Get inspired by Bucky Fuller and try your hand at geodesic dome-making, as students at Black Mountain College did!
Appropriate for: Creative minds age 9+ with adult assistance, or younger children broken into repeatable construction steps over time with plenty of adult guidance. Making a geodesic dome is a perfect activity for multiple generations of family participants; working together makes the “dome” come to life sooner.
Tools and Materials needed:
(Use what you have on hand already.)
- Straws of two colors (avoid using ‘flex’ straws unless you cut off the flexible joint) for Strut A & B
You will need 33 straws (18 of one color and 15 of another color) for a dome and 60 (30 of each color) straws for a full sphere. A strut is a long, stiff board, beam or plank used as a support in building.
- Ruler (to measure straw lengths before cutting)
- Pipe cleaners, 12” (the thinner type with less fluff works best!): about 12 per dome constructed
- Time, patience, good humor, and plenty of snacks!
Safety tip: adults or older children can bend over the sharp ends of the pipe cleaners once they are threaded through the straws so that little fingers will not be harmed.
Creating Basic Pentagon Shapes (6 pentagons = geodesic dome)
A pentagon is a two-dimensional geometric figure formed of five sides and five angles.
- Select one color straw to be Strut A and one color to be Strut B. Strut A will be longer than Strut B. For example, using ~8” straws, cut straws into 4” lengths and into 3.5” lengths. [Or to determine what length for the straws, Strut B should be smaller than Strut A by a factor of 0.885.] Hint: measure and cut one straw into the correct length then use that straw as your guide to measure and cut the rest of the straws needed.
- Make a total of 35 Strut A’s.
- Make a total of 30 Strut B’s.
- Make some pentagons. Strut A’s will be the outside of each pentagon and Strut B will be the middle of the pentagon. Feed a pipe cleaner through a Strut A. Bend back the end to secure it in place around the straw. Join additional pipe cleaners as necessary to make one continuous length of pipe cleaner by twisting the ends of the pipe cleaners together tightly.
- Thread 4 more straws onto the pipe cleaners (for a total of 5 straws) then bend into the shape of a pentagon and secure the ends together.
- Thread 2 Strut B’s onto the long end of the pipe cleaner (add more pipe cleaners as necessary) then thread the pipe cleaner into an adjacent straw and out the other side.
- Thread 2 more Strut B’s through the pipe cleaner and then secure all Strut B’s at the center.
- Thread 1 final Strut B onto the pipe cleaner and secure all Strut B’s at the center of the pentagon with a small piece of pipe cleaner. It helps to wrap the pipe cleaner around the joint of one pair of Strut B’s and then wrap it around the second pair. Hint: Push the end of the pipe cleaner back into one of the straw struts to conceal it!
- Make 5 more pentagons as described above.
Note: For a full sphere (rather than a dome) cut more supplies, grab a snack, then make 11 more pentagons.
Make the Dome
Once you have completed the basic shape that will form the dome (or sphere) all you need to do is connect them together. Geodesic domes are very efficient structures. Can you tell why?
- Take one pentagon and thread a pipe cleaner through one side, secure at the end. This will be your center pentagon.
- Thread the long end of the pipe cleaner through one Strut B of a second pentagon. Make sure the pointed sides of the shapes are facing OUT. Pull them together.
- Repeat Steps 1 and 2 to connect a 3rd, 4th, and 5th pentagon at the joints of the center pentagon. Pull tightly.
- Take the 5 single Strut B’s and feed them through the base of the row of pentagon at the bottom, alternating pentagons and struts. Pull tightly.
This project was created by ICA Family Programs Coordinator Kathleen Lomatoski, with support from Ana Dziengel.
© 2015 Department of Education, The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston