Building the ‘Eye of the Storm’

Sunrise on Eye of the Storm.

Sunrise on the Eye of the Storm dome home on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina.

George Paul / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

On a sunny morning in 1991, at a home site on Sullivans Island, South Carolina, George Paul, designer and builder of dome structures, anxiously watched an Airform inflating. Paul had watched many such inflations before—but never with this much anxiety.

Huiet Paul.

Huiet Paul is standing at the doorway of a bedroom. Huiet and Helen Paul built this home to replace the summer home they lost to Hurricane Hugo.

Melinda South / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

This Airform was for a permanent house for his parents, Huiet and Helen Paul, who lost their original summer home on that site to Hurricane Hugo in 1989. “That Airform had to hit its mark, or the house would not be what I wanted,” Paul said.

Unexpectedly, a neighbor woman who routinely walked that beach approached. She looked at the Airform; she looked at Paul, and, without breaking stride, snapped, “Do your parents know you are doing this?”

“They did know, of course,” Paul said. “They were not my concern; the Airform was. But I need not have worried. The [air] structure Monolithic Constructors built met every hope I dreamed of for myself and my parents.”

That dream became Eye of the Storm, a prolate ellipse measuring 80-feet by 57-feet by 34-feet. Its four levels provide 3,884 square feet of inside living space plus outside porches and cost about $600,000 to build.

Since it’s in a hurricane-prone area, Paul designed the Eye’s ground level with eight huge openings—five of which are large enough to drive through. In bad weather, particularly a hurricane, storm surge rushes through the openings under the house, often leaving debris in its wake but the main structure unharmed. Pilings sunk into the crust or solid part of the substrate also contribute sturdiness.

Driveway View.

The Eye’s ground level has eight huge openings that a hurricane’s storm surge can rush through without harming the dome’s top two, living levels.

George Paul / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Main Living Space on Second Floor.

The main living area of the house is on the second floor. It includes the dining room, kitchen, living room, a sculpted fireplace, breakfast nook, three bathrooms, storage, laundry, and two bedrooms.

George Paul / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Curved Stairway.

The freestanding grand staircase to the third level continues the dome’s sculpted, curved design.

George Paul / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

In addition to stability, the ground level provides parking and storage, has an elevator that goes to the second and third floors, and two stairways.

Ocean View from Main Balcony.

Balcony on second floor outside the main living room. This is the main balcony where there are BBQs and parties. No railing is needed because they built a bench, 18-inches high by 24-inches wide. The single pillar is still part of the Monolithic structure and is extremely strong.

Rachel Shnitzer / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

But its not just functional. It has its uniqueness: two shower rooms—one for the ladies and one for the gentlemen—built like sculpted shells or underwater coves. Their benches flow out of and along the walls and their showers become waterfalls, that feel and sound like real waterfalls, with the turn of a valve.

The second or main level includes living, dining, and entertaining areas; a kitchen; three full bathrooms; and two bedrooms, all with an ocean view and a generous porch. Paul said, “The building code required a 36-inch high safety railing on the porch. We learned we could build a bench, 18 inches high by 24 inches wide, instead, and it’s become both seat and table.”

A fireplace, invisibly incorporating bricks from the original house, adds its charm and uniqueness. “Facing the inside living area, it’s a fireplace,” Paul said. “Facing the outside porch, it’s a barbecue, so it has one chimney but two flues.”

The kitchen features an eating island and a work counter, built-in opposite curves of Corian. The work counter has sink bowls molded right into it, making it seamless and easy to clean.

A white oak, hand-crafted stairway, following the slope of the interior wall, leads to the third level. It encompasses the master bedroom and bath, an entertainment area, a full kitchen, large closets and access to two porches.

Gourmet Custom Kitchen.

Kitchen features an eating island and a work counter, built-in opposite curves of Corian. Work counter has sink bowls molded right into it, making it seamless and easy to clean.

George Paul / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Dining Area.

Dining area just to the right of the main entrance. Notice the three progressively smaller windows behind the dinner table.

Melinda South / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Fourth Level Sitting Room.

The third level has the master bedroom, a den, bathroom, two closets, and a stairway to this sitting room suspended over the second level.

Melinda South / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Paul said, “The shower room in the master bath is built like a snail, in a winding fashion. That winding walk provides privacy, so there is no need for shower doors or curtains which promote mildew.” It also has resting benches and light sconces which appear sculpted or flowing from the walls.

Whirlpool Tub.

The large whirlpool tub in the master bathroom. Notice how the top of the window is round to complement the curved wall.

George Paul / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The Eye’s fourth floor is a hanging loft with a hide-a-bed sofa and an electrically operated, oval skylight that is six feet long and three feet wide. “Mom loves to relax and read up here,” Paul said, “and the kids love to sleep up here. They like the height and the skylight.”

On the outside, hurricane louvers can be closed over the windows within fifteen seconds-even in the worst weather, since the Eye has its own generator. These louvers provide security, insulation, and sunlight control, and can be rolled into a drum when not in use.

Visitors to the Eye of the Storm marvel at its uniqueness. “The levels hang from the shell. That’s 250 tons hanging from the shell, and it’s mind-boggling to most people,” Paul said. “I tell them that you couldn’t do that in a conventional building, but this one doesn’t even care!”

Not only is this home unique, but Paul has discovered that ways in which people respond to the Eye are equally unique. He said, “I should have been collecting what folks say when they first enter this house—their first impressions. Women, especially, use terms that are never associated with structures. They say this home makes them ‘feel embraced,’ or that it’s ‘alive,’ or that it’s ‘fun.’ I think it’s all of those.”

Reprinted from the Winter 1998 issue of the Roundup: Journal of the Monolithic Dome Institute

Second Level Floor Plan.

The second level floor plan shows the main living area, balconies, and two bedrooms. The Eye of the Storm is located on a lot valued at $625,000 (1992 dollars). The home is appraised at an additional $625,000. There is 3,884 total air-conditioned living space, 2,835 square feet in the open, ground-floor garage, and 889 square feet of balcony space. The home weighs nearly 450 tons. The shape, weight, and exceptional strength will keep the structure from being swept away during hurricanes.

Illustration by Dave South / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Third Level Floor Plan.

The third level floor plan with the master bedroom and a den plus sitting area that are open to the floor below.

Illustration by Dave South / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Window Detail.

Four windows formed into the dome. The “eyebrow” was created by spraying foam over the area, then sculpting it into the final shape. The foam was coated along with the rest of the dome.

Rachel Shnitzer / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Exterior Treatments

Eye of the Storm is coated on the exterior with acrylic stucco. This protects the Airform. It also covers the “added on” features such as the “eyebrows” and curved stairways. This provides a pleasing continuous surface over the entire structure. It can be washed and repainted as necessary.

The Acrylic stucco is available from several manufacturers. There are differences so be sure to use one that is tested. They can be applied by roller, trowel, and spray. They can be tinted for color.

Concrete stuccos enhanced with the right copolymers also work very well. A concrete mixture of cement, sand, Kel-Crete, and CON-TROL fibers is one example.

Other exterior treatments include simple elastomeric coatings; heavy-duty layers of reinforced concrete; coverings of metal or wood shingles, as well as direct burial.

Sculpted Exterior Features.

The sculpted features of the home demonstrate George Paul’s attention to detail.

Rachel Shnitzer / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Main Entrance Staircase.

Steps to the main entrance. Huiet and Helen usually park their cars under the dome and then take the elevator.

Rachel Shnitzer / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Hammock on the Balcony.

And finally, how about a nap on a hammock on the balcony just outside the master bedroom?

Melinda South / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Balcony Stairs to the Beach.

Rachel Shnitzer is standing on the balcony, looking out over the ocean. From this balcony, she can step down onto a bermed hill, and then down to the beach which is only 230 feet from the home. Rachel, thank you for providing pictures of your tour of the dome.

Rachel Shnitzer / Monolithic Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0