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Buckminster Fuller's Oldest Surviving Dome Is At The Center Of A Big Development Dispute05:05
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The Dome in Woods Hole, the oldest surviving geodesic dome in the world built by Buckminster Fuller, is in a state of total disrepair. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Dome in Woods Hole, the oldest surviving geodesic dome in the world built by Buckminster Fuller, is in a state of total disrepair. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

It's hard to miss the Dome at Woods Hole.

In this Falmouth seaside village, it hovers over Woods Hole Road like a second sunrise. Drivers pass it on their way to take the ferry to Martha's Vineyard. The sphere is considered the oldest surviving wood-framed geodesic dome designed in 1953 by architect, designer and futurist Buckminster Fuller. The local landmark has been abandoned for nearly two decades.

The interior of Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome in Woods Hole (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The interior of Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome in Woods Hole (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Several water main breaks have caused mold and decay. The roof is ripped open, revealing a wooden skeleton. Piles of garbage litter the floor. Graffiti covers the walls. The space resembles a giant, decaying honey comb.

But before the damage, the dome was an upscale restaurant — the kind of place where families took Mother's Day photos and couples married their sweethearts.

Buckminster Fuller, designer of the geodesic dome, holds a geometric object that he calls tensegrity in 1983. (Suzanne Vlamis/AP)
Buckminster Fuller, designer of the geodesic dome, holds a geometric object that he calls tensegrity in 1983. (Suzanne Vlamis/AP)

The dome also holds history. Built in 1953, it marks one of Buckminster Fuller's earliest attempts at what would would become his greatest architectural invention: the geodesic dome. There are reports of similar structures designed by German engineer Walther Wilhelm Johannes Bauersfeld in the 1920s, but Fuller expanded upon this concept, patented, and popularized it in the United States. In the middle of the 20th century, constructing a spherical building was a radical idea.

Now the community’s up in arms over the latest landowner’s pitch to preserve the iconic building, while developing the surrounding property. When developer Mark Bogosian bought the land three years ago, he instantly saw potential. On a recent tour, he wandered the deteriorating space with determined purpose.

"When I see a site that is in such a good location here in Woods Hole but is in such dire disrepair," Bogosian said, "and seeing that there was some great opportunity not only to provide an incredible amount of work for people who live and work in the community but something that I can be proud of — that for generations I can show my children [and say] 'this is what I've accomplished' — was something that was extremely important to me."

Bogosian and his partner bought the 5-acre property for nearly $3 million. They’re working with the state’s historical commission to develop a plan for the dome. Around it, he plans to build a luxury retirement community with affordable housing rentals close by. But his project is a point of contention for some longtime local residents.

Mark Bogosian (center) and his attorneys at the geodesic dome. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Mark Bogosian (center) and his attorneys at the geodesic dome. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Woods Hole resident Nicole Goldman and a committee of designers and architects don't believe Bogosian has an adequate restoration plan. “I’m worried about the timeline for this,” Goldman told me. “I’m worried that he’s gonna get going and never finish."

Goldman's committee initially talked with Bogosian about leasing the dome or buying the portion of the property the dome sits on to turn it into an art center. But negotiations fell apart.

One of Bogosian's attorneys says Goldman wants too much control over preservation efforts. Goldman now feels the developer never intended to make a deal.

“Well, you know Falmouth has a motto: ‘Isn't Falmouth nice.’ I don't see how this project is fitting that motto,” Goldman said. “So yeah, [the developer and his team are] doing their very best to make me feel really soured about the town and about the process and about my village.”

Like many land disputes, tensions have run high. At a recent town planning meeting, Goldman's husband walked out, alleging the committee had been shut out of the planning process for the dome.

The former kitchen inside the dome. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The former kitchen inside the dome. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Becky Conners is the general manager at the Sands of Time, an inn her family has owned since the '60s. She grew up here, a stone’s throw away. She put herself through college working in Fuller's dome.

“The thing that hurts me about what's going on in this town is that it's pitting friends against friends and there are families [who] have people on both sides," Conners said. "And it is causing such friction in something that shouldn't necessarily have friction.”

She said Woods Hole has always been a place that has drawn artists and scientists alike. It’s known for ocean science research facilities, the oldest aquarium in the country and an annual Fourth of July Parade full of walking science exhibits.

That’s why it wasn’t surprising when Falmouth architect E. Gunnar Peterson invited Fuller to build the dome next to his Nautilus Motor Inn, a motel with bright blue doors that is now beyond repair. In those days, many locals knew Fuller as “Bucky.” Conners said the dome was drafty and had terrible acoustics, but it was still a big draw.

“It was thriving. The dome was a really fancy place to come out for dinner. It was like a special treat, luxury kind of thing," Conners said. "So when I worked here, we had bus tours every morning we get here about 6 a.m. and there'd be a whole bus of people coming in, staying here and it was you know a pretty fancy place. It's really sad to see how far it's fallen.”

A annex of Fuller's Dome at Woods Hole. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A annex of Fuller's Dome at Woods Hole. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Conners prefers a park, but says at least the property will no longer be an eyesore and ultimately supports Bogosian's development. He hopes to begin construction this year.

“We understand that this is a key part of this development, but it’s not the only part of the development," Bogosian said. "There’s a lot more here. As much as this dome will be a real jewel of the development I think so is having affordable housing that people are gonna be able to live and walk down to Woods Hole where there’s so many jobs available."

Fuller once said: "We are all astronauts on a little spaceship called Earth." Everything he created, including the geodesic dome, was meant to bring people closer, to live simpler.

But at Woods Hole, the dome currently stands as a marker of a big divide.

This segment aired on March 7, 2019.

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Cristela Guerra Twitter Reporter
Cristela Guerra is an arts and culture reporter for The ARTery.

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