Fly’s Eye Dome reproduction applies contemporary tools and materials to 1970s concept.
Thirty years after R. Buckminster Fuller‘s death, the visionary inventor and architect’s Fly’s Eye Dome has been reborn in Miami. Unveiled during Art Basel Miami Beach 2014, the replica dome, designed and fabricated by Goetz Composites in cooperation with the Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI), pays tribute to Fuller both aesthetically and technologically. Constructed using contemporary materials and digital design tools, the new 24-foot Fly’s Eye Dome (which serves as the pedestrian entrance to a parking garage in the Miami Design District) is yet further evidence that the creator of the geodesic dome was ahead of his time.
BFI commissioned Goetz based on the firm’s prior work restoring the original Fly’s Eye Dome. At the end of that process, they created a 3D scan of the prototype for BFI’s records. The digital files were the jumping-off point for the reproduction, for which ConForm Lab‘s Seth Wiseman provided critical design assistance, as did Daniel Reiser of DR Design. Wiseman produced a parametric model of the dome’s truncations in Grasshopper, then compared his model to the 3D scan of the original to make sure the geometries matched. A 2012 reproduction of the Fly’s Eye Dome, the MGM Butterfly Pavilion in Macau, China, constituted a practice round of sorts. “For Macau, we had a tight timeline: from the algorithm to shipment [we had] six weeks,” said Wiseman. “We were able to review and tweak the geometry for the Miami dome—to refine it and make it more consistent with the original prototype.”
Goetz, Reiser, and Wiseman introduced a few crucial changes into the Miami reproduction. “Bucky’s original intent and concept was well-placed, but it suffered in execution,” observed Wiseman. Fuller’s prototype used a shingle system of overlapping truncations to shed water. As a result, the geometry was complicated. “The problem for us, from the manufacturing standpoint, is that it required four different molds,” said Wiseman. “Though technology allows us to produce something of this complexity fairly easily, it’s cost-prohibitive unless we’re doing something on a production scale.” The design team eliminated the shingle system, instead using a standard two-legged flange and coupler attachment to connect adjacent truncations on the dome’s interior. The attachments are both mechanically fastened—for fidelity to Fuller’s vision—and epoxy fitted—to meet engineering requirements. “If we were to do a third iteration, our hope is to develop joinery to eliminate the fasteners, for both assembly and aesthetic reasons,” said Wiseman.
In keeping with Fuller’s commitment to all things cutting-edge, Goetz fabricated the reproduction using 21st-century materials and methods. They selected a PRO-SET epoxy originally developed for use on Coast Guard vessels to stand up to the South Florida weather, and replaced the glass domes with polycarbonate lenses sourced by Wasco and detailed with help from 3M. The composite forms were milled on a 5-axis CNC machine using EPS foam molds. (MouldCAM did some of the CNC cutting.) “The nice part with the Miami dome is that it’s the next iteration,” said Wiseman. “We’ve created a fire-retardant, code-compliant structure in the same vein [as the original]. I hate to say it, but I’m kind of excited to see a major storm hit Florida and see how it performs.”
For Goetz’s Chase Hogoboom, the Fly’s Eye Dome represents not just the history, but also the future of architecture. “Our background historically has been building state-of-the-art racing sailboats,” he said. “We’re seeing more and more demand for use of composites in architectural applications, mainly as a result of designers using programs that allow them to design very complicated shapes that need to be structural. And if you look at a Bucky dome, it’s a complicated shape that needs to be structural.”