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."
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Fabrication techniques honed for racing boats give the dome new life.Racing boat builder Goetz Composites has crafted many icons of the sea, including ten America’s Cup boats. Now, the company is trying its hand at architectural icons. Several months ago, Goetz began the restoration of Buckminster Fuller’s Fly’s Eye Dome, one of only three existing prototypes of the prefabricated shelters that the designer patented in 1965. The piece, a 24-foot-wide fiberglass shell with Plexiglas eyes, had been neglected for years and arrived at Goetz’s Bristol, Rhode Island, headquarters with chipped corners, peeling paint, and a patina of mold. The dome is owned by Design Miami’s founder Craig Robbins, who restored the piece in anticipation of Art Basel | Miami Beach and Design Miami 2011. After being contacted by Dan Reiser and John Warren, who fabricated the original dome prototypes with Fuller, and the Buckminster Fuller Institute, Goetz was eager to participate in the project. “The challenge was to renew the piece, but keep the spirit and the original intent,” said Eric Goetz, the company’s chief technology officer. A code for assembling the dome had been hand-written on each of its more than 50 fiberglass parts. Goetz’s first step was to engrave the numbers into the fiberglass so nothing would be lost during restoration. The 40-year-old dome is made with fiberglass mat, a randomly oriented fiberglass with a polyester resin that grows more brittle with time. Where corners were missing, Goetz cast pieces with modern fiberglass and shaped it by hand to match the original. The company created laser scans of each finished piece in the matrix. “Now, the Buckminster Fuller Institute has an as-built, 3-D rendering of what each piece looks like in its archives,” said Chase Hogoboom, Goetz’s president. Accurate to the thousandth of a millimeter, the Rhino files could be used to create new CNC-milled molds should the Institute want to reproduce or replicate a piece. Goetz outsourced fabrication of the dome’s sixteen Plexiglas lenses, opting to use rolled aluminum angles to hold them in place instead of fiberglass, the original attachment method. After filling extraneous connection holes that had been drilled over the years, the piece was reassembled with its original attachment scheme using new stainless steel fasteners. Shining with a new coating of linear polyurethane, aircraft-grade paint, the dome will be permanently installed in the Miami Design District. With several large architectural projects already complete, Goetz’s architectural technologies division continues to see an uptick in architects’ interest in composite fabrication. The company is currently working on a rooftop wind vane for the Staten Island Children’s Museum, designed by Marpillero Pollak Architects and slated for completion next year. Perhaps even Fuller’s 50-foot Fly’s Eye prototype will make its way to their shop someday soon.