In the 1960s and into the early 1970s, geodesic dome structures cropped up around the world, including in Northwest Arkansas. Some lasted, many did not.
Based on the idea that what we see externally informs how we understand ourselves internally, domes epitomized a philosophical approach to human habitation.
Traditional architecture with its multiple separate rooms leads to a segmented self view, according to this argument. Rounded open space such as provided in a dome fosters a more holistic view of self and the world in general.
The dome concept was developed by Buckminster Fuller. Fuller discovered that if a spherical structure was created from triangles, it would have unparalleled strength.
“These new homes are structured after the natural system of humans and trees with a central stem or backbone, from which all else is independently hung, utilizing gravity instead of opposing it. This results in a construction similar to an airplane, light, taut, and profoundly strong.”
The sphere uses the “doing more with less” principle in that it encloses the largest volume of interior space with the least amount of surface area thus saving on materials and cost. Fuller reintroduced the idea that when the sphere’s diameter is doubled it will quadruple its square footage and produce eight times the volume.
Fuller worked towards the development of a Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science which he defined as, “the effective application of the principles of science to the conscious design of our total environment in order to help make the Earth’s finite resources meet the needs of all humanity without disrupting the ecological processes of the planet.”[i]
Domes were built not only by idealistic hippies pursuing an improved state of consciousness but also ended up in use at commercial locations. A enhanced dome built to house an optometry practice in Fayetteville, Arkansas remains in good condition.
One of the surviving residential domes in the area includes bump-outs and other additions that make for a more family-friendly features. This one includes a basement and a rear deck.
Other commercial uses included the Southern Energy Fast Oxide Reactor (SEFOR) built in south Washington County near Stricker. SEFOR operated from 1969 to 1972, when the original program was completed as planned. It was privately operated by General Electric and funded by the United States government through the Southwest Atomic Energy Associates, a nonprofit consortium formed by 17 power companies of the Southwest Power Pool and European nuclear agencies.
The facility was then acquired by the University of Arkansas in hopes that it could be used as a research facility. However that never happened and the university has been paying $50,000 in maintenance fees yearly since. SEFOR is still considered contaminated and the University continues to seek federal funds to clean up the site.
Another example of dome construction in commercial application is the St. Louis Climatron, part of the Missouri Botanical Gardens built in 1960. Controlled environment in this large dome re-creates a lowland rain forest.
Due to limitations of materials and use requirements, domes today are built for only a few applications, most notably sports arenas and as a complement to other structures such as churches where a separate dome feature may add another dimension to sacred space.
Photographs courtesy of Denny Luke, a longtime resident of the area.
8 thoughts on “Domes”
My name is Lorri Daniels. I have been part of the Weedy Rough community since the first discussion of looking for land took place in my living room in July, 1971. I want to respond to some of the comments made by one of my fellow land owners that you published in 1997.
To be clear: These are solely my memories and opinions.
If you were to interview all the members of the Weedy Rough community, you would get different opinions and memories from each of us. I feel like your article and blog about WR would have more credibility if you had more than one primary source.
A group of people who went to high school in Bentonville, AR (Bentonville was a small town of around 3,000 when we were in high school in the 60’s.) and some friends we had met at the U of A , got together to talk about buying some land together. None of us could afford to do it on our own.
The next day we started looking for property. When we found the 120 acres it was perfect. But we couldn’t come up with the purchase price. We started talking to more friends to see if anyone was interested in joining us. Tha’s how people from Texas, California, and other states came to be
part of Weedy Rough. They were not just random groups of people who showed up. We each paid $150 down and $10 a month for twenty years. Pretty good for access to 120 acres and the option to live there (or not). I don’t remember any lofty goals being discussed about a “holistic existence or a new way of seeing ourselves and the world around us.”
We just wanted some land to build our homes on, in a community of friends. We still pay a nominal amount each year to cover taxes and to keep the road passable, and we are still friends.
Here are the things I take issue with that were in the 1997 interview. I know your source, but I had a completely different Weedy Rough experience than he did.
1. Not everyone slept around.
2. Everyone did eventually divorce,most after they left Weedy Rough. My opinion is that most of those divorces occurred for reasons that had nothing to do with Weedy Rough. Many people went on to have successful long term relationships and marriages. One of those marriages (between two Weedy Roughers) is approaching the 40 year mark.
3. I don’t know of anyone who was part of WR who would consider another Weedy Rougher an enemy!!! Most of us have remained lifelong friends. We still get together for baby and wedding showers, cookouts, and reunions.
4. Don’t know anyone who “lived in a VW bus” unless it was for a short time while building their house or for sleeping in when they came out for the weekend. The tipi dwellers lived in their tipis while building their homes, not as a permanent dwelling. (Aren’t tipis the original tent?)
5. I’m assuming, but not sure, your source was talking about my family when saying “The people who were the most miserable built very ambitious, good houses.” I didn’t consider my house ambitious or good. It leaked!!! (You have two pictures of my house on your blog.) And I definitely wasn’t miserable.
6. The ones with the least expectations had more fun.
That’s total BS! We all had fun. Still do!
7. Contrary to your source’s opinion, everyone needed money! Weedy Roughers worked in the computer department at the U of A, as janitors, public and private school teachers, stone masons, carpenters,
entrepreneurs, artists, waitresses, were students at the
U of A, and more.
8. “They’d go till they were absolutely hungry and then figure out how to get food stamps.” Must have been talking about himself. I never saw a food stamp.
9. While some people did come out to see what we were doing, it was never lots of people. I never felt like I was in a zoo and never felt like any of us were “weirdos”.
As you can see, most of the things I disagree with are the opinions of my friend and fellow Weedy Rougher. However, what I OBJECT to is you posting it on the Internet as a representation of this is what the Weedy Rough experience was like, without having other opinions expressed. Your source was my friend, but he was also the most hippy, counter culture person out of the whole bunch of us. It would have been a more balanced, honest “historical record” if you had included other Weedy Roughers’ experiences. If you had done what other historians do, you would have had more than one primary source. There are plenty of us you could have talked to and we all have pictures. Although most of us would have chosen to not participate, even in 1997. (My opinion.)
There is a reason none of us have “documented a single memory or photo to the public record”. We don’t need to. We were and still are private citizens. We share our memories and pictures with each other. Weedy Rough is alive and well, not ready for the history books yet. We still get together. We have reunions. We send out newsletters and communicate through Facebook. WR will not be forgotten by the people who matter. Don’t need to be part of the historical record. We have an oral history among ourselves and it is being passed down to our children.
We are speaking up among ourselves about your blog. No one appointed Lynn as our spokesperson. But then no one appointed your source to be our spokesperson either. You gave him that job by only printing one point of view of Weedy Rough history. I truly feel like Dave (Let’s give him his name, we all know who we are talking about.) was bull
shitting you about a lot of the things he said. (By the way, he was one of the first to move back to town.) When he came back (He says for ten years.) he was living pretty much as a hermit, there was no active community on the land at that time.
So, I hope you can see that Lynn is not the only person who reacted strongly to your blog.
Here’s the rest of the story: We all moved away from Weedy Rough, but we never left it behind. It has left its print on our souls. We react like a family and circle the wagons when we feel an injustice has been done to us.
I lived full time at Weedy Rough for eight years. Living without electricity and water was hard. Being a wife, mother, full time teacher, and a pioneer woman became too much for me. Besides, we were twenty something! We had more things to do, more adventures to seek. We became lawyers, architects, teachers, business owners, world travelers. We expanded careers in computer science and as artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, stonemasons, carpenters, contractors, and more. But Weedy Rough never left us. It is alive and well and will continue with our children. We are still creating our Weedy Rough history.
Again, these comments are based solely on my memories and opinions and may not be the same as other members of the Weedy Rough family.
Thank you very much, Lorri. I welcome your clarification of the Weedy Rough story. My primary objective was not to tell the Weedy Rough story, but to post the stunning images of the domes. I included the information I had about the domes as a way to explain their presence. To me, the photos evoke emotion and speak of dreams shared not only by the people who built them, but by an entire generation.
I also knew that the interviewed person would have been only one viewpoint, and when I tracked down the only person still living there (according to what I could find out), I talked with her by phone. I also sent her an email with the interview asking her to share it with any other WR people. I wanted to ensure that the story was correct. Evidently she didn’t do that. She said she didn’t read it. I don’t know why. I made the mistake of assuming that she would be the person most affected by the blog.
But again, my intention was never to pretend that what I posted was the story of Weedy Rough. I’ve written biographies and other materials about local places and people, and I know from experience how long it takes to really research and interview for comprehensive information. It would be absurd for me to publish a blog post or anything else entitled “Weedy Rough” unless I had met you and everyone else involved and obtained your permission to relate your story.
Please note that Weedy Rough was not the only place where domes were built during that time period. The statement “holistic existence or a new way of seeing ourselves and the world around us” pertains to the broader view of what domes meant for many of these builders–I use the editorial ‘we’ in this paragraph. The reference to WR occurs in the following paragraph. Again, my blog post is entitled “Domes” — the domes built in NWA were part of a larger vision of a new age.
I do regret that I did not have another source to include in this piece. I asked the only person I knew and she chose not to forward my email to anyone else. I don’t wish to place blame on her for how this turned out–again, she was one person making a decision that seemed right to her. My interview with David was one of 60 interviews I conducted in an effort to build a record of the back to the land movement in NWA.
Thank you again for your eloquent portrayal of Weedy Rough not only in its beginnings, but also in how it has continued in the hearts of its people. I live in these south county hills myself and have since I left Fayetteville in 1973. During 73 and 74 when I ran the West Fork Conoco, many WR people stopped for groceries and gas. We all knew each other to some extent. But I didn’t make an effort to go out there, nor to meet and become friends with anyone–I was immensely absorbed in trying to keep my business afloat in the midst of the oil crisis.
It is not in my nature to be hurtful. I was and still am deeply upset about Lynn’s remarks. On the other hand, I am deeply committed to preserving local history. The photos were taken by someone who was invited to visit there, someone who is invited to each yearly gathering of WR people. He also has been wounded by Lynn’s remarks. Are these photographs not his to share? Do David’s words have to be censored because others don’t agree? Can the domes of WR not be discussed or documented for history because I haven’t spent weeks tracking down every former resident to gain their permission? These are serious questions for someone like me who only wants to preserve important pieces of our local history.
Again, I am very appreciative of your wonderful commentary on WR. I hope it will in some way ameliorate the negative feelings of Lynn and others who feel that what I posted was not an accurate representation of the place and its people.
By the way, domes are over-rated. If we had all built rectangles, with pitched roofs, (like a few people did) a lot of us would still have a house to go to at Weedy Rough. The two houses still standing met the rectangle criteria and are still used every weekend to this day.
Not a matter of rectangles over triangles. Many fine examples of successful domes exist in NWA. A friend has one that should be in Architectural Digest and the Fayetteville Eyecare Clinic on North St. is a fine example (with beautiful stonework by a friend of many of us, Butch Bayers). My view is they are underrated, acoustically perfect interior, the harder the wind blows, the more it wants to stay put. However a raindrop falling on the top has many chances to enter before it gets to the bottom, therefore construction techniques are paramount. I confess I am a hypocrite because I live in a super-common steel building with zero personality!
I support Lynn’s outrage and Lori’s response 100%. There are some serious errors and near slanderous remarks in your source’s story. I do agree with you that you should have investigated further. If you are “deeply committed to preserving local history”, you could take down the blog and start all over. I would be happy to tell you about the person that “lived in the VW Bus”.
David, thank you for adding your comment. I have approved your comment as well as Lorri’s in an effort to set the record straight. It’s unfortunate that there is so much disagreement about the WR story. I did not set out to tell the story of Weedy Rough, and I certainly wouldn’t undertake it now after so many have said bluntly that the WR story doesn’t need to be told. I’m going to heed your request, however, and remove the interview segment that seems to set everyone’s hair on fire. Never mind that his story has been in print for two years. Perhaps no one realized that until now. If in the future someone decides to tell the WR story, it would be a wonderful contribution to the history of NWA.
In my opinion, if an accurate account of the Weedy Rough story is ever told, it can only be told in statistics. How many adults lived there, how many children. How many dogs, cats. How many structures were built, how many were domes, how many leaked. Because the essence of Weedy Rough cannot be expressed in words. This essence is made up of the stories of so many different people and everyone has a very different story. Because we were a community of people, each doing their own thing. We came together to keep the roads passable, build the homes, pay the taxes and mortgage, and sometime we shared a meal and the good company of each other. But we had no common religion, beliefs, or guiding principles. Except for the statistics, a historian could record and study all our stories and not be able to distill them down to a description of the Weedy Rough experience. Maybe that’s why Weedy Rough worked and is still working. We accepted each other and everyone did their own thing. Just like a COMMUNITY is supposed to work. Lorri Daniels
When I found out how to contact the only person who still lived there, I asked her exactly those kinds of questions. The facts. I asked how many had been in on the original trust formation. How many homes. Just as you say. She gave me some info but did not fulfill the other main request, which was to put me in touch with others who had lived there or who still had continuing interest in the place. I think if Lynn had approached me as you did by saying, hey, the story you present is in error, I would have been open to changes. But Lynn attacked me personally and when that happens I put up my fists. She never told me that David’s information was incorrect. She just said I had no right to speak of WR, that I was using WR to aggrandize myself, to pretend I was an author–whatever she could think of that would be hurtful. I get that she felt injured by the post and what she saw as incorrect information. What I don’t get is how someone who supposedly embraced the ethics of the 60s would choose to attack first rather than engage in a reasoned dialogue, as you have done.