by Matthew J. Goguen, Burlington Writers Workshop
Sam Green and Yo La Tengo perform The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller on the MainStage on Thursday, October 30 at 7:30 pm. Get tickets at www.flynntix.org.
Sam Green’s live documentary, The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, comes to the Flynn Center this October. I’m curious to see if the performance will encourage folks to re-consider some the famed designer’s ideas of a more sustainable future. If there was ever a luminary truly worthy of the designation “ahead of his time,” Fuller may be the most famous. I began taking an interest in the man’s life and philosophy since a classmate’s whimsical conversation got me hooked.
“Did you know that Winooski almost had a dome built over it?” my friend Ashley gleefully asked me last autumn. We were nearly done with a research project in our master’s program when she delivered this truth nugget. After some quick sleuthing online, she found the proposed diagrams for The Golden Onion Dome. With some inspiration from a Portlandia sketch, we even coined a new catchphrase—“Put a dome on it!”—which we would mumble under our breath whenever we were presented with design dilemmas in our historic preservation classes.
The Winooski dome idea has been a semi-common discussion piece more than thirty years later, popping up in newspapers, blogs, and even within the walls of your favorite bar. The idea was born in community development offices as a way to curb energy consumption by the small city. If successful, this project would’ve taken community revitalization to an entirely new level. While some of the banter you’ll hear at your local watering hole is about how dismal the idea was, make no bones about it: some people were taking it very seriously.
In March 1980, interested persons and luminaries converged at St. Michael’s College for the International Dome Symposium. R. Buckminster Fuller’s keynote address entitled, “Domes: the embodiment of the Principle of Doing More with Less,” outlined the Winooski Dome as one of mankind’s big ideas that could be achieved in principle but not without intense study. Robert L. Wendt of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee spoke specifically on the Winooski Dome’s practicality and discussed alternatives to the plan. Wendt suggested that the physical landscape and topography of Winooski made it an unworthy candidate to be completely domed. In order for a full-city dome to work well, Wendt suggested the entire city would need to be reorganized from top to bottom. Roads, parks, and even housing clusters would need a fresh look for this project to be even somewhat realized.
Smaller-scale domes, like ones over houses, were a more prudent endeavor that was suggested in lieu of a full-scale, citywide dome. The sad coda to the story of course was the cost. Initial funding to research this idea would need to be increased to $250,000, about five times more than the Department of Housing and Urban Development was willing to foot.
Looking back on the Dome Symposium, I had my own questions about its feasibility: How would you travel in and out? What would happen to the birds? Would the clicks, hums, and booms of urban life be amplified under a dome? Legally, could you even build a dome over an entire city?
I thought about these questions in January after seeing singer-songwriter Damien Jurado play in town during the week of the polar vortex. His latest album cover features the artist walking across a desert towards—wouldn’t you know it—a geodesic dome. As my car shivered down Colchester Avenue overlooking Winooski, I squinted one eye shut and drew a dome in breath on the windshield with my numb middle finger. Even as the thermometer read -12 degrees, I couldn’t help but think I was already insulated enough.