June 2003: School of Communication Arts to Build Unique Dome Campus


CONTACT: Carol Lanham
BWG Agency

School of Communication Arts to Build Unique Dome Campus

RALEIGH, North Carolina (JUNE 2003) – The School of Communication Arts in Raleigh, North Carolina is unique in more ways than one. It was one of the first schools in the world to offer instruction in high-end computer animation, and its graduates have gone on to work on major motion pictures such as Star Wars and the Matrix.

But even such Hollywood luminaries may soon be overshadowed. The college is about to have a campus that is as unique and futuristic as its high-tech curriculum. Three Monolithic Dome buildings are now under construction in Wakefield and scheduled for completion in August 2003.

The round, super-insulated, steel-reinforced concrete buildings will replace the traditional one-story office building that the school has occupied since its founding in 1992. For the new campus, founder Debra Hooper wanted architecture that challenged and encouraged the creativity of the students and reflected the school’s cutting-edge curriculum.

Monolithic Domes filled the bill. As the name implies, the domes are actually one-piece concrete shells, and futuristic sums up their appearance for most people.

When completed, the three domes that make up the project will stand equidistant from each other on an 11-acre site in Wakefield. Two of the domes will house pie-shaped classroom. The third will house a 200-foot, high-definition theater, a soundstage, a mixing stage and an editing and audio suite for the school’s digital filmmaking program.

A flat-roof traditional building will connect the three domes and serve as the library media center and administration offices. When a fourth dome is built in the future, the quartet of round buildings will form the shape of a diamond.

Rick Crandall, the Mesa, Arizona-based architect who designed the new campus, says clients sometimes want domes that blend in with the surrounding architecture. That was not the case with the Wakefield project.

“This is a case where the shape of the dome was sought after because it was unique and unusual,” he says. “Because it is a high-tech school, they also liked the idea of using new materials, means and methods.”

Monolithic Domes certainly qualify in all three categories. Construction begins with the pouring of a circular concrete footing. The next step is the inflation of what is called an Airform, a circular piece of tough, single-ply roofing material that is attached to the special hooks around the footing. Giant fans lift the Airform into the air, creating the shape of dome.

But make no mistake. Monolithic Domes are not lightweights. What begins with air results in a structure that will literally last for hundreds of years when completed. In fact, the buildings are strong enough to meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s criteria for “near-absolute protection” from natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes.

After the Airform is in place, construction moves to the interior. Polyurethane foam is applied in several stages finally totaling about three inches. Hooks are embedded in the foam around the dome’s interior surface and used to hang reinforcing steel rebar. Finally, the rebar grid is covered with a two-to-three inch layer of Shotcrete sprayed into place.

The insulating foam combined with the thermal mass of the concrete means that domes cost significantly less to heat and cool than traditional buildings. Over the long haul, domes actually pay for themselves in the savings derived from utility expenses.

Dome Technology of Idaho Falls, Idaho is under contract with Raleigh-based Centurion
Construction Co. to build the dome shells, which are scheduled for completion by the end of June.

“Each dome is taking about a month to finish,” says Scott Pellett, construction superintendent for Dome Technology. “We’ve kept a pretty good pace here. The owners are anxious to be in by the end of August, so we’re trying to speed up the process.”

Construction on the domes is proceeding in fashion typical to most other Monolithic Dome projects, with some exceptions that relate to the school’s specialized curriculum. For example, a number of special hooks had to be imbedded in the tops of the domes to support the suspended screen in the digital theater. Others will accommodate the equipment required to present animated light shows.

Pat Vines, Centurion senior superintendent, says he had never worked on domes before, but has discovered that once the shells are complete, interior finish-out proceeds just like it would for any other building. The only difference is they are working with circular space instead of square.

“It’s pretty interesting to say the least, but it’s not as complicated as it seems,” Vines says. “The framing and all the other construction is the same but instead of squares, we’re dealing with circles. Everything is based on radiuses and diameters.”

Vines reports that his subcontractors have quickly adapted to their new round surroundings, and are framing, dry-walling and installing air conditioning in the first dome, while Dome Technology works on the shell of the other two buildings.

Because Hooper thought the domes looked like circus tents, she plans to encircle them with colorful painted bands and carry the circus theme over to the interior as well. When the campus is complete, plans are to change the name to School of Communication Arts at Digital Circus.



Debra Hooper, founder, School of Communication Arts Raleigh, NC – 1-800-288-7442

Rick Crandall – School Architect – Mesa, Arizona – 480-833-3594

Pat Vines – Centurion Senior superintendent – 919-554-0588

Scott Pellett – Construction superintendent for Dome Technology – 252-617-4655

David South – co-invented and patented process for building Monolithic Domes – 972-483-7423

If you’d like to mention the other Monolithic Dome schools that have been built recently, you should talk to David South. Construction was completed in the last year or so on schools in Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, and Missouri.