February 27, 2016

"Unlike the pure coherence of [Buckminster] Fuller's idea, for instance, Grieb's shifts in geometric patterning are subtly awkward..."

"... and the interstitial building with its squiggly entry leads to unnecessarily crammed interior spaces, for instance."

That's an awkward sentence about awkwardness — note the double "for instance" — from a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article titled "The singular vision and big ambition of Domes architect Donald Grieb."

The Domes — the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory — "have become an emblem of civic neglect."

There are a lot of domes out there, from the time when domes seemed like The Future, and even the purely coherent domes of Buckminster Fuller are crumbling into incoherence through neglect.

The Future was once a concept, and when it was made real, real people said no, but we may say yes again, if only to preserve the crazy old idea of The Future we had in the past.


Laslo Spatula said...

'Logan's Run' proved that Domes are the future.

I claim Jenny Agutter.

I am Laslo.

buwaya puti said...

Jenny Agutter was the only good thing in Logan's Run.
Not domes, of the architectural sort anyway.

MadisonMan said...

I have very fond memories of visiting my grandmother in Milwaukee (we drove over from PA -- no small feat in the 60s) and seeing the Domes. (I also would walk from her apartment north about 6 blocks to Fitzgerald's Pharmacy on Silver Spring for a milkshake at the Counter -- I still have Peanuts books I bought on that trip).

There is no better tonic in Milwaukee than going to the Domes on a cold winter day.

So I'm sorry to read they're in a state of decay.

CWJ said...

Fort Wayne, Indiana paid tribute ro The Domes in the mid-eighties, though the physical design, three progressively smaller south facing glass shed roofs, was less daring. Some excited locals told us newcomers of the innovative three space concept. They were a bit taken aback when we smultaneously guessed jungle, desert, and seasonal. They were a nice smaller version of The Domes. We called them The Lean-to's. Sad to think that they are probably in much better condition than the original.

whitney said...

Buckminster Fuller was a fascinating man and his vision of the dome as durable, easily assembled and inexpensive building style still works in extreme environmens. In the artic poles and in earthquake zones. It's an enormously stable structure. And then the spherical molecule that was discovered is made just as Fuller's domes but on a miniscule scale. They are known as Bucky balls in memory of him.

David said...

This was the place we took the kids to find hope for Spring during the brutal winters we had in the 1970's in Milwaukee. Warm and humid was nice for a little while but the kids would get restless and so would the dad and we would leave after 30-45 minutes. It was a curiosity and a nice outing but nothing special.

Milwaukee doesn't have the resources to maintain many of its cultural "icons" and certainly not for a repair bill of $70 million (just for starters.) Hard to see private money coming to the rescue for this. Not everything is worth preserving.

pst314 said...

The Mitchell Park domes are delightful to look at, but domes are not very practical designs

A few snippets from the two linked articles:

"The Domes are in need of as much as $75 million in repairs, a polite term for damage so systemic and penetrating that the word "metastasized" came to mind as I inspected the damning engineering report prepared for Milwaukee County."

Every freaking joint of a geodesic dome is fully exposed to the wind and rain and thus will become a route for the infiltration of water, especially when there is wind. In contrast, a traditional design has vertical walls protected by a sloping overhanging roof. Overlapping shingles prevent the entry of water unless the shingles themselves split or rot. In contrast, every joint of a dome will leak at an accelerating rate the moment the sealing material begins to deteriorate. The design is inherently prone to failure.

"The delicate, lace-like structural undercarriages for each dome were not made of steel, as might be the case for a Fuller acolyte, but that most loved and loathed of architectural materials: concrete. That malleable material was cast in place, which was incredibly inventive for the time."

Inventive = foolish. Every builder knows that concrete has both advantages and disadvantages. The concrete will weather and every joint will leak.

"The Domes are fragile precisely because they were inventive, sometimes an inescapable fact of midcentury architecture. This does not, by the way, absolve Milwaukee County for allowing this piece of our heritage to fall into such a state, as it did similarly with Saarinen's War Memorial.

No, they are not fragile because they were inventive, they are fragile because the architect was arrogant and foolish and irresponsible. He made design decisions that he knew would impose serious costs. And of course he did not explain the disadvantages of his design because he saw himself as an "artist" whose "vision" was more important than any mundane, bourgeois considerations such as cost.

"The original roof, we think, was nothing more than a heavy, waterproof coating painted directly on the wood," Heckman says. Celastic tape sealed the panel joints, he says, but the "prevailing discussion was that the joints leaked." A couple years after its completion, the dome was believed to have been re-roofed with spray-on foam, whose performance was likewise unimpressive. Finally, the dome was covered by layers of asphalt shingles, which remain to this day.

"Domes are very strong, but if one vertex or area becomes loose or weak, they can get rickety fast."

There are many reasons why domes are rare and people continue to follow ancient, proved building techniques.

And consider the question of usable space: The interior of the dome is mostly sloping walls, which are unsuitable for bookcases or pictures. The architect's "vision" imposes numerous constraints on the homeowner, limiting how the home can be used and the sorts of people who will find that the home suits their needs (and what about when their needs change?)

Terry said...

If Umberto Eco hadn't died last week, he would have written an essay on the semiotics of enclosed hemispherical living spaces. Short version: the signified are wombs, or possibly breasts.

Howard said...

What is it about famous architects and leaking roofs? I live in a 50-year old A-frame summer cabin and it looks like it was built yesterday. A couple years ago on a walk up the hill from here, I showed my granddaughter a geodesic dome house. She called it an O-Frame. Kids say the darnedest things.

pst314 said...

"Short version: the signified are wombs, or possibly breasts."
They're pimples.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

pst314: ... the architect was arrogant and foolish and irresponsible.

Thank you. "Arrogance" was the word I was looking for. The arrogance of Progressives, be it structural engineering or social engineering, with their unproven ideas, expensive demands on the resources of others, and "unintended consequences."

If you are going with radical building design you should *expect* radical, experimental, probably expensive, maintenance methods will follow.

Original Mike said...

We'll always have the future.

Paul Snively said...

There's no denying that geodesic domes require materials that largely hadn't been invented when R. Buckminster Fuller came up with them, so maybe we'll have a dome "Back to the Future" epoch.

Sometimes, though, their actual unique properties—in particular, requiring no interior load-bearing structures—are just what the doctor ordered. Exhibit A is what's now called the Queen Mary Dome, which used to be the hangar for Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose. With its enormous wingspan, the Spruce Goose required a lot of open floor space, making a geodesic dome the only practical structure.

CWJ said...

Paul Snively,

And yet Hagia Sofia exists! Because nothing innovative happened more than 200 years ago.

Paul Snively said...

CWJ: And yet Hagia Sofia exists! Because nothing innovative happened more than 200 years ago.

No one is denying the contribution of the flying buttress to dome architecture. Not R. Buckminster Fuller, and certainly not me. But the Hagia Sophia dome is 31 meters, or 101.706 feet, in diameter, and includes—as it must—load-bearing beams, and has been effectively destroyed by earthquakes several times.. The Queen Mary Dome is 415 feet in diameter, has no flying buttresses or interior beams, and has not been affected by any of Los Angeles' earthquakes.

The bottom line is that concerns about the joins and vertices of the triangles are valid, but the claim that the geodesic dome's design is only about "vision" and "art" are false.

pst314 said...

Snively "but the claim that the geodesic dome's design is only about 'vision' and 'art' are false."

Who has made that claim??

Char Char Binks said...


Joe said...

The classic problem of form over function. (Or a solution in search of a problem.)

Peter said...

The Domes cost $4.4 million to build, and were completed in 1966.

$4.4 million in 1966 would be $32.2 million today, adjusted for inflation.

Yet the cost to repair them is $75 million? Why would it cost over twice as much just to repair them as it cost to build them in the first place?