Winooski, Vermont As It Looks Today.
Back in 1979 the town of Winooski, Vermont was almost covered in a giant dome to reduce oil consumption and save on heating costs. Here is the incredible story as written in hplusmagazine.com.
Doomed Dome: The Future That Never Was
In the late 1970s the U.S was in its second energy crisis of the decade and roiled by double-digit inflation. Oil was at a then-shocking $38 a barrel ($107 in today’s dollars), having risen eight fold in the previous ten years, and Jimmy Carter went on television in a Cardigan sweater to urge Americans to turn down their thermostats. Few towns were hurting more than frigid Winooski, whose residents spent about $4 million a year to stay thawed.
One night in 1979 a group of its creative young city planners went to dinner and Mark Tigan, then the city’s 32-year-old director of community development and planning, decided that not enough attention was being paid to energy conservation. Then, in the way that only a few glasses of wine can facilitate brainstorming, someone said, half tongue-in-cheek, they should put a dome over the city.
The next morning it still seemed like a good idea — or, at least, not necessarily completely absurd.
At the time, Winooski was second in the amount of federal money received per capita, and was favored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development as a place to pilot new ideas. Tigan had his staff prepare a white paper on the dome. They wrote that a one square mile dome would reduce resident’s heating bills by up to 90 percent. Tigan presented the idea to the city council.
Clem Bissonette, then on Winnoski’s city council and now its ex-mayor, asked Tigan, “Are you nuts?” But when Tigan explained it could mean millions in HUD money, Bissonette and the rest of the city council quickly signed on, and a young reporter named Jodie Peck who was covering the meeting wrote about it for the next day’s Burlington paper.
The following morning, Tigan recalls, three satellite trucks were parked in front of city hall, and within days the town was receiving 20 bags of mail a day from enthusiasts all around the world. Companies were calling, wanting to build the Winooski Dome.
The city’s request for $55,000 for a feasibility study went to Washington, and enthusiasts pushed it up through channels. A deputy assistant secretary at HUD named Bob Embrey said he would fund it.
“I didn’t hear one organized voice against it,” said Tigan. “The Woodchucks loved it,” he said, referring to the city’s long-time French-Canadian residents, “since it meant that they’d never have to shovel snow again. They thought of it as their little piece of Tampa Bay.”
Naturally the media was full of questions, and Tigan and his staff had few real answers. Basically, he says, they made it up on the fly. “They asked how high it would be, and we said 250 feet, so it wouldn’t block planes but clear the town’s highest building (eleven stories). Would it be clear or opaque? ‘Of course you’ll be able to see through it,’ we said. What about automobile exhaust? ‘Oh, we’ll have electric cars or monorails inside.’ By the time the media was done constructing it, we had a picture in place.”
Naturally, the media was full of questions, and Tigan had few real answers. Basically, he says, they made it up on the fly.
Tigan contracted with John Anderson, a Vermont conceptual architect, to produce drawings of the Dome. Anderson’s vision was not a hemispheric shape, but more like the top half of a hamburger bun. He colored it whiteish yellow and eschewed any inside support structures.
Anderson’s picture was the first tangible view of the Dome. Thinking ahead, he envisioned a vinyl-like material attached over a network of metal cables, ranging from transparent (on the southern side, to allow in sunlight) to opaque on the northern side. Air would be brought inside by large fans and heated or cooled as necessary. The Dome would be held up by air pressure just slightly above atmospheric pressure. Entrances and exits would consist of double doors, akin to an airlock. The homes inside would require no individual heating or cooling — “you could grow tomatoes all year-round” he said. If the Dome were punctured it would come down slowly, allowing for ample warning. Anderson now recalls it as a “totally fun” project, though he did occasionally get insulted in restaurants by some local residents. “What will happen to our children?” they asked.
Enthusiasts organized an International Dome Symposium, held in March 1980. Buckminster Fuller, then busy assisting in Brasilia, the planned capital city in Brazil that had been hacked out wholesale from the Amazonian jungle, flew in to express his enthusiasm. Fuller (naturally) proposed a structure of multiple geodesic domes, but in any case declared the engineering “not terribly difficult,” and pointed to already existing structures like large airport terminals in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Fuller had built the “US Pavilion” at Expo Montreal in 1976 — three-fourths of a sphere consisting of 1900 molded, transparent Plexiglas panels, 200 feet high and 250 feet in diameter, covering 1.1 acres. Winooski’s dome would cover nearly the entire town, 800 times that area. He stressed that the biggest challenge was not keeping the dome up, but holding it down against the force of rising warm air.
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