July 17, 2012 by The Dove
As far as modern construction goes, a building of just about any shape imaginable can now be erected. From squares, to rectangles to spheres to hexagons, there are no limits to modern design- and architects are putting this limitless approach into practice every day. But this has not been a modern development; ancient builders utilized many different shapes, and many different practices to construct some of the grandest, and now longest standing, structures. The Pyramid of Giza, the tallest man-made structure in the world up until the completion of the Eiffel tower, was assembled using thousands of rectangular stones. The Pantheon in Rome was built using concentric circles fixed into a half sphere-shape set atop a rectangular building, and the Hagia Sophia, Taj Mahal and St. Peter’s Basilica all feature a similar spherical dome in their design.
A dome is essentially just an arch rotated around a central axis and continued all the way to the floor, creating an inner area free of support columns or pillars. The oldest domed structures ever found date back over 20,000 years. Found in the Ukraine in 1965, these simple dwellings were constructed using mammoth bones and tusks, though most early domes are thought to have been made out of bent over branches and layers of mud. Being so easy to erect, these structures allowed very early peoples to move with the seasons and follow their food supply. Because they have been found all over the world, it is thought that domes did not have a specific point of origin. Throughout human history the dome has been a staple of architecture for many cultures including those found in Mesopotamia, China and Syria- even the ancient Egyptians made regular use of domes in their building practices.
While domes seemed to be far more common in previous time periods, they are still being built today. Most modern domes are now designed with a bit more precision, but essentially the idea has not changed for millennia. Glass, concrete and steel has replaced many of the older building materials, and now engineered domes can be used for nearly every conceivable application. Pre-engineered and designed for any use, they can be built free standing or as an addition to almost every shape used in modern construction. There are several ways in which most domes today are built: either using a steel framed half-sphere and large glass panes, a similar metal skeletal frame around which is fixed an airfoil held up by constant air pressure supplied from within by massive fans or with a series of steel rebar set into blown-in concrete followed by layers of insulation and a finished “drywall” material. The location and intended use usually determines the dome’s method of construction
Domes have been used in the construction of many modern-era homes. So-called dome homes, geodesic or otherwise, were exceedingly popular in the 1960’s and though less popular are still being built today. Along with rather simple design and low cost building materials, domes are a very efficient and cost effective use of square footage, and can help retain heat in cooler times while dissipating it during warmer periods.
Being free standing structures, domes are also used as stadiums and gymnasiums where open space is a necessity. Since they do not need any support structures or pillars to hold up their roofs, domes have been constructed to house many indoor sports fields in less than hospitable climates all over the world. From the Astrodome in Houston and the Superdome in New Orleans, to the dome over the O2 Arena in London, many sports teams now call domes home. The Global Pagoda, now under construction in Bombay, India, is being built using modern as well as ancient Indian methods and was designed to last for thousands of years- a testament to the domes enduring characteristics.
By Will Inglis
Building Big. Domes. WGBH. PBS Online. n.d.
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ZWQ43. “Domes of the Past Present and Future.” Architecture: Domes Throughout History. YAHOOVoices. YAHOO. July7, 2008