DIY Fly’s Eye, Oh My!

DIY Fly’s Eye, Oh My!

This is a story of inspiration, and it’s an inspiring one in its own right.

History says that R. Buckminster Fuller made three Fly’s Eye Dome prototypes, one each at 12 feet diameter, 24 feet, and 50 feet.  We recently reported on the restoration and exhibition of the 50 foot dome.  Imagine our surprise when this picture was recently sent to us.

We got all excited and thought it was Fuller’s 24 ft dome.  It is not.  It is a re-creation of Fuller’s concept, 33 feet in diameter, made by a Do-It-Yourselfer who was inspired by Bucky.

John Kuhtik tells his story this way:

“I graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology, School of Photography, and ended up in NYC, assisting commercial photographers.  When assisting various photographers, one of my chores was to make right angle black cardboard cropper L’s.  A photographer suggested that I make something more durable and I came up with a novel magnetic cropper that was patentable.  My uncle suggested that I patent it and gave me a book called “INVENTIONS” THE PATENTED WORKS OF R. BUCKMINSTER FULLER.

“In the book, Bucky described the process an inventor goes through when applying for a patent.  He also had an essay titled “guinea pig B” which set me in a new direction in life.

“I couldn’t believe what Bucky had produced in his lifetime and was deeply moved by his philosophy.  The inventions book seemed like an apple tree, loaded with ripe apples, available to anyone that was aware that they existed.  Pick an invention and get it to market.  Bucky stated in the book that he applied for patents in order to prove that his ideas were valid.”

Kuhtik began research and became interested in the Plydome.  He

made models of them out of playing cards.

“I thought that I would eventually build one of these as a home, until I got coaxed into investigating the Fly’s Eye Dome.

“The Fly’s Eye Dome is, in a sense, a highly evolved Plydome.”   When looking at a Plydome, you notice geometric openings that are the result of the plywood not covering the entire triangular framework of the geodesic geometry.  Depending on the design, pentagonal and triangular openings would be seen.  A more complicated design would also have rectangular and “kite shaped” openings, as well.

“My first attempt at making a Fly’s Eye Dome was to simply to draw circles at the center of the pentagon and triangle openings, and cut the plywood panels consisting of 3 straight edges and 3 arc segments alternately placed.”

“Excited with my attempt to create a Fly’s Eye Dome, I contacted the Buckminster Fuller Institute and asked how I can find out more info on how to produce a dome truer to Bucky’s original domes.  I was given the name and contact info for John Warren.

“John was a surfer and made fiberglass surfboards.  He was inspired by Fuller and produced the Turtle-dome. It is a fiberglass structure made up of hexagon and pentagon panels.  Fuller saw it and hired him to work on Fly’s Eye prototypes.

“I explained to John how I wanted to make the mold for a 33′ diameter dome and he suggested that I work on a small model first.  I decided to make a 7′ diameter dome.  I found a woodworker who was able to turn a glued-up disk of mahogany into a concave shape of a desired radius.  From that , I removed arc segments and created a wooden pattern that could be used in the vacuum form process.  Friends of mine had a Thermoforming facility and they produced the panels for a 7′ diameter dome.  It went together nicely.

Joh Kuhtik - Fly's Eye Dome model

“Then, I had a big failure.  I felt I could now produce a much larger mold, using a sand pit and a curved scraper that would hang from a pair of cables.  A company that produced replacement “stones” for older buildings in Manhattan let me use some outdoor space and some equipment to make a master pattern and a fiberglass production mold. I scraped out a beautiful concave sand pit.  I covered it with burlap dunked in Ultracal 30 (gypsum cement), then scraped that down smooth to get a slick surface.  Where I failed was that I measured a triangle, but my math was off on that triangle. In theory my idea worked, but the accuracy was not close enough to produce panels that would fit together.  Individual panels “looked” great, but when I assembled 5 and or 6 panels to complete a round opening, they were off in size.  They didn’t touch fully on the exterior.  All my efforts proved that my method was not accurate enough.  I had to start over.

“I spent the gift money from my wedding to make that first mold, and it was a failure.  John Warren encouraged me to study spherical trigonometry and gave me copies of his notes on the math transformation necessary to take a facet shaped dome into a compound curved dome that accounts for uniform circular openings whose cylindrical walls fade into the compound curved dome skin.”

Kuhtik worked out everything mathematically on an Excel spreadsheet.  He built a mold out of plywood, burlap, and plaster of Paris.  From this negative mold, he cast a positive waste mold out of Ultracal 30.  From that, a production mold was cast for him by a commercial fabricator, Colonial Fiberglass (now known as CFI) in Hanover, PA.  The production mold was made of FRP with a balsa core, and a glass backer to minimize flexure of the mold.

John Kuhtik, with the black production mold for his Fly's Eye dome

“I found a company that made car and truck parts, and they did the casting for me.  I received panels in raw shape and had to trim them and drill the holes.  The first 5 pieces lined up perfectly, so I went ahead and made all 50 pieces.

“I tried test assembling it in my parents’ neighbor’s yard.  I needed a cherry picker to assemble it.  I never got a permit, so I got shot down by the local authorities.”

He succeeded in doing a test assembly on some spare ground at a recycling facility in Bayonne, NJ.

It has an interior diameter of 33 feet, and an exterior diameter of 36 ft.  It stands 27 ft tall, and has a 28-ft diameter footprint.

The panel thickness is a mere 3/16-inch.  The edges of the panels are done with roving, by hand lay-up, but the larger surfaces were made with a chopper gun.

Once assembled, Kuhtik found that is was strong enough to support its own weight, but not entirely gracefully.  The load was deforming the shape of some of the eyes out of round.  Kuhtik added small braces made of lengths of electrical conduit, visible if you look closely at the photos.

It stood in Bayonne for three months.  Fuller’s daughter Allegra saw it, and connected Kuhtik to Longhouse Reserve in East Hampton, NY.  Kuhtik disassembled it, packed the entire thing into a 14-ft cube truck, and brought it to Hampton.  It was assembled there in 1998, and has stood there the past 15 years.

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“The location is like a beautiful sculpture garden, so people look at it like a piece of sculpture.  Longhouse Reserve calls it a Bucky Fuller dome.  People who see it think Fuller made it, they don’t realize that I worked on it and tried to continue where he left off.”

John Kuhtik's F;y's Eye dome at Longhouse Reserve

Kuhtik states that his exposure to Fuller and the experience of building the dome changed the direction of his life.  He now works for a firm that uses digital fabrication techniques to execute stone sculptures, and hints that he has dabbled in a variety of creative investigations.

His ambition is to find a location for the fly’s eye dome and build it out into his dream home.  That will require funding, and other details yet to be worked out.  If he can’t do that, his second choice would be to sell it to Longhouse Reserve through a charity auction, and use the proceeds for further Fly’s Eye development.  He feels strongly that Fuller’s work should be continued, and he hopes others will pick it up, too.

And if someone wanted to make more domes, he has the molds.

This computer model was made in Mastercam, but it was done after the fact, after the mold had been calculated out and created by hand.

This computer model was made in Mastercam, but it was done after the fact, after the mold had been calculated out and created by hand.