Issue 32 Fire Winter 2008/09

Domesday

Julia Wolcott

Commissioned to build the US Pavilion at Expo ‘67 in Montreal, Buckminster Fuller created his most dramatic structure to date. While his previous geodesic domes had been hemispherical, the Montreal dome was a three-quarter sphere that rose to over two hundred feet. Its trellis-like frame was made of welded steel tubes and was covered by a transparent skin of acrylic panels. Despite its enormous size, its transparency made it seem like an oversized dandelion. Visitors were enthralled by it, but another kind of love was also in play. Fuller dedicated the dome to his wife in honor of their fiftieth anniversary, naming it “Anne’s Taj Mahal.”

After Expo’67, the US government donated its pavilion to the City of Montreal, which took official possession on 31 January 1968. Despite its public appeal, however, Fuller’s structure was not suited to the Canadian climate. It was impossible to heat and the wide seasonal variations in temperature caused the metal tubes and acrylic outer panels to expand and contract considerably. Leaks were common. On 20 May 1976, a welding operation during the maintenance of the outer covering caused a fire that destroyed the entire acrylic shell in half an hour. The tubular frame remained intact and survives to this day; the acrylic skin was never replaced, despite Fuller’s proposal for how it might be done.

Julia Wolcott is a writer based in Staten Island, New York. She is currently working on a book project titled Full and Fuller.

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