Modified geodesic dome

The hexayurt is an update on Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome and is a sturdy, affordable, easy-to-build temporary shelter. The geometry has been adjusted slightly to make it easier to build domes from materials like plywood, insulation, plastic, cardboard and more. The hexayurts are made from only one kind of triangle: an 8′ x 8′ isosceles triangle, rather than the strangely-shaped triangles which are standard for Fuller-style geodesic domes. They are not strictly geodesic, either, but it doesn’t seem to matter much in practice. The slightly stiff, angular lines look a lot like any other dome.

The most common place to see hexayurts is at Burning Man. The first one was built there in 2003, and was only a little bigger than a tent. There now range in size from 50 to nearly 500 square feet. A typical year at Burning Man will see a hundred or so of the silver huts lined up on the playa.

(photo by tonx)

The design is public domain and build-it-yourself. People using the shelter for Burning Man usually buy the materials (about $300) ahead of time, including mail ordering the hard-to-find extra wide tape which is used to hold the shelter together. It takes about a day’s worth of effort to cut out the roof pieces, playa-proof the edges and do a test assembly. Putting the hexayurt together on the playa typically takes a small group of people about two hours and can be a struggle if there is wind or a dust storm which coats all the pieces in a fine layer of tape-defeating dust.

The joy of the thing is a building which stays relatively cool in the desert. The shiny surface of the hexayurt reflects away a lot of the sun’s heat, and a mix of pump sprays, swamp coolers and even the occasional air conditioner make the inside quite habitable even in the middle of the day when tents are far too hot for comfort. There are lots of plans and instructional videos on the Hexayurt web site, and handy people seem to have little difficulty putting them up.

A few simpler units, made from plywood, have been tested by local charities in Sri Lanka and Haiti. The jury is still out on whether this shelter will be useful beyond recreational use in the desert, but field trials are underway.

-- Howard Rheingold and Vinay Gupta 03/16/11

© 2022