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The Unstoppable Rise of the Geodesic Dome

With interest in ‘glamping’ - or glamorous camping - at an all time high, lightweight dome hotel rooms are popping up like large and unusual mushrooms all across the world. Although they look somewhat futuristic, the modern geodesic dome has now been with us for over eighty years. So what lies behind the enduring popularity of these simple constructions and what does their future hold?


geodesic domeWhat is a Geodesic Dome Anyway?

A geodesic dome is a semi-spherical structure made from interconnected triangles, usually made from wood, metal or plastic and then covered to keep the elements out. The triangles keep the structure rigid, whilst the tension created by the covering adds to its overall stability. One of the perks of this shape is that it covers the largest surface area using the least amount of materials, making it better for the environment. They are also very lightweight structures and are designed to be portable rather than leaving a permanent, damaging impression on the landscape. In terms of comfort, the dome shape allows air to circulate freely inside and makes the most of natural heating and cooling.

How Did It All Begin?

American architect R. Buckminster ‘Bucky’ Fuller is credited with the invention of the geodesic dome, and was awarded the patent for his design in 1954. However, the first building that could be considered a geodesic dome was actually built some twenty years earlier to house the Zeiss Planetarium in Germany. In any event, Fuller’s design soon became popular and started appearing everywhere from the World’s Fair to the South Pole. Its star rose during the 1960s and 1970s as movements against conformism encouraged people to reject traditional ways of building, living and interacting with their natural environment. From public and commercial buildings, people began to adopt the geodesic dome as home.

Geodesic dome hotelThe Rise of the Geodesic Dome Hotel Room

From the 1970s onwards, things went a little quiet for the humble geodesic dome, until recently when a renewed interest in environmental concerns propelled it back onto the global stage as a result of its intrinsically low impact on the natural world. This time around it enjoys most popularity in the form of individual hotel room domes, spurred on by the apparently insatiable thirst for a glamping alternative to yurts, tipis, wigwams, huts, treehouses, gypsy caravans and pods.
The concept of glamping first emerged as far back as 2005 and came to mainstream media attention a couple of years later. Since then the hype has steadily grown year on year and shows no sign of slowing down. Whilst any number of glampsites have piled on for the ride in recent years, the trend undoubtedly started as ‘green’ movement and most glampsites make at least some mention of the sustainable credentials of non-permanent accommodation.
In fact, putting the environment first is the underlying philosophy of the world’s very first hotel made up of geodesic domes, which appeared in the year 2001. At EcoCamp Patagonia in the far south of Chile basic domes came first and creature comforts were added over time, as and when it became possible to do so without compromising this eco-ideal. For that reason the hotel’s standard domes still rely only on natural heat sources and have no electricity supply, although the suite domes are an eco-conscious glamper’s dream.
As with many other glamping options, EcoCamp combines a respect for the environment with a level of comfort you just won't get with a traditional camping experience. Domes come with wooden floors, raised off the ground to protect plant life, and real furniture. The suite domes also come with low-emission propane heaters and their own bathroom complete with composting toilet! But unlike a yurt or a tipi, the geodesic dome design is perfectly adapted to withstand the fierce winds that whip through Patagonia, making it the ideal choice. 
kaweskar domeThe founders, Yerko Ivelic, Javier Lopez and Nani Astorga, took their inspiration from an even older source than Bucky Fuller, looking back to the nomadic Kaweskar people of Patagonia for a lesson in how to live sustainably in a challenging environment. The Kaweskar built their hemispherical huts out of local materials and would dismantle them and move on without leaving any trace of their presence behind. Although the Kaweskar huts were not strictly made using geodesic principles, the two concepts naturally slotted together and the first geodesic dome hotel rooms were born. Since then, the concept has certainly caught on, with the standard EcoCamp Patagonia dome used as a staple design model for other domes built across the rest of Chile and as far afield as Europe.
Domes may have fallen in and out of fashion throughout history, but humans keep returning to them time and again for their sustainability and comfort. It is difficult to predict how further advances in technology might change the geodesic dome for the next generation, but as the sustainable tourism movement continues to grow, their popularity looks set to continue.
UPDATE (7/June/2013): EcoCamp Patagonia has recently been selected to be a part of Glamping Hub's Premier Glamping selection!