Monolothic Dome Houses Could Help Tornado-Proof Cities

The recent spate of devastating tornadoes in the American Midwest has raised plenty of tough questions. Among them, “Is there a link between the record-breaking tornado surge and climate change?” and “What can be done to limit the damage in the future?” rise to the top of the list. As for the first, researchers don’t have enough good data to draw any distinct conclusions yet.

For the second, there’s a more interesting answer: Residents of known tornado alleys should live in monolithic domes, scientists and engineers say. There are also calls for increased investment in warning systems and weather data-gathering equipment, as is to be expected. But when communities begin rebuilding the brick and mortar fabric of their towns, some experts are advocating that they do so in a radically different way.

Here’s the Christian Science Monitor:

Another approach that appears to be gathering interest involves building a concrete dome that is anchored to a concrete base. Such monolithic-dome structures “are the lowest cost option for creating windstorm-protected space” above ground, says Gregory Pekar, state hazard mitigation officer in the Texas Department of Public Safety’s division of emergency management. The structures can withstand winds above 200 miles an hour as well as wind-driven debris.

Monolithic domes have cropped up across the country as church sanctuaries, school gymnasiums, and other public buildings, which then double as community storm shelters. The domes can be configured as one- and two-story homes, adds David Smith, widely acknowledged as the pioneer in building concrete monolithic domes.

In fact, one such monolithic dome house survived a direct hit from a tornado in Blanchard, Oklahoma. The windows were shattered, and some dents were put in the exterior, but the home by and large survived in tact. Similar reports have trickled in of similar dome house survival stories occurring in the past. Buckminister Fuller would be proud.

Not up to date on the latest in monolithic dome technology? This intro should help:

Now, if further research does establish a link between the warming climate and nastier, more frequent tornadoes, large swaths of the population just might have to get used to living in bubble-shaped abodes. And the proposal presents an interesting dilemma — should residents in tornado-prone regions be opting for the inexpensive, semi-weird looking dome houses anyways, even though they’re certainly not aesthetically preferable to most folks? Regardless, such considerations should again enter the planning debate with renewed sincerity — we need to make a habit of responding to our changing environment with the smartest design available.

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Photo credits: pengo-au via Flickr/CC BY, BobMeade via Flickr/CC BY-SA

About Brian Merchant

Brian Merchant is a founding editor of the Utopianist.. When he's not helming the Utopianist, he is TreeHugger's politics writer, contributes the Getting Samy Out of Burma column to, and freelances for the likes of Salon and Paste. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

4 thoughts on “Monolothic Dome Houses Could Help Tornado-Proof Cities

  1. Monolithic Domes are great but unfortunately they are still subject to collapse because if a car is picked up and smashed against the side of the building it will fracture the wall or substructure. If this happens during the event of an F-4 or F-5 then whom ever is inside is not in danger. I have a simpler solution without using thousands of pounds of cement or concrete. One could actually use Pacific Yurts but it is how they are used in accordance with such devastating weather in the first place. Put the house or light building on a hydraulic platform and drop it into the ground and you have your solution!! I have the plans for this home concept and it is 100% tornado proof, fire proof, hurricane proof, wind proof, theft proof but most of all sold for around $ 100K not $500k to 5,000,000 like many of the other Tornado proof homes. I make these for people to live in not to make money.

  2. Simple common sense demonstrates nothing can be 100% resistant to anything. There are pictures around of a dome that survived an EF5 tornado. It suffered damaged, but was still standing when all surrounding stick built houses were blown away. Hydraulic systems are not 100% reliable and prone to failure with moving parts. Not the solution.

  3. As far as disaster-resistant, I thought of that years ago, with one little modification: Berms around it to improve aerodynamics that will work with any wind direction. Unlike a normal house, the dome is smooth, like the body of a car moving forward but in any wind direction. Meanwhile normal houses are boxy and the wind hits it with a lot more force at the same speed.

    It would be good to teat a model with and without berms in a wind tunnel to see if added berms (and thus added garden area) improves its disaster resistance.

    Note that you could avoid Workman’s Comp claims from silicosis by using a robotic arm to “print” the concrete on the inner surface.

  4. You can smash a car against a steel reinforced MD and it will not be a problem. If EF5 comes along, put me in a Monolithic Dome. My Dome is in Indianola, Iowa. I love it.

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