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Bucky Dome: Daddy of all geodesic dome homes

The R. Buckminster Fuller dome home in Carbondale, Ill., is a lot less dangerous and a lot more sustainable than Mad Max's Thunderdome. It's the proud parent of all geodesic dome homes.

historic Bucky Dome
It's a bubble! It's a gumdrop! It's a geodesic dome home. RBF Dome NFP

CARBONDALE, Ill.--When you see a geodesic dome, you know exactly what it is. You don't have to wonder if it's Georgian, Victorian, or neomodern. It's a dome. All those geodesic dome homes trace their lineage back to a quiet corner of Forest and Cherry in Carbondale, Ill.

R. Buckminster Fuller was the mind behind the dome home. He built what's known locally as the "Bucky Dome" just over 50 years ago, out of panels of plywood. He meant for it to be cheap and easy to put together. The original assembly took just seven hours. Since the 1960s, domes have reproduced and spread out around the country in a wide migration of Fuller's ideas. It's no wonder many people think of him as the grandfather of the sustainability movement.

dome pre-restoration
Not for sale: Geodesic dome home. Needs a little TLC. Amanda Kooser/CNET

An effort to restore the dome has been given new life with the recent award of a Save America's Treasures matching grant to the tune of $125,000. "He envisioned the dome as a house. It was the first dome home. It's the only one he ever lived in," says Janet Donoghue, development director of the nonprofit RBF Dome NFP, which is looking to resuscitate the worn structure.

The group has its work cut out for it. "When it was built, he said the material he needed to make it waterproof wasn't invented yet," says Donoghue. The Bucky Dome is in rough shape. Sad brown shingles cling helplessly to the outside, mold has taken hold on the inside, and many of the plywood triangles are water-damaged.

A much more modern geodesic dome in the form of metal piping and tarps covers the entire outside in an attempt to protect Bucky's former residence.

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There are signs of life. The upstairs loft/study area looks ready to move in to. The swooping bookshelves look just like they did in old photographs. Mold treatment is under way. The nonprofit has raised about $25,000 since the beginning of the year to get the restoration going. Plywood is cheap and plentiful. "We're going to do it piece by piece. We're going to preserve as much as we can," says Donoghue.

My visit to the Bucky Dome comes as part of a Carbondale side trip from the Geek's Guide to Route 66. It's a perfectly geeky place to visit, a way to bring myself back down to earth after the flights of fancy I found at the Dungeons & Dragons-themed Boo Rochman Memorial Park. The dome is an efficient use of space and it still has a groovy futuristic look to it.

We may never turn into a culture of dome dwellers, but there is something appealing and comforting about a circular abode. I think I might like a dome of my own to call home.

Bucky Fuller at home in the dome
Bucky Fuller contemplates some awesome bookshelves. RBF Dome NFP