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1975 - Present: Monolithic Dome Home

Designed For Disaster


Also known as EcoShells, Monolithic Domes can survive tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, fire, and insects.
Monolithic dome homes in the village of New Ngelepen on Java Island, Indonesia

Monolithic dome homes in the village of New Ngelepen on Java Island, Indonesia

Photo © Dimas Ardian/Getty Images
A Monolithic Dome is a one-piece structure made with concrete and rebar (ridged steel rods). The Monolithic Dome Institute uses the term EcoShells (Economical, Eco-Friendly and Thin-Shell) to describe the monolithic dome structures they developed.

Advantages of Monolithic Dome Construction:

  • Monolithic Domes use half as much concrete and steel as traditional buildings.
  • The curved shape of the dome makes it resistant to wind and storm damage.
  • During earthquakes, Monolithic Domes move with the ground instead of collapsing.
  • Monolithic Domes cannot be damaged by fire, rot, or insects.
  • The thermal mass of the concrete walls makes Monolithic Domes energy-efficient.

Development of the Monolithic Dome:

The idea of constructing dome-shaped structures dates back to prehistoric times and is a house style found around the world. In the 1940s, Southern California architect Wallace Neff developed "bubble houses" or what he called Airforms. The style was ahead of its time in the U.S., but was used to create affordable housing in developing countries. The development of modern concrete and steel Monolithic Domes is credited to designer David B. South. When he was a teenager, South heard architect-inventor Buckminster Fuller speak about the innovative geodesic dome that he developed. Fascinated, South began experimenting. In 1975, South worked with his brothers Barry and Randy to construct a dome-shaped potato storage facility in Shelley, Idaho. Measuring 105 feet round and 35 feet high, the structure is considered the first modern Monolithic Dome. David B. South patented the process and established an enterprise for constructing Monolithic Dome homes, schools, churches, sport stadiums, and commercial buildings.

The Monolithic Domes shown here are located in the village of New Ngelepen in Yogyakarta province, Java Island, Indonesia. In 2006, Domes for the World Foundation supplied about 70 of these homes to earthquake survivors. Each home cost about $1,500. For upscale versions of the idea, see: Modernist Dome Homes.

How Monolithic Domes are Constructed:

  1. A circular concrete slab floor is reinforced with steel rebar.
  2. Vertical steel bars are embedded in the outer edge of the foundation to support the dome.
  3. Blower fans inflate an Airform made of PVC coated nylon or polyester fabrics.
  4. The Airform swells to assume the shape of the structure.
  5. A grid of vertical and horizontal rebar surrounds the exterior of the Airform.
  6. 2 or 3 inches of concrete is applied over the rebar grid.
  7. After the concrete is dry, the Airform is removed from the inside. The Airform can be re-used.

More About Monolithic Domes:

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