Skinning the Dome

Pumping on the 2″ shot-create skin, day one.

What is a Sculptural Monolithic Dome

What is a Sculptural Monolithic Dome you ask?

It is like a monolithic dome but built without the air-form bladder. With a sculptural dome you create a metal skin using rebar, road mesh, and metal lathe that becomes the form. This new approach to monolithic dome building is not only stronger but offers individual home builders the ability to customize the design and features of their home. Designed with a sculptor this unique form opens up new potentials for what is possible using readily available materials. You can include in your dome structural elements that simply were not possible in a monolithic dome.

Sculptor Robert Holtman’s business, building large stone features and waterfalls for homes and resorts, had used the services of a local engineer and suggested that this engineer could render dome plans to any specifications. Freed from limitation we could design a dome that would be truly monolithic, wiring in sun-tunnel sky lights, piping for stoves and vents, hooded windows, portholes… all forms of innovation became possible.

To my delight, the engineering firm produced a blueprint that passed the scrutiny of the district, so it was all systems go. Blueprint in hand, I consulted with the sculptor to estimate the materials needed. The only special tool used for the framing was a set of manual rebar benders which the sculptor had designed, with his permission we copied his prototype. With lengths of rebar, a sheet of 6″ road mesh and a sheet of metal lathe, Bob  proceeded to show us how to tie it all together using wire. He showed us how to use the bar benders to make circles with the rebar. With this meagre tutelage we set out to build a dome.

The next eight weeks were an exhilarating, sometimes mind boggling adventure. A builder had been contracted for the foundation and was kept for two weeks to do the heavy lifting. We found we could only build the metal grid so high before it started leaning in with our weight. The builder was convinced we needed to build a complex and expensive wooden scaffolding system around the interior but we chose to rent a three tier scaffold. We experimented with tying 60′ of rebar together, using the scaffold to hoist it up with rope, and started securing hoops. Once we had eight hoops up we used the bender bars to create circles of bar that we tied to our hoops and like a marvellous bowl shaped web we created a self supporting structure.

My friend, a pipe insulator and builder at heart, decided we could do the rest of the metal framing and detail work ourselves. Working out the details is where you get to be the most innovative. You can save thousands of dollars by being creative in how you plan and acquire the finishing elements. For example, the only sun-tunnel sky lights I could find to go through 6″ of cement cost $630.00 each. We ended up getting them fabricated from 18 gauge steel and paid $480.00 for all five. I thought small round windows would make a nice detail, so I went to a local marine store and got three original porthole windows for under $200.00. They look and work great.

The engineer was beaming when he came to inspect the metal frame. He was thrilled to see his blueprint come to life and passed our metal form without a single modification. We were able to schedule the shotcrete pour in September of 2007. After only eight weeks, looking ten years younger, with twenty five thousand wire ties under our belt, we were ready for the pour. The shotcrete pour represented the greatest single expense. In two days for $20,000 dollars we instantly had a completed house — walls, roof, doors, and windows; it was magical. After one month of curing it was time to spray on the polyurethane foam, apply a coat of elastomeric paint, and voila!, the most secure, energy efficient home imaginable. The only thing better than building a dome is living in one.

Canada’s Dome Diva Cindy Johnson explains the journey that inspired the design and creation of the first Sculptural Monolithic Dome. Built in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, this 38′ diameter dome has engineered blueprints and offers a new approach to dome home building. Learn more about this extraordinary home and why you may want to build one. Visit

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This 1850 sq.ft. dome cost less than $100.00 dollars per square foot to build including putting in a 300 ft. well and a septic system. When you consider regular wood home construction comes in at an average of $145.00 per sq. ft. it’s obvious that a dome is more cost effective, more earth friendly and infinitely cheaper to run. The number 1 reason to build a dome…its affordable!

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