam Home to A Dome By Buckminster Fuller are courtesy of: R. Buckminster Fuller, 1979 essay “Learning Tomorrows” published in Education Automation [Lars Muller 2009]
Roam Home to a Dome by Buckminster Fuller and sung to Home on the Range - © The Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller. All rights reserved.