In Woods Hole, A Futuristic Dome Stays Frozen In The Past

Sep 25, 2017

The interior of the Dome, showing much of Buckminster Fuller's unique triangular framework.
Credit Brian Morris/WCAI

In Woods Hole, just outside the village, a futuristic-looking dome stands on a hill behind a clump of trees. It's a geodesic dome designed in 1953 by Buckminster Fuller, the progressive architect known for conceiving structures using fewer materials—doing more with less. He was hired to create an eye-catching addition to a restaurant on the site, which was owned by Gunnar Peterson.

“Gunnar Peterson knew about Buckminster Fuller,” said Nicole Goldman with the Falmouth Historic Districts Commission, “and he wanted something interesting and different. And he said, ‘Come and make something cool.’”

Fuller enlisted a group of his MIT students to come to Woods Hole and erect the dome over a two-week period—and it was all done without using any scaffolding.

“It’s all about the idea of using geometric forms to brace one against the other and build up the tension. They were able to put each piece in place, one by one, and they actually built quite a bit of the pieces—the frames—that were rhombus shapes. And so this dome is very unusual, because there are triangles within the rhombus. No other domes are designed this way, because, in part, because this was experimental. It was not intended to last 65 years, though it has,” said Goldman.

It’s the only surviving geodesic dome in the world that Buckminster Fuller supervised building.

Some Woods Hole residents were less than enthusiastic when the Dome was erected.

“There are articles about that, people saying, ‘We’re not sure we like that!’” said Goldman. “But in the spirit of innovation, I think a lot of people understood that, yeah, why wouldn’t you put something like that here?”

Much of the Dome’s framework is largely hidden behind trees which block a once-spectacular view of Vineyard Sound.

The rear of the Dome today, next to what was once the adjoining restaurant kitchen area.
Credit Brian Morris/WCAI

Inside, the main circular room of what was once the Dome restaurant is 54 feet wide and 27 feet high.

“The heyday of the restaurant was the 50s and 60s,” said Goldman. “People used to come to the restaurant for special occasions. It was a place you had anniversaries, birthdays, graduations. And it was a very elegant place—white tablecloths.”

But the building had a number of problems. The triangular glass panels cast beautiful reflections, but they also generated lots of heat. And the Dome was notorious for leaks—and nowadays the rain still gets in, leaving a pool of standing water next to the old fireplace, along with the ever-present smell of mold.

Nicole Goldman is part of a group that hopes to renovate the Dome as an arts center.
Credit Brian Morris/WCAI

The Dome restaurant closed in the 1990s, and since then the futuristic structure has been steadily succumbing to the elements. But Nicole Goldman hopes to change that. She’s part of a group that would like to see the structure renovated as an arts center, but the current owner of the Dome is not commenting on possible renovation plans.