History of a Dome

In August of 1953, a group of young people assembled in Woods Hole, Massachusetts to build a modest structure on a wooded knoll. They came from diverse backgrounds and from across the country, and they each came inspired by, and dedicated to, the vision of the project’s creative progenitor, R. Buckminster Fuller.

The Woods Hole Dome was commissioned by Falmouth architect and aspiring hotelier E. Gunnar Peterson to provide the dining space for the restaurant of the Nautilus Motor Inn. The dome opened in 1954 to tremendous fanfare in the community, and although it was initially derided a modern interloper on traditional Cape Cod, the Woods Hole dome survived early criticism and operated as a successful restaurant for decades. Over those decades, the Dome ultimately became a rather beloved fixture in the village, a destination for special dinners, and a highlight for tourists.

Unfortunately, the Woods Hole dome has an uncertain future, having fallen into disuse and disrepair since 2002 when the restaurant closed. The dome, which is the first permanent wood member dome structure that was directly overseen by Buckminster Fuller, stands today as the oldest extant structure credited to Fuller, and it is in a precarious state of preservation.

To learn more about the dome’s history, construction, and structure, we invite you to see the following papers, authored by Robert Mohr (Dome board member) and Joseph Swerdlin. These were presented at the 2018 International Symposium of IASS (The International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures) in Cambridge MA in July of 2018.

Making the Woods Hole Dome: The Story of R. Buckminster Fuller’s Oldest Geodesic Structure, by Robert Mohr

Construction and History of Fuller’s Timber Dome at Woods Hole, by Joseph Swerdlin


A Future

Buckminster Fuller defied simple definition. The Woods Hole dome and its creation equally defy singularity. It was not the work of one, but of many – a structure built by a network. The most significant contribution of Fuller is in many ways not his “invention” or his “genius,” but rather his capacity to inspire. Fuller’s headstone features a favored saying of his – call me trim tab – a reference to a tiny part of a ship or plane that gently changes the vehicle’s course. Fuller liked to think that he was working to gently shift humanity towards a more stable relationship with the planet. What better way to propagate an idea than to influence a generation of young people to think differently?

The Woods Hole dome is clearly historically significant; the fact that it is the oldest extant dome that involved Fuller is evidence enough for that. The work of many, it is a structure that sits precisely at the point where the geodesic project shifted from being a family of academic experiments to a series of tangible and lasting built works. As such, Woods Hole acts as a hinge between experiment and monument, between folly and permanence. The Woods Hole dome embodies the enthusiasm of a generation, individuals motivated to make meaningful contributions, to do more with less, and to bend humanity toward a more sustainable world.

Today, the dome – once the site of memorable events, and forever the symbol of a progressive and holistic spirit – sits vacant. In 2017, a new organization formed to breathe new life into this historic icon. The Dome at Woods Hole, Inc. is dedicated to the rehabilitation and revitalization of the Woods Hole dome. Formed on the collaborative, cultural, and creative foundation that built the dome in the first place, The Dome at Woods Hole will be an interdisciplinary collaborative place that provides a forum for innovative thinking and creative making.