Life under a giant plastic bowl
October 6, 2009 1:42 PM   Subscribe

In the bright and shiny future, we all live in cities under giant domes, green and warm all the year round - a sort of Logan’s Run, but without the forced euthanasia. It almost happened in, of all places, in Winooski, an old mill town in northern Vermont.

In 1979, at the height of the oil crisis, someone proposed during a meeting called by the town fathers to discuss energy needs that the town should be covered with a dome to reduce the escape of heat. The idea quickly took off. Some heralded it as 'the ultimate in Yankee ingenuity'. Not everyone was as enthusiastic, though, and Winooski's requests for federal funds were turned down. Soon, the enthusiasm faded. The legend of the dome, however, still lives on as a giant umbrella covering the town.
posted by daniel_charms (33 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's just not the same without the forced euthenasia. I mean, why even bother with the crystal in the palm without it, and, without the crystal, why do any of it.

Besides: Carousel? Fun!
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:46 PM on October 6, 2009


I remember this being in the news at the time but never realized it went as far as it did. Nice find, thanks!
posted by beagle at 1:57 PM on October 6, 2009


It almost happened

This word you keep using, I do not think &c.
posted by dersins at 2:06 PM on October 6, 2009


I want my domed city with monorails. And jetpacks!
posted by brundlefly at 2:08 PM on October 6, 2009


Cool! But they weren't at all worried about the poor track record of tensile roofs[pdf] in snowy climates?

On the other hand, the proposed "250 ft diameter" is just a bit smaller than London's Millenium Dome.
posted by Popular Ethics at 2:08 PM on October 6, 2009


All it took was one nasty slushy day to take down the fan-supported dome over the tennis courts at my school. Oh, and one time there was a guy hacking at it with an axe.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:11 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


In all reality, if it were built, it wouldn't function as intended. There would have to be vents to allow proper circulation, and people wouldn't be able to agree about what the ideal temperature was in the dome. Maybe a few of the vent operators would like it colder than the rest of the folks, or maybe forget to close some vents over night. The next morning, they have a frozen microclimate instead of a balmy one, and at that point everyone would leave for Florida and call it a day.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:14 PM on October 6, 2009


Another big inflateable roof failure (they're going to switch the stadium to a cable-suspended roof)
posted by Popular Ethics at 2:15 PM on October 6, 2009


"and at that point everyone would leave for Florida and call it a day."

I'm ending all of my stories with the phrase from now on.
posted by brundlefly at 2:16 PM on October 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you turn earthquakes and other disasters off you can get arcologies much faster, but it makes for a more boring game, so you basically end up setting your tax rate low and letting it build up cash overnight. Ha!

I dig reading pretty much anything that mentions Buckminster Fuller.

I figure we'll do this someday, but I want mine under the ocean.

It is funny they wanted to keep heat from escaping. Now days it seems they would probably want the cool air.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:19 PM on October 6, 2009


There is something very Simpson-esque about all this.
posted by moonshine at 2:20 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another failure. OK, I'm done now.
posted by Popular Ethics at 2:20 PM on October 6, 2009


Fantastic post.
posted by cashman at 2:24 PM on October 6, 2009


Great post - I actually live in Winooski, and my friends/neighbors and I occasionally joke about the dome.

The dome never got off the ground, but in the last few years they ripped out the roads in the center of the town and put in a traffic circle (roundabout). That's been enough to confuse the hell out of 90% of the VT drivers that come through - I think folks' heads might've exploded if they ever built the dome.
posted by brand-gnu at 2:24 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Winooski abandoned the dome in favor other, more sensible ideas, like that Popsicle-stick skyscraper, the huge magnifying glass, and that escalator to nowhere.
posted by The Whelk at 2:34 PM on October 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think this idea was do[o]med from the start.
posted by GuyZero at 2:36 PM on October 6, 2009


Everyone had an opinion. The New York Times editorialized against the Dome, saying it would ruin the view.

Once again, The Times displays its remarkably ability to get at the real heart of a matter.
posted by The Whelk at 2:42 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is something very Simpson-esque about all this.

You're thinking of The Simpsons Movie (2007), in which the EPA places a large dome over Springfield (bonus fun: here's a sketch-up model of the domed Springfield), plus a bit of Marge vs the Monorail, in which the Monorail will solve the town's woes.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:55 PM on October 6, 2009


I just saw a show about putting a giant dome over Houston on the Discovery Channel. I think that Buckminster Fuller's idea of using smaller geodesic domes is a good one. Perhaps each neighborhood could have it's own dome, with a parking lot and roads being outside the domes.

At any rate, thanks for the story.
posted by jefeweiss at 3:12 PM on October 6, 2009


The world would be a very dull place without crackpots.
posted by digsrus at 3:28 PM on October 6, 2009


Besides: Carousel? Fun!

At first, Carousel does seem like it's going to be a lot of fun. But then you realize that Billy dies in the second act, and it all takes this really strange turn, with the whole Heaven and ghost part and all... In fact, a lot of R&H musicals really take strange turns at some point. They're just not the family-friendly duo that so many expect them to be.
posted by hippybear at 3:30 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I want my domed city with monorails. And jetpacks!

Ha Ha! I have a jetpack! I can rocket up and away and into the sk[THUD]
posted by quin at 3:34 PM on October 6, 2009 [6 favorites]


There is something very Simpson-esque about all this.

It's more of a Shelbyville idea....
posted by RussHy at 3:41 PM on October 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


The world would be a very dull place without crackpots

Funny, I was just thinking the same thing about harebrains...
posted by The Power Nap at 3:52 PM on October 6, 2009


I wonder how they were going to solve the snow-load problem, or if they ever got that far. (If they didn't, I don't think you can really say that it 'almost' did anything.) Just keeping it clear of snow during the winter would consume a huge amount of energy. The dome's surface would need to be pretty hot in order to melt snow at the same rate that it comes down during a big storm; and if you don't melt it as it falls (or by the next morning), you have a bright white, opaque, reflective surface that's just going to allow more and more snow to build up, and let the dome's interior get that much colder.

I've been in some fairly big greenhouses up in Maine during the winter, and I don't think they stayed clear of snow without artificial (typically oil) heat.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:54 PM on October 6, 2009


Another big inflateable roof failure (they're going to switch the stadium to a cable-suspended roof)
Not sure I would call it a failure (Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome). But it could be called a sub-optimal design, considering it only ( from Wikipedia) did deflate a couple times, they were during major weather events, and didn't harm anyone except causing a relative lowering of the roof.
A more dramatic fail to operate could be the Cowboys practice building which hurt people when it fell completely .
posted by uni verse at 4:01 PM on October 6, 2009


Yankee lunacy, you say?
posted by ofelia at 4:20 PM on October 6, 2009


The world would be a very dull place without crackpots.

And that's aside from the problem of telling who the crackpots are in advance.

This morning I harnessed the power of lightning to make breakfast, made some synthetic milk for my baby daughter, watched some moving pictures that were sent over the ether, and then piloted my metal horseless carriage to work. I had some productive discussions about how to improve the ways in which we send people to space and back. (Although making predictions by using machines to solve trillions of nonlinear equations is very cheap, the results need to be more reliable.) Once I finish sending my musings to you folks via this world-girdling network of glass and copper wires, I plan to drive home at a hundred kilometers per hour over a few concrete ribbons (often suspended dozens of feet off the ground), instantly reheat some food with microwave radiation, and maybe enjoy a glass of grape juice that's been partially consumed and replaced by yeast excretions.

Some of these ideas are better or worse than others, they're all relatively normal today, and some of them have been pretty normal for decades or even millennia. But could you imagine what a crackpot you would sound like explaining each concept for the first time to someone unfamiliar with it? By contrast, "Let's make the biggest tent in the world to keep our whole town warm" is something you could explain to a caveman; the only problem is that the details might not be sufficiently safe or economical.
posted by roystgnr at 4:24 PM on October 6, 2009 [13 favorites]


"Let's make the biggest tent in the world to keep our whole town warm" is something you could explain to a caveman

Let's make that "something you could explain to a tent-dwelling nomad" instead. It just occurred to me that "I live in an artificial cave which was made by chopping up and recombining bits of plants, rocks, and maybe some animal parts" might have also been seen as a crackpot idea at some point in prehistory...
posted by roystgnr at 4:51 PM on October 6, 2009


"Let's make the biggest tent in the world to keep our whole town warm"


Wasn't there a story about Turkish-Ottoman rulers who where born on the Steppes and wanted to go back to living in tents and yurts, so they created these hugely elaborate silk tents and tent-pavillions to live in?
posted by The Whelk at 6:29 PM on October 6, 2009


Truly a great story made even better by the China angle. Crazy that they would allow half-truth and anecdote to be taught as fact to children. If only they had some sort of a text book review process they could avoid embarrassing situations like this!
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 6:37 PM on October 6, 2009


Y'know... it could work pretty nicely. If you made a peaked roof on the dome, such as a gabled roof found on many Norestern barns, it would naturally shed the snow.
posted by Severian at 9:27 PM on October 6, 2009


But they weren't at all worried about the poor track record of tensile roofs[pdf] in snowy climates?

Domes are compressive.
posted by DU at 5:04 AM on October 9, 2009


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