Geodesic domes have a long and storied history, but in general, the emphasis tends to be on the history part. Though the structures saw popularity in the countercultural movements of the '60s and '70s, the typology was ultimately abandoned for pragmatic reasons. For one thing, their six-sided connection details often leaked, and spatially speaking, the one-room domes were impractical.
"It has all the advantages of being rationally and mathematically generated, but it is sadly lacking many of the qualities we associate with good architecture," explain Danish architects Kristoffer Tejlgaard and Benny Jepsen, who compare early geodesic domes to spaceships devoid of context. "You could call it non-architecture."
In 2011, Tejlgaard built a plywood dome for Denmark’s famed Roskilde Festival (think Scandinavian Coachella) that became the hit of the event. This year, he and Jepsen were invited to build a pavilion to house attendees of Folkemødet, an annual town hall–esque gathering of Danish politicians and voters meant to generate national dialogue. Given the optimism of the event, the duo decided to test a new type of exploded geodesic dome—an icon of optimistic architecture if ever there was one.
"The ambition was to understand the geodesic dome’s construction, and then deconstruct its sacred geometry in a way that doesn’t oppose but respects its properties," they say. One of the main functional problems with early domes is their static shape, which disallows dividing the space up into separate rooms. Instead, Tejlgaard and Jepsen split the singular dome like an orange, pulling away chunks to create niches and doorways without sacrificing the structural integrity of the whole. Inside, a stage, kitchen, bar, and dining area each has its own unique qualities of light and space.
Besides vastly improving the usability of the interior spaces, Tejlgaard and Jepsen made improvements to construction details of the original geodesic dome. "We made [the splitting] consistent, so that the curved surfaces were closed and that the perpendicular surfaces were transparent," the designers explain. This solved a crucial problem concerning water: Fewer curved windows meant tighter details where water is most likely to seep into nooks and crannies. The steel joints were laser-cut and robot-welded together, decreasing tolerances even further. The clear PVC portions of the dome, which explode out from the discreet dome to form windows, are held rigid with an elegant tensile cable system.
The entire temporary structure was made from reclaimed floorboards and stands at around 25 feet at its highest point. During Folkemødet, the dome was an appropriate stage for debates on public housing and social welfare in Danish politics. For Tejlgaard and Jepsen, resurrecting an icon of utopian architecture became a way to engage in the debates through design. "It was important for us that the space also became an independent contribution," say the duo.