Development Concerns at the Buckminster Fuller Dome at Woods Hole


Docomomo US Staff


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The Dome at Woods Hole, the oldest extant Buckminster Fuller designed geodesic dome in the world and a unique and delicate structure (the framing members are stock dimensional lumber cut to fit the geometry) is now under serious threat.


Completed in the summer of 1954 by Fuller and his students to serve as the dining room for the Nautilus Hotel in Woods Hole. The hotel is an accomplished if modest modern structure designed by architect Gunnar Peterson, an accomplished early Cape cod modernist (the hotel has unfortunately has been abandoned and let fall into ruin – it will be demolished), who reached out to Fuller for the design of the dining pavilion. The Dome has been abandoned for a number of years and its condition is deteriorating – though it has proven surprisingly resilient considering the delicacy of its construction.   


Longfellow Design-Build, a local developer, bought the entire Nautilus parcel – including the dome – and The Dome at Woods Hole, a non-profit constituted to try to save and restore the Dome, have been trying for a couple of years to come to an agreement that would give the non-profit control of the Dome and enough land around it to ensure its survival and re-birth as a community resource of some sort.


As the negotiations with Longfellow have broken down of late, the developer is proposing an over-scaled highly historicizing condominium complex which would “save” the dome, but would use up all of the land around it, placing it directly adjacent to the condominium. In addition, the developer is proposing his own “preservation plan” for the building based upon a hastily commissioned, superficial analysis of the structure that as we understand it, risks the possibility of doing irreparable damage to this delicate structure.


On January 17 and 22, the developer will be presenting his proposal to the local Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals to get approval for the project. The position of the nonprofit now is to oppose this development in the interest both of saving the Dome and because of its scale and insensitivity to its immediate surroundings. Parenthetically, a conservation architect and Structural engineer have been retained to do a comprehensive Historic Structures Report and structural analysis of the dome, which is only waiting funding to start. 


In expectation of these meetings, The Dome at Woods Hole is looking for letters of support from the preservation community.


More on the development issues can be found here on the The Dome at Woods Hole website.


You can read the Docomomo US letter of support here.

You can read the Docomomo International letter of support here.