Stupid is as Stupid Does

Stupid is as Stupid Does

The following article is an email written by Dennis Odin Johnson, Founder of Natural Spaces Domes, to an internet dome discussion group. We have withheld the author’s name. This talks about a negative dome article called “Refried Domes” in the book titled “Shelter” Published in 1973. The author/editor of “Shelter” (Loyd Kahn) had written DomeBook 1 & DomeBook 2.

Dear (name withheld)
You’ve brought me out of the lurking and listening mode that I have been in for the last year. As I have in years past, I must respond to this “refried dome crap”.

My name is Dennis Johnson. I am the owner of Natural Spaces Domes in North Branch, Minnesota. I have been designing and building domes since 1971, started working for an architectural firm in 1961 and started designing houses in the seventh grade.

Let me put some responses to the letter writer’s statements (his are shown in red):

I hate to wade into the fray on this one, but I feel compelled. I’ve spoken to Lloyd Kahn in person,

So have I – in the 70’s, after “Shelter” was published, I asked Lloyd to publish a pro-dome response in his next printing. He flatly refused to print any kind of a “rebuttal” to his anti-dome diatribe.

and been to his self-built, 30-year-old, marvelously beautiful house in California. He’s just not an incompetent builder,

one building does not a builder make

and even if he was at one time new to building, he had lots of help–from both competent and incompetent builders.

He didn’t want to learn from the competent dome builders

The truth, as always, is complicated.

The truth is never as complicated as deception

His critics are correct in asserting that dome techniques have improved. Furthermore, many of the domes LK designed were built by high highschoolers in the sixties. They were just crappy crappy domes.

and he was their instructor

But keep a couple of things in mind: 1) Lloyd Kahn’s personal dome was beautiful and reasonably well built.

well built should not have reasonably for an adjective

It leaked

It didn’t have to leak

Buckminster Fuller’s own dome leaked,

not until the elastomeric roofing system was improperly maintained

as do many others to this day.

I built my house dome in 1975 – it doesn’t leak. Nor does my office dome, guest dome or two shop domes. Nor does my beach dome on the Atlantic Ocean during or after three hurricanes.

They can be made to shed water, but they’re all roof, and it’s mostly shallowly pitched.

very wrong, the dome roof is almost all steeply pitched roof areas. The only shallow pitch is on the top pentagon where it is less than the typical house roof pitch of 4 in 12.

Leaking comes naturally to them.

Leaking is a very un-natural trait in the over one thousand domes with which I have been involved. I would have to say that leaks come very naturally to the amateur, inexperienced builder especially if they are installing a skylight (Even in a conventional box house roof)

What’s more, while many of the problems of geodesic domes can be fixed, many cannot.

I don’t have any “problems” that can’t be, or haven’t been, fixed in these thousand or so domes.

They are problems with domes in principle.

The principle of the dome has no problems. The “principle” of the conventional box/rectangle house has many problems, some of which are solved by bracing the rectangular shapes in a triangular manner.


I don’t drywall the interior triangles of my domes. Drywall is not the correct material in my dome system. I use T & G boards, allowing for expansion and contraction. In our system, T&G interior triangles can be installed cheaper and faster. We make them into one piece triangles so they go up extremely fast. 


If you are referring to the outside of the dome, you should not be using paint as a roofing material. If you are referring to the inside, we don’t paint the wood triangles and the rest of the walls are no more difficult than a comparable conventional house with cathedral ceilings.


I rarely design the same dome inside twice. I don’t have any problem subdividing the interior into innovative, intriguing, inviting, interesting, engrossing, exciting spaces. However, a box is a box is a box – until you start adding some “interesting” shapes to the walls or ceilings, trying to get where the dome started.

and maintaining privacy are all very difficult to do.

If I need to design privacy for toilet/bathroom functions or for lovemaking, I do the same thing as I would in a box house – you put up walls or separate those functions you want to make private. My 25 year old son and I used to live in our double dome home which also function as model homes. The design of these spaces allowed us to maintain privacy for all of our personal uses with little difficulty.

Sealing domes with anything attractive remains a problem.

I guess you must not like what is used on conventional box houses for roofing. At least 95% of our domes use high-grade (50 year warranty) laminated standard asphalt shingles, which most people consider attractive. As I said above, our domes don’t leak. Sealing them is definitely not a problem.

And these problems are really inherent to the design.

No problems and no problems inherent to the dome design.

Furthermore, the much touted benefits of domes have not yet appeared. They are not labor saving (far from it),

We can frame and sheath a 2 story, 2000 square foot dome home in 2 days. Try that with an on-site, stick-built box.

and they aren’t particularly cheap.

My daughter bought a small 1960’s conventional box (yea, I know, tell me about it! Kids these days just don’t learn!) for $250,000+. Not particularly cheap!
Where do you get your data from? Have you ever tried to really compare a dome with a box? I will say that nothing is particularly cheap unless it is made to be particularly cheap. That kind of a structure usually has a short lifespan.

They probably don’t resell very well.

We’ve had domes resell within 1 to 2 weeks, some in 3 hours. We always attract way more people at the dome open house over the box open house. On a comparative basis, domes resell as good or better than conventional boxes.

They save some materials, but the materials you must use must be of a higher quality.

Wrong again on this generalization. We save 60% of the framing lumber compared to the amount used in a box house. We don’t have to use high grade lumber to frame the dome but the roof trusses used in box houses usually have to be made from high grade lumber.
You must like all the waferboard and flakeboard used on conventional box houses which, when subjected to moisture, deteriorates and deforms. Sometimes using a better material, like plywood, creates a better structure – ask an engineer.

They are probably light–but who cares?

WE CARE! – For our environmental future – because of the drastic reduction in materials that we have in our domes.

And they are usually strong–but, again, who cares?
(within reasonable limits, and outside Kansas).

Let’s see, maybe you should talk to all the people who are subject to tornadoes, hurricanes, straight line winds, earthquakes, heavy snow loads and the like. You have to get out of Kansas and visit the real world!

Domes are for some people, (Hi Carolyn!) and may be for you. But, oh, please be sure.

That’s all we ask as dome builders. Get out and visit some good domes. Investigate. Almost everybody that walks into our office and model domes says “WOW, I’d like to live in one of these!”.

Conventional architecture has a lot to recommend it.

Not in my book – except for maybe those magnificent structures of Frank Lloyd Wright. But wait a minute – everybody says his roofs always leaked!
Of course, he did several designs using domes. Those probably didn’t leak.

Thanks for letting me rant – I needed that to bring some sanity back into my life in this crazy world.

Dennis Odin Johnson
Natural Spaces Domes
North Branch, Minnesota

I’ll respond to the 7 comments from George Oakes below. If my answers seem a little harsh, I apologize. It just upsets me to see this 1970’s misinformation still floating around. In the 21st century. (I’ve put his comments in red and mine in black)

From “Dome Builders Blues” by George Oakes.

In brief, these are the chief technical drawbacks in building a dome. I discovered them all the hard way, so I know them well. It goes without saying that I did not anticipate any of them before starting:

He also wasn’t smart enough to figure out any simple solutions or ask anybody
for advice when he was doing these things.

  1. The only kind of insulation you can legally use in a dome kit is super-expensive, flammable, poisonous, and unbelievably labor-intensive to install.
    Totally false – we’ve been using fiberglass and have exceeded every code required minimum thickness since 1979. We have dome shells with 15”, 18” and 21” thick walls and we are selling our domes cheaper than other dome companies that use 2×6 walls. Our standard R-Value is R-60 and the fiberglass is eco-friendly with no formaldehyde. We also offer dome shell systems with R-Values of R-80.
  2. The very shape of the house makes it difficult to conform to code requirements for placement of sewer vents and chimneys. Another absurd comment without any basis. Sewer vents and chimneys are installed in the exact same way in a dome as they are in a conventional house.
  3. Domes are difficult to roof. And if not roofed exceptionally well, they will leak like a sieve.
    Domes are more difficult to roof and it takes longer than a conventional house. However, we use 50+ year warranteed shingles so you do not have to reshingle for a long, long time. We have hundreds of domes roofed by many different shinglers and if they followed our shingling instructions, they don’t leak. The shingles cover over 80% of the surface area so no maintenance or painting for 50 years.
  4. All building materials come in rectangular shapes off the shelf. They have to be cut to fit triangular and other non-standard shapes. Scrap from cutting -i.e., waste — ranges from about 10 percent to 20 percent, depending on the type of material, of what you paid for.
    We solved the scrap issue back in 1979. We have substantially less scrap than someone building conventional houses. We also take the small pieces that we do get and use them as part of our fuel source for heating 5 of our domes here in North Branch, Minnesota.
  5. Domes require about twice as much sparking tape and electrical cable as conventional houses of similar size. Cable costs quite a bit, and labor costs are doubled, too.
    Again, another totally erroneous statement. The opposite is true – domes take less time and materials when you are doing electrical runs in the dome shell.
  6. Foundations are critical. You can get away with a lot in conventional houses, but not with a dome. That may be true but it is referring to the sloppy way they build conventional houses. ALL foundations should be built correctly and accurately or you will have problems with the structure above. Actually, to enclose the same square footage in a basement foundation the dome takes 13% to 15% less materials.
  7. Fire escapes are problematical, they’re required, and they’re expensive. Windows conforming to code can cost anywhere from 5 to 15 times as much as windows in conventional houses.
    Where does this guy pull his information from – certainly not from somewhere in the real world. We use the VELUX brand egress skylight in our second floor dome bedrooms. The skylight costs $818 (in 2017). A conventional house using a required size of egress window in a bedroom uses a window that costs approx. $500 – $650.
  8. People who work in construction for a living do everything in modules of 4 and 8 feet.
    Not really true at all. Conventional houses would really be boring if they did.
  9. Neophyte builders — like me — think that swinging a hammer is what eats up the time. Absolutely wrong. It’s measuring, cutting and fitting.
    He actually admits he doesn’t know how to build.
    Smart builders — unlike me —
    I’m sorry, but one of the opposite words for smart is “dumb”
    plan all of their work around off-the-shelf materials to minimize labor expended in trying to make things fit.
    Off the shelf materials have to be cut to fit any conventionalproject being built. Most do not fit without cutting or adapting. Our Natural Spaces Dome System is a pre-cut building kit. The components come pre-cut into the shapes needed to build our dome. So, actually, it is our dome that offers “off the shelf materials to minimize labor expended” by the builder – even the neophyte builder!

Let’s get real – all this negative crap about domes comes from “would-be” builders who tried to make the dome fit their box mentality- and they didn’t succeed. We solved these problems long ago and have stayed ahead of the building codes and kept up with the changing “science” of building.
We are not saying the dome is for everyone – just those who got tired of living in square, inefficient boring boxes. Our dome owners get more out of living and (to steal a phrase from Garrison Keillor) are above average.

We encourage you to call us with any questions. Better yet, get inside a Natural Spaces Dome to experience what it feels like to live in our domes.

Thanks for reading,
Dennis Odin Johnson
Natural Spaces Domes
North Branch, Minnesota