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From Toothpicks to Trailblazing— The Birth of The Monolithic Dome

David South built his first dome out of toothpicks. But then, he was just a rural Idaho high school kid, burning with youthful enthusiasm, sparked by a Buckminster Fuller speech. David didn’t foresee just building domes; he envisioned building huge domes. “I knew there had to be a way to construct really big domes,” David says. “I saw them as super-size, igloolike structures for commercial use.”

Well, toothpicks just didn’t work, so David tried drinking straws, an Erector set, two by fours -until one day, some years and experience later, he hit on the right combination. David says, "By then, I knew concrete and I knew polyurethane foam. More importantly, my preoccupation with domes got my brothers Barry and Randy interested. So now the three of us began thinking about domes made of concrete, reinforced with steel, and insulated with foam.

“But you can’t attach concrete to air. We needed a framework or skeleton,” David adds, recalling more investigation, research and experimenting. That led to the invention of the Airform. David describes it as “a huge balloon, molded into various shapes and sizes of a tough fabric, that’s attached to a dome’s concrete foundation and inflated.”

Once the Airform is inflated, construction moves out of the weather and into its interior. Three inches of polyurethane foam are sprayed on the inside of the Airform; steel rebar is attached to the foam, then embedded with two to four inches of concrete.

In 1975, in Shelley, Idaho, the South brothers proved the practicality and workability of this process. They built a Monolithic Dome as ‘what else’—a potato-storage facility, 105’ in diameter and 35’ high. It’s no longer storing potatoes, but it’s still very much in use today as a waterbed factory. That project earned the Souths a patent for the process, and the construction of more Monolithic Domes began.

“But we weren’t just constructing,” David recalls. “The research continued. We kept looking, and continued looking—for better ways to do just about everything.”

Eventually that led to the design of Monolithic Dome homes, schools, and churches, and David’s conviction that more builders were needed. And that conviction led to another: to get more builders, the public needed to know about Monolithic Domes.

The Souths decided that a second Monolithic Dome building site, through its sheer newness, would stimulate public awareness and interest. David established that new site in Italy, Texas, a semi-rural community of 1700 that’s just 45 miles south of Dallas. That facility houses two major activities: Monolithic Constructors, Inc. – This company designs and constructs Monolithic Domes, EcoShells and Crenospheres. At its 7-dome, strung-together-as-a-caterpillar factory, named Bruco (Italian for caterpillar), they also manufacture Airforms for their projects and those of other Monolithic Dome builders.

Monolithic Dome Institute – This organization informs and educates individual builders as well as the general public, functions as an informational liaison between professionals, and works with others in a consulting capacity. Major projects at MDI include:

  • Workshops – Each April, May, September and October, MDI conducts a five-day, hands-on workshop that teaches participants how to build a Monolithic Dome. To date, more than 1500 people have attended, representing every state, Canada, Mexico, Belize, Turkey, Germany, Greece, Russia, Denmark, Britain, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
  • Literature and Videos – MDI maintains a library of books, brochures and videos relating to the design and construction of domes.

Asked if these educational and informational efforts are paying off, David says, "Well, we’re trailblazers. And it’s an uphill trail! Most of us find change difficult. We’re usually most comfortable with what’s familiar. That applies to the structures we live in and use. It’s a self-learned process that begins at birth when we’re slapped on the butt and put in a crib with four corners. From then on, we live in a world of rectangles and squares.

“But, yes, Monolithic Domes are gaining in popularity. Even folks who say they don’t like their look, usually just because it’s so different, want a Monolithic Dome for its indisputable advantages: its superb insulation and energy-efficiency, low maintenance requirements, virtual indestructibility and lower insurance rates, and its relatively simple construction process.”

To learn more about hiring Monolithic®, read " We Know Domes – Hire Monolithic Today".