Structural Analysis of Geodesic Domes


 This is an extensive document relating to the structural analysis of geodesic domes used in India. Its author, Marek Kubik submitted this paper as his final year project at Durham University School of Engineering.

The complete document (click here to download it in PDF format) demonstrates various techniques and approaches, a rare glimpse for most of us not accustomed to the details involved in such an analysis. Below you can read the paper’s abstract and summary.



A project to house 40 families in the Maharashtra region of India which began in January 2005 was halted  shortly  after  it commenced due to concerns over the loading applied to a series of geodesic domes which form a large portion of the  whole complex.  Vigyan Ashram,  the  organisation  that  manufactures  the domes, issued a request for the development of an affordable computer program that  would allow them  to model the  structural response of the  domes.  The ensuing research into the design of the geodesic domes and the development of a spreadsheet  based finite element package are the subject of this dissertation.



Vigyan Ashram  locally produces the  geodesic domes as do-it-yourself kits for the  lower- middle class of  both  rural  and  urban  populations.   The  original design was adopted  in the aftermath of the 1993 Killari earthquake,  aiming to provide durable, low cost housing capable of withstanding the earthquakes,  rains and winds of India for those that lost their homes.

Of the  120 geodesic dome kits supplied  to the  Water  Bank housing project,  40 were planned  to be subterranean and  were therefore  affected.  Vigyan Ashram,  together  with another  NGO, engINdia, asked for research into the geodesic dome’s current incarnation to be carried out.  The Water Bank project highlighted the need for a method of modelling the structural response of geodesic domes, as an assessment  of the loading encountered by the domes would allow recommendations  to be made as to how the design  could be adapted  to accommodate  the expected loading.

Vigyan Ashram’s main desire was for a structural analysis package without  the asso- ciated licensing costs, to allow their  science and technology centre  to assess the geodesic dome’s structural response  in-house.  This  would provide significant  long term  benefits for Vigyan Ashram,  removing the need for outsider  aid with such design problems in the future.  If appropriate, students  at Vigyan Ashram  would also use the developed method to further  their  understanding of structural behaviour.

It was hoped that  a reliable method of analysis would increase the number of potential uses of the structure and hence its market  demand,  benefiting both  the community  and the business that manufactures  the dome, which was founded and run by an ex-student of Vigyan Ashram.


The objectives of this project may be summarized  as follows.

1. The development of a method of finite element analysis for geodesic dome structures

using Microsoft Excel 2003. The program  needed to provide a user friendly format that  gave the user the opportunity to define a geometry, select appropriate material properties  and  apply  a  variety  of loading  conditions.    It  was required  to  output information  about  nodal displacements and forces in the elements.

2. The  assessment of the  dome joints used in the  structure to determine  their  design limits.  Based on these findings, a relationship  between material  parameters and the ultimate  failure strength  of the connections was to be developed.

3. The development of an additional  spreadsheet that  would allow the user to calculate all the relevant  dome fabrication  details  - how many different  struts  are required, how long they  are, how many bolts  are required for sufficient connection strength  etc.


Project  timeline

This project was to be carried out over a period of 28.5 weeks – from the end of September through  to  mid-May.   A Gantt chart  breakdown  of the  project  plan  may be found  in Appendix A, with all the major project deadlines highlighted

Work was broadly categorized into three  phases.

Phase I: Initial  research and planning; lasting from September through  to January, culminating  in  the submission of the literature review.  In this phase, background reading and discussion with Vigyan Ashram would lead to the development of a list of objectives and a project plan.  Additionally, preparation work for the later tension testing  work would be scheduled, including the submission of a risk assessment and the production  of engineering drawings to fabricate  the required dome joints.

Phase  II: Data  collection; overlapping  with  Phase  I, from December to the  end of April.  Here,  experimental  work would be carried  out and the spreadsheets  devel- oped, culminating  in the submission of a draft  version of the final report.

Phase  III: Project  conclusions; from April until the concluding oral exam in May.

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