December 12, 2014

Five Good Reasons to Build a Styrodome

Joe Ringenberg

Design

This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistian’s take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It’s like our "employee of the month" but less "of the month"-y. Joe Ringenberg is a designer at Wistia. His last Non Sequitur was about the artistry behind our office door.

If you swing by Wistia HQ, it will be hard to miss our most recent addition. Our designers teamed up to plan the top-secret project, settle on a design, and find a packing-foam manufacturer to precision-cut the components of our 3D model. After hours of taping, propping, lifting, and wrestling, we finally had it standing: a geodesic dome made out of styrofoam. A Styrodome.

Now, everyone agrees that styrodomes are awesome, but that’s not the only reason to build one in your workplace.

First of all (and best of all), building a styrodome is a good team-building exercise. Taping together 105 styrofoam triangles into a 14-foot-diameter dome by yourself is a terrible idea. You’re going to need at least two or three friends, and probably ten or twelve at the end to actually get the thing standing. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll sweat, and once you’ve hoisted ninety pounds of expanded polystyrene into a gravity-defying architectural structure, you’ll be even better at working together as a team.

Another good reason to build a styrodome is that you’ll probably fail the first time. Based on a sample size of just us, it’s normal to fail on the second time too. Failing a few times is the only way we figured out details like how to ship the foam (not shrink-wrapped) and what kind of tape to use (gaffer). And failing catastrophically is good too, because a collapsing dome is not ambiguous. You can’t shift your target and call your results “pretty close," you have to acknowledge the setback head-on and form a clear hypothesis for your next try. That’s a good habit to be in.

  1. It’s also worth pointing out that building things with your hands will make you better at your job. We human animals use our hands to move and lift things, to sense their heft and material qualities. Lifting, propping up, arranging—these are prehistoric actions that express our desire to manipulate the world around us, and shape our instincts about how a thing ought to feel in our hands, be organized, and be constructed. No matter what you make (a service experience, an app, an organization), these instincts are deeply connected to our ability to visualize outcomes and the paths that will take us there. Building things with our hands hones those instincts and reawakens our desire to build and create.

Geodesic domes are also fantastic to have around the office. We all react to our workspace in different ways, from person to person and from task to task. Whether its the focused silence of a library reading room or the warm background hubbub of a coffee shop, finding the right environment facilitates our best work. That kind of freedom is hard to recreate inside an office, so creating different types of spaces, meeting rooms, presentation setups, and private places is worth every effort. The styrodome is a great place to work in isolation, hatch a secret plot with an accomplice, or meet as a small group.

Finally, any geodesic dome is, and must be, an homage to Buckminster Fuller, who built the first structural-stable, weight-supporting geodesic dome in 1949. Ultimately not all that useful to our current building industry (at all), geodesic domes are nevertheless iconic - from the Epcot Center in Disney World to The Biodome. Most of Fuller’s wacky ideas and sci-fi schemes have faded from contemporary design and discourse, but his model of inquiry and instigation still stands today. Buckminster Fuller was a credulous believer, perhaps a little too consumed with hope for the future and the problems we’d solve together.

The geodesic dome is not a practical solution to anything, really, other than our desire to express the beauty of geometry and the joy of a cozy, cavernous styro-home.

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