Students Learn and Work Hard at Spring 2023 Workshop

Two Io-20 hoop domes under construction.

Two Io-20 “hoop” domes under construction by students at the five-day Monolithic Dome Builders Workshop. These domes will be finished into one-room efficiency rentals.

Dave South

Workshop student applying concrete.

Awi Perkins stuffed his phone into a plastic sleeve and stepped into the second Io-20 to capture this shot of a student spraying concrete.

Awi Perkins

Bad concrete is today’s topic. A projector flashes picture after picture of concrete voids, poorly embedded rebar, and a concrete mess all over the ground. It’s Friday afternoon at the Spring 2023 Monolithic Dome Builders Workshop and Gary Clark is giving his presentation, “The Worst Shotcrete Job, Ever.”

It is the story of an inexperienced builder, bad planning, and poor on-site decisions that illustrates important lessons to help avoid problems in the future. This presentation lands particularly well for the 20 workshop students because they are covered in flecks of concrete and dust, having just returned from spraying concrete themselves. This is the core experience of the Monolithic Dome Builders Workshop—a mix of classroom and hands-on instruction.

Gary Clark taught at the first workshop in April 1993—30 years ago—when the late David B. South, co-inventor of the Monolithic Dome, kicked off the first workshop. “Nobody can build all the domes,” David would say. Instead, he gave away the technology to anyone willing to come to Texas to listen—and work.

Mike South and Herb Nordmeyer.

Mike South and Herb Nordmeyer visit while students wait their turn to apply shotcrete inside the nearby dome. South is president of Monolithic and grew up in the dome business. He brings lots of practical experience to his workshop presentations. Nordmeyer wrote the book on concrete mix design and graciously came to present at the workshop.

Dave South

For workshop alumnus Awi Perkins of Manhattan, repeating the class is his final preparation for beginning his project in New York. He has land near the Delaware River and plans to start a small-dome rental community—similar to Dawson Village, where the workshop is hosted. He’s considering making it part of a 28-day addiction recovery program. He already has the equipment, Airform, and construction experience to accomplish his goal.

Steel reinforcing bars.

Steel reinforcing bars (rebar) installed by workshop students inside the Io-20s under construction. First, they are taught about rebar placement and tying rebar in the classroom; then, they do it.

Awi Perkins

Florian Voko is from Albania and currently living in Luxemburg “for refugee reasons,” he said. His mother is from Albania, and his father is Greek. He flew ten hours to the workshop “to build domes.”

“I want to build in Greece,” he said. “I want to build for myself and for a business.”

Greece has a rich history of domed and curved architecture, but not a single Monolithic Dome. Voko plans to change that.

Whitewashed buildings and blue-domed churches in Santorini, Greece.

The sweeping whitewashed arches and blue-domed churches of Santorini, Greece, are breathtaking examples of curved architecture.

Vincent Giersch / Unsplash

Samoan domed big house circa 1930s.

In Samoan architecture, the fale tele or “big house” is the meeting house for the chief council meetings, family gatherings, and more. It is usually a domed or rounded structure of thatch over a series of posts and beams.

Alfred John Tattersall / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

And from the other side of the planet comes Madiid Al Shehri from American Samoa. Shehri has ancestral land available for constructing his own house. Living in a Monolithic Dome home appeals to him because it can stay cool during tropical summers and protect him during a cyclone.

Moreover, it reminds him of historical Samoan architecture. He opens his phone and shows pictures to nearby students of a dome-shaped fale tele (big house) constructed on Samoa of wood beams and thatch. Shehri said, “[His ancestors] understood how to construct hurricane-safe structures.”

Two workshop students mixing concrete.

Two workshop students add cement to a mixture of water and aggregate to create shotcrete—a special spray-mix of concrete.

Dave South

And while Dawn Perryman from New Orleans may not have traveled as far, she is no less interested. An elegant, soft-spoken older woman, she talks easily with the instructors and students about her plans and goals. She isn’t planning to do the work herself but wants to learn as much as possible before hiring someone to construct her dome home.

Student and instructors loading the concrete pump.

A student and two workshop instructors—Jesse Tovar (driver) and Hector Sanchez (foreground)—load a batch of newly mixed concrete into the concrete pump hopper.

Dave South

Jeff Murray from Kauai, Hawaii, is here on a mission. He was hired by a non-profit to be a project manager to build three domes—with over 32,000 square feet—for a fire station, vocational center, and a community center.

Murray said 30 years ago, a Category 5 hurricane “whipped the [crap] out of Hawaii.”

He said the Federal Government built a concrete emergency operations center in Kauai, and that’s it. It works, and they are glad it’s there, “But the other island don’t have [crap] like that,” he added.

Murray’s worked for 30 years in construction and as a firefighter for 35—working his way up to fire chief. He worked on the island of Maui. After he retired in 2018, he and his wife moved to her home island of Kauai.

Workshop student cleaning up after applying concrete.

A workshop student removing his goggles after his turn spraying shotcrete inside the Monolithic Dome.

Dave South

For our teacher, Gary Clark, the workshop is a “shot in the arm” for his own motivation and excitement for building domes. Talking to people about their dreams and aspirations is exciting and fun. Each workshop brings diverse people together who have one thing in common—a love of domes. Past workshop attendees often keep in touch and even work together on projects.

If you are interested in a class that goes way beyond the classroom, you can attend a Monolithic Dome Builders Workshop, too. They are given twice a year—April and September—and are the experience of a lifetime. The next five-day workshop begins September 12, 2023. Visit our Monolithic Dome Builders Workshop page for more information or sign up now.

A double rainbow near Italy, Texas.

Nature’s dome! An amazing double rainbow dazzles near the Monolithic Dome Research Park. It was a beautiful week in Texas, with only one big April shower on Thursday evening.

Dave South