Introduction to Dome-Building: The Transformation of Personal Consciousness

        Lacking a Grand Plan for the reconstruction of society by pious use of ecologically-sound technology, my fragmentary projections lead outward from my own life. A specialist in technological dreaming might offer weird and unique visions. I have only images drawn from common knowledge and rooted in personal experience now widely shared.

        18. I write this in the nursery I have just built for the ferns and our son Lorca. Opening out from a hole in a wall of our cottage, it is a modified geodesic structure spanning an irregular space. Entirely skinned in transparent and tinted plastics and sheltered by a small bamboo grove, it defines a magical space, an experience of outside inside. Its snug twin insulating skins scarcely interrupt the continuity of green life, from bamboo to planter over the bed. The two 3/8-caps forming its airy roof are as light as they look, maybe fifty pounds, and already have held in a gale wind. Their patterns of triangle/pentagon/hexagon, tinted in the yellow/green/blue chord of bamboo against open sky, form the two wings of the butterfly of Mathematics. Lights and gems will be its hovering eyes, to complete the image for the child in his crib and for us as we lie on the floor in meditation. Poor and cramped for space even without a kid, we needed it. And joyful energy rises up in me, the payoff from elegance in response to necessity.

        Total cost: maybe $150, a week's learning, two weeks' work.

        19. I first turned on to geodesics by reading Bucky Fuller. But what kindled my longing to do was the poetry of Steve Baer's Dome Cookbook (4)

, which describes the related but distinct technology of zomes which he helped develop. Beginning with the work of modern Russian crystallographers and mathematicians, Baer extends their results in theory, translates this into architectural design, and describes the process of constructing zomes out of recycled sheet metal from the tops of junked cars -- and how not to chop your foot off if you salvage them with an axe. Spectral clusters of zomes now stand as monuments of collective creation in Lama, high in the sparse mountains of New Mexico, and Dome Cookbook circulates in the counterculture, bearing its implicit testament of a man who salvaged the skills of his technological training and put them to the uses of the imagination.

        Closer to home, at Pacific School, an experimental high school south of San Francisco Bay, ten domes were built in four months, three by the students alone. In Domebook I,(5)

the builders tell how -- a full practical introduction to theory, different material technologies, design and construction problems, aesthetics, etc., put together in two weeks. It gave me all I needed for the nursery, besides its own delight.

         20. It is the breath of new example, imagination come alive, which inspires us to new behavior. I could sit around reading Bucky Fuller until Domesday. But to see before me, in their own handwriting and funky home photos, ex-mathematicians and freed fifteen-year-olds casually multiplying spherical grace -- well, that was something else. Both domebooks were put together, printed, and distributed by a cluster of technologies that place the producing of a book within easy reach of a semi-skilled, low-capital work group. This potential and format were first made widely visible through the Whole Earth Catalogue, whose explosive popularity indicated the audience and the felt need for educational access to technology. Its motto: "We are as gods, and might as well get good at it."

        21. Our architecture develops the cube monotonously -- though it is only one of the Perfect Forms known to the Pythagoreans and Plato. For them, mathematics and theology were configured together. They would not have found strange the notion that living within space generated by other geometrical Forms induces changed consciousness -- which is what the current testimony of people who use icosahedron-based geodesics as a technology, not only of housing but of psychological and spiritual centering, boils down to.

        22. Like our society, conventional building technology is organized around the concentration of stresses and forces, and their treatment by means of brute local strength and gross load-members. Geodesic technology, like a number of other alternates now spreading, differs not only in its mathematical base, but in its essential dependence upon the structural principle of synergy. Its treatment of force is global and flexible, rather than local and rigid. The linear sum of the strengths of its minimal individual components is multiplied many times into the strength and stability of the whole system, which appears only as the dome is brought to completion as a living structure.

        Having built normal houses, I can swear that to build by such principles is a radically unfamiliar experience, and changes your consciousness. Even your routine awareness and trivial mistakes are of a new nature -- of combination, permutation, and edge-effect. And I can't describe how at completion you’re aware of a new form quickening under your hands, coming alive in a way unknown from usual building. But all dome-builders speak of this moment with awe, and treat their domes as if they were creatures who could be kept in health or wounded.

        23. Cognition begins in the body's action. Building a dome is a yoga, a stretch of action-road along which consciousness changes. The road's stations are the repeated failures of expectation and the incremental learning from each. No mystery: the lessons are quite specific. Time and again, you design a member or place a prop from a long-accumulating gut sense of what strength is necessary for support; or cramp your body to lean gingerly on a hub. Each time, your expectations prove to be gross or unnecessary, your anticipations are revealed as fearful. And what guides you shifts from a grasping for security toward a sense of the delicate power of wholeness.

        24. From our experience in the physical world, we derive the metaphors that undergird our understanding of all else. We were raised in a Way that taught us that hierarchies of importance, strong and weak members, were implicit in building. What would be the spontaneous politics and social constructions of children who played with struts instead of blocks, and who early internalized a Way of building in which all components were equally essential, effort evenly distributed, and the power of each dependent on and multiplied by cooperation? Is the social image of a geodesic dome a society without strong-men?

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