Cartoon Buckminster Fuller standing in front of a camera. Elvis Costello “This Year's Model” pose tribute parody.
Cartoon drawing of man wiping sweat from his brow on a hot summer day. In August 1940, Buckminster Fuller was working up a sweat in Kansas. With World War II raging in Europe, the United States was ramping up its pre-war industrial capabilities and Bucky Fuller was investigating ways to inexpensively shelter troops during the impending war effort.
Black and white cartoon of men working on a construction site, building a metal grain bin. He devised a way to convert small steel grain silos into affordable housing...and was erecting his first prototype, named the Dymaxion Deployment Unit (DDU), with a team of workers and engineers.
Cartoon drawing of Buckminster fuller reading the plans for his Dymaxion Deployment Unit. Concerned about worker safety and efficiency, Bucky used a top-down construction method. Workers safely worked at ground-level, as the growing structure was progressively raised higher and higher above the ground, suspended from a pulley on a central mast.
Black and white comic artwork of foreman arriving on a building site to inspect. It was a swelteringly hot summer day, and the president of Bucky Fuller’s joint-venture business partnership arrived on the site. The exhausted workers rested a moment while the president inspected the completed Dymaxion Deployment Unit, which was still suspended above the foundation on its central mast.
Low angle drawing of man crawling under metal grain silo. Despite the heat, the inquisitive president ducked under the suspended DDU and entered the dome. Bucky Fuller and his workmen watched with interest as the sun continued to bake the metal silo. They expected the president to come retreating from the inferno at any moment.
Cartoon drawings of workmen having a lunch break. Instead, a voice shouted from inside the structure. “Guys! You’ve got to come inside! It’s cool in here!” Bucky Fuller and the workers rolled their eyes with disbelief. But after more hectoring from the president, they decided to play along with his joke and enter the silo.
Cartoon illustration of man crawling under house. Dramatic low-angle pose. The men were amazed. The president had been telling the truth!
High angle cartoon of workmen inside dark grain silo. In the middle of a Kansas summer heat wave, their uninsulated metal grain silo was...comfortable! Common sense would have predicted it to be hot inside the silo, but instead it was unexpectedly cool inside.
Black and white cartoon of Buckminster Fuller inside DDU. After a respite from the heat, Bucky and his fellow engineers began unravelling the mystery. Bucky’s design for the DDU featured a ventilation port in the top of the dome-shaped silo. He had expected that this port would be useful for venting updrafts of warm air out of the Unit, into the outside air.
Low angle view of men looking up at airflow blowing down onto them. Instead, Bucky and the engineers noticed that the opposite was occurring. A downdraft of chilled air was blowing on the men from the unpowered rooftop vent!
Cartoon man crawling along the ground, following air flow arrows. Like a dog with a scent trail, Bucky followed the air currents. He ducked back out from under the DDU and felt as the breeze wafted upwards. The heat from the sunbaked metal walls was creating updrafts of hot air that rushed skywards, away from Bucky’s dome.
Cartoon diagram of convection current inside Dymaxion Deployment Unit. The Bernoulli effect diagram. As the heated air rose upward, nearby air molecules followed the movement of the rising air, forming a convection current. This convection current drew air out from inside Bucky’s dome and, in turn, sucked a current of air down through the ventilation hole at the top of the dome.
Cartoon Buckminster Fuller in Kansas field, looking quizzical. The air molecules both inside and outside the dome were rearranging themselves to equalise the low-pressure pockets caused by the rising hot air. This breeze effect was perfectly understandable to Bucky. But he wondered why the downdraft of air was cold?
Black and white illustration of inside water tank / grain silo. Bucky and the engineers soon realised the answer. The space beneath the dome’s suspended ‘skirt’ had a much larger area than the small ventilation port at the top of the dome. The suspended dome was, in effect, a huge chiller valve!
Cartoon drawing of Dutch angle Buckminster Fuller, with air current arrows blowing past him. Bucky saw that this ventilation port size difference was the critical factor that was chilling the air within the dome. As large volumes of air billowed from the large outlet vent beneath the dome’s ‘skirt’, an equal volume of air needed to suck through the small inlet vent at the top of the dome.
Cartoon illustration of airflow arrows entering DDU: chilling dome. Because the exhaust vent was much larger than the intake vent, balancing the inflow and outflow required the air to accelerate as it rushed through the top vent. This acceleration was fuelled by the heat of the air, converting thermal energy into kinetic energy according to the principle of conservation of energy. As a result, the air molecules cooled as they rushed into the dome’s interior.
Cartoon diagram of adiabatic expansion inside room. Once the air entered the inside of the dome, it expanded in volume, pushing against the lower-pressure air already present. As it did so, even more heat was was converted into kinetic energy, to power the displacement of the air already in the dome. This process of cooling as the air expands into a lower-pressure region is known in physics as adiabatic expansion: the same principle that chills the pressurised air rushing out of a tyre valve.
Cartoon drawing of happy Buckminster Fuller watching adiabatic expansion inside his chilling domes. Bucky had accidentally created a zero-energy refrigerator! He smiled a toothy grin and thanked the president for his serendipitous discovery within the dome.
High angle drawing of multiple Buckminster Fullers hard at work on 4 desks. A workaholic polymath, Buckminster Fuller’s focus was constantly divided amongst many simultaneous projects. Yet, he held the memory of the chilled Kansas grain silo with him throughout the rest of his career. A proponent of energy-efficiency, Bucky repeatedly incorporated passive cooling into his designs.
Black and white drawing of cartoon Buckminster Fuller inside dome home. Through further investigations, he determined that of all house shapes, the circular cavity within geodesic domes was the most efficient way to employ the chilling effect within a structure. Bucky mimicked the effect of the Kansas silo being suspended above the ground on a mast by installing numerous vent holes around the lower edge of his geodesic domes, ensuring that the total area of the outflow vents was greater than the area of the inflow vents at the top of the dome.
Cartoon diagram of man closing and opening ventilation vents inside geodesic dome home at night. This siphon effect could be interrupted by manually closing the vents, sealing the dome’s interior from the outside atmosphere. This would allow warm air to be stored within the dome during cold periods such as winter or night time. Bucky felt that one day this ventilation-management system would be controlled automatically with computers and electronic vents.
Black and white comic showing Buckminster Fuller's grave. Buckminster Fuller died in 1983, aged 87. “Call me trimtab.” - Bucky (1895-1983) However, despite his whirlwind life of work, he had not been able to exhaustively test the optimal position of ventilation holes on his structures, nor had he been able to comprehensively test the optimal ratio of inlet vent size ÷ outlet valve size, or understand how the chilling dome phenomenon could be best combined with other design features. Those jobs, he left for us.
Drawing of conventional house surrounded by a suburb of geodesic domes. Exactly 75 summers ago, in 1940, Buckminster Fuller discovered a technology that promised to allow humanity to cleverly reduce or eliminate the need for electrical-powered mechanical air conditioning. In a warming planet, with an urgent need to slash fossil fuel use...what could we learn by re-investigating Buckminster Fuller’s zero-energy, passively-cooled chilling domes?


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• This remains a relatively-unknown phenomenon that is poorly understood by architects, builders and home occupants.
• My primary references are the books Buckminster Fuller’s Universe by L. Steven Sieden (1989; pp208-9), BuckyWorks by J. Baldwin (1996; p36 & pp114-17) and Critical Path by R. Buckminster Fuller (1982; p211). Also, Buckminster Fuller’s Everything I Know lecture 10 (30 January 1975).
• Thanks to Chris Weekes for his help evaluating and explaining the physics behind the “chilling dome” effect.
• I discuss the “evidence for”, and the “evidence against” the physics of this chilling dome phenomenon in a blog post about Buckminster Fuller’s Chilling Domes.

Buckminster Fuller's Chilling Domes is also available in these languages:

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  1. Matthew Fresolone says:

    This was great! Really, fascinating and charming! Also. I found the newsletter button….

  2. Matthew Fresolone says:

    This was great! I look forward to more of your comics! Is there a mailing list or some sort of subscription service to alert me when you make another?

  3. Johnny Hickman says:

    I’ve heard of this before. It works.

  4. S.M.Sabri Ismail says:

    Dear Stuart

    Your http://www.stuartmcmillen.com/comics_en/chilling-domes/ can’t be read in my Desktop Chrome 46.0.2490.86m (Windows 7). It can’t scroll away from first page.

    However, the same horizontal scroll comic display okay in my Chrome Android 46.0.2490.76 .

  5. Pingback: Zero energy, passively cooled chilling domes | storySpace

  6. William says:

    Truly excellent. THanks you

  7. Raahul says:

    I’ve been a big bucky dome fan for a long time. Domeshells offer that here in Queensland as an option so you can live the Geodesic dream Stuart.

    http://www.domeshells.com.au/

  8. Stuart Morris says:

    Great comic, thanks. I’ve been trying to get going on a documentary comic myself, have done some in the past, and I know the effort involved. I’m envious of your skill and output.

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