Straight walls with Monolithic® strength
How would you like to be the first owner and occupant of a new kind of house? “It’s a real kick,” said Gary Clark of Italy, Texas. Gary, vice president of operations at MDI had recently moved into the first Orion — the youngest, newest sibling in the Monolithic Dome family.
“But, being first has a disadvantage, too,” Gary quickly added. "Because there’s so much interest in this new type of dome, we have a steady stream of visitors wanting to see it.
“And many think the Orion is the dome we’ll first see as a subdivision of Monolithic Domes. That was an observation frequently made by people who attended our “Conference 2000” and toured the Orion."
What makes the Orion so appealing and very possibly just the design that will overcome the reluctance of many to choose a nontraditional structure? Straight walls or as Gary put it, “The Orion combines the best of two worlds: the strength and integrity of a Monolithic Dome with the convenience and conventional look of straight outer walls.”
The idea of a spherical dome with straight walls was entertained and actively pursued at MDI for a long time. “It all started to come together when we began building spray-in-place concrete fences, using plywood forms and spraying them with concrete,” Gary said. “We soon realized we could adapt this technology to making walls.”
A new kind of dome dream home
Construction of Gary’s Orion began in September 1999 with the pouring of its concrete foundation, forty-six feet in diameter. To create the Orion’s outer wall, seventeen 8′ × 8′ plywood panels, each topped with a twelve-inch ledge, were attached to this foundation and sprayed with two inches of concrete. After an Airform, 48′ × 12′, was secured at the top of the wall and inflated, the building process proceeded as it would for any Monolithic Dome.
When completed, Gary had a two-story dome whose straight outer wall encompassed 2400 square feet of living space. Two bedrooms, a full bath, a mechanical room for heating and cooling equipment, and generous storage share the upstairs living space. The downstairs includes a master bedroom, bath with Jacuzzi tub and walk-in closet, an additional half-bath cleverly tucked under the staircase, kitchen with walk-in pantry and cupboards with swing-out shelves, living and family rooms, a formal dining area and utility room.
For his Orion, Gary chose a standard, forced-air heating and cooling system. He said, “In our climate, a conventional house of this size usually requires a five-ton unit for cooling. We’re using two tons. So far this summer (June), the air conditioning hasn’t kicked on at all. Just with our ceiling fans — one in just about every room — we’ve maintained a comfortable seventy-five degrees.”
“The heating,” Gary continued, “has banks of heating elements. There are four of those banks, and each bank produces five kilowatts of heat. I disconnected three of those banks and use only one.”
Decorating and media coverage
With straight walls, the placement of large furniture pieces like an entertainment center and piano did not present a problem.
Both paint and wallpaper, some with matching borders, was selected for the walls. “But,” Gary said, “you’re not in any way limited. You can do the Orion’s walls with whatever you like: paint, paper, plaster, paneling, stone, brick, you name it.”
The design choices coupled with the Orion’s unique Monolithic Dome design and durability brought television cameras to Gary’s front door. Dallas’ Channel Eleven focused a segment of its popular afternoon show “Positively Texas” on the Orion. Gary and the TV crew toured the entire house while Gary talked about the dome’s ability to withstand natural disasters, particularly tornadoes that often threaten this part of Texas.
Asked about unpleasant surprises the Orion’s construction crew may have encountered while building the dome, Gary said, “Every project has its gotchas. That’s just the way it is. Considering that this Orion was our first, it really went smoothly. About the only problem we had was teaching ourselves how to efficiently attach the Airform to the ledge running along the top of the wall. Once we figured that out, it was pretty much business as usual, just like building any Monolithic Dome.”
- Easier to mount doors and windows.
- A more conventional look.
- More straight wall area — preferred by many for hanging pictures, placing built-ins.
- Easier public acceptability in traditional, conventional areas.
- Variety of exterior finishes: brick, stucco, paint.
- Strength and durability approximating that of the Monolithic Dome.
- Low, ongoing maintenance and energy consumption.
- Versatility of size and shape: Wall can consist of virtually any reasonable number of panels, arranged in various shapes. Airform can be relatively low for a single-floor Orion or tall enough to accommodate second and third floors.
Monolithic’s president David South said, “At this point, we see only two disadvantages to the Orion. We expect the cost of the Orion’s shell to be approximately ten percent higher than costs for a conventional Monolithic Dome. However, we anticipate some savings on the finish-out of the Orion, since its doors and windows just pop in place, much like those in traditional houses. The second disadvantage involves the Orion’s wall construction. Since it takes place outdoors, inclement weather could result in construction delays.”