Bob and Laura Benson live in four geodesic domes in Nags Head, N.C.—a sort of outer-space touch in a down-to-earth neighborhood. The domes took shape one by one in a sudden space-age way: in the morning there was nothing but sand dunes and sea oats. By evening, a full-fledged dome—60 triangular space frames—had been neatly bolted together. Joints between the Douglas fir plywood triangles were weatherproofed by calking and then covered with tape. Finally painted a brilliant white inside and out, the four domes now flash in the sun. One is the Bensons' living room, kitchen and utility room, one is the master bedroom and bath, and the third is partitioned into two guest rooms with baths. The fourth is Bob Benson's studio.
For Bob and Laura Benson the choice of the Outer Banks for a vacation house is a good one—there is plenty of surfing, fishing and hunting for wild duck and brant. Laura Benson is the daughter of Pete Bostwick, considered the best amateur rider and polo player this country has ever produced. Her brother Pete is the world champion court tennis player. Bob Benson, who played football at Duke, gave up the idea of a career in professional football to become a painter. At Duke he played with Sonny Jurgensen, now of the Redskins, who says that the pro game lost a very good defensive end to the art world.
The Benson house did not come from an architect's drawing board. A geodesic dome is prefabricated, and the assembly plans put it simply enough: "It is a geometrical joining of materials in such a fashion that it covers a maximum area with a minimum of materials and has the highest strength rating per weight of any structure ever conceived by man."
The man who conceived this remarkable structure is the widely known R. Buckminster Fuller. Fuller is not an architect but a designer dedicated to the future forms of our environment. He has been trying to revolutionize our lifestyle since 1927, when he devised the Dymaxion House (dymaxion = dynamics/maximum efficiency), a prefabricated, scientifically planned dwelling that could be erected in a day. The Bensons' dome home is a mathematical progression from Fuller's Dymaxion House, and of all his designs it is the geodesic dome that has really caught the public fancy.
Currently, at least five companies manufacture wooden versions of the domes in the U.S. The Bensons bought theirs from Geodesic Domes, Inc. of Pittsburgh, N.Y. Each dome cost $2,600 and measures 1,100 square feet, 39 feet in diameter and 16 feet 6½ inches high at the highest point. Ten skylights come with the package, but windows, doors and insulation materials are extra. After the four domes were lighted, heated, air conditioned and insulated, the Bensons calculated that their house had cost about $13 a square foot. Next, 10,000 beach grass plants were needed to shore up the dunes—but the Bensons say they can plant 1,000 in two hours, which must be some sort of record.
With domes sprouting up all over the country, it is difficult to estimate how many are actually lived in. Zoning restrictions often make life hard for the would-be dome dweller. Even the Bensons, who have the courage of their convictions, admit to a feeling of self-consciousness among the Outer Bankers' neat frame houses. A sign at the bottom of the Benson driveway announces: "Warning! U.S. Electrovisual Services. Do Not Enter." It's a ploy to give the whole thing that space project air.