A geodesic dome is a spherical or partial-spherical shell structure or lattice shell based on a network of great circles (geodesics) on the surface of a sphere. The geodesics intersect to form triangular elements that have local triangular rigidity and also distribute the stress across the structure. When completed to form a complete sphere, it is a geodesic sphere. A dome is enclosed, unlike open geodesic structures such as playground climbers.
The first dome that could be called "geodesic" in every respect was designed after World War I by Walther Bauersfeld,chief engineer of the Carl Zeiss optical company, for a planetarium to house his planetarium projector. The dome was patented, constructed by the firm of Dykerhoff and Wydmann on the roof of the Zeiss plant in Jena, Germany, and opened to the public in July 1926.Some 20 years later, R. Buckminster Fuller named the dome "geodesic" from field experiments with artist Kenneth Snelson at Black Mountain College in 1948 and 1949. Snelson and Fuller worked developing what they termed "tensegrity," an engineering principle of continuous tension and discontinuous compression that allowed domes to deploy a lightweight lattice of interlocking icosahedrons that could be skinned with a protective cover. Although Fuller was not the original inventor, he developed the intrinsic mathematics of the dome, thereby allowing popularization of the idea — for which he received U.S. patent 2,682,235 29 June 1954.
The geodesic dome appealed to Fuller because it was extremely strong for its weight, its "omnitriangulated" surface provided an inherently stable structure, and because a sphere encloses the greatest volume for the least surface area.
The dome was successfully adopted for specialized uses, such as the 21 Distant Early Warning Line domes built in Canada in 1956,the 1958 Union Tank Car Company dome near Baton Rouge, Louisiana designed by Thomas C. Howard of Synergetics, Inc. and specialty buildings like the Kaiser Aluminum domes (constructed in numerous locations across the US, e.g., Virginia Beach, VA), auditoriums, weather observatories, and storage facilities. The dome was soon breaking records for covered surface, enclosed volume, and construction speed.