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What is a Monolithic Dome?

Donn Saylor
Donn Saylor

A monolithic dome is a rounded building structure typically made of concrete and ridged steel rods. Modern monolithic domes are celebrated for their ability to withstand serious disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and even fires. With architectural roots reaching back into prehistory, monolithic domes are used around the world as homes, schools, churches, and sporting arenas.

The first monolithic domes were igloos. Though made of compacted snow and ice, the rounded buildings offered both warmth and structural support. These initial monoliths inspired builders for centuries to come and directly influenced the style of monolithic architecture. Early stone structures served as churches and mausoleums, but as architecture evolved, monoliths were adapted into various commercial and house styles.

The first monolithic domes were igloos.
The first monolithic domes were igloos.

The original building process of monolithic domes entailed pouring concrete over a rounded mound of dirt, but this primitive technique has been significantly modified. Though modern concrete shell structures are erected using the same general principle, the process utilizes more state-of-the-art and dependable materials. In addition to concrete, monolithic domes are built with rebar — ribbed steel rods — and polyurethane foam.

First, builders lay down the foundation of the monolithic dome, usually made of reinforced concrete. Next, an air form, or fabric form, is inflated over the foundation to delineate the exact shape and scope of the shell. Polyurethane foam is then added to the inside of the form to help bear the weight of the concrete dome. Special clips are affixed to the foam interior, and rebar is installed to offer further structural support. Finally, concrete is poured over the air form, rebar, and foam supports and a dome-like shape emerges. After is has sufficiently dried, the concrete is sometimes painted.

Not only are monolithic domes unique and eye-catching, but studies have shown them to be exceptionally energy efficient. On average, they use 50% less energy than a traditionally built structure of similar size. Monolithic domes maintain this level of energy consumption even in extreme climates and can be built anywhere from mountaintops to under ground.

Monolithic domes have received widespread attention for their ability stand up under the most extreme catastrophes. For example, many monolithic domes in Florida were virtually unscathed after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, while neighboring, conventionally built homes were destroyed. Due to this event and other similar ones, they have come to be regarded as a hurricane-proof building style. Monolithic domes also hold up under termite infestations and destructive rot.

Discussion Comments


I have always wanted to live in a curvy concrete dome structure since I first saw one around 1979 on a beach. They seem so safe and cozy.


energy-efficient, hurricane-resistant, costs comparable or less than traditional housing. But yet, we allow rebuilding stick-built homes that use more energy and are less safe.


Just to clarify. The concrete is not poured over the outside for a basic monolithic dome. The rebar is attached to the interior of the dome as described and then the concrete (or shotcrete) is conveyed through a hose and pneumatically projected at high velocity onto the interior surface.

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    • The first monolithic domes were igloos.
      By: Andrew Buckin
      The first monolithic domes were igloos.