Thinking Outside the Box(office): the Geodesic Domed Pioneer Theater

Domes and circles seem to be everywhere and cutting edge lately. There’s the ring-shaped Apple Park in California, the Amazon bubbles in Seattle, and a recent announcement was just made about a glass dome apartment to be constructed on the top of a Seattle building. But domes aren’t new. In fact, you may be familiar with a number of geodesic domes from the mid 20th century, from rural houses to places like Reno’s own performing arts center, the Pioneer Theater.

The geodesic dome was the brain child of Buckminster Fuller. The design idea was to build a sphere out of triangles, creating a strong structure (based on the strength of triangles) with less expensive materials (like aluminum and plastic). 

The Pioneer Theater, Reno’s own geodesic dome, was completed in 1967. It represents not only an interest in Reno to engage in arts and culture but also to adopt new ideas in design. This can also be seen in the theater’s contemporary siblings: the Fleischmann Planetarium and the Downtown Library (it’s no mistake that I’ve done blogs on both of these buildings already, this was an interesting time in design and for Reno!). The selection of an aluminum dome for the theater was considered revolutionary in Reno, and it was not Reno’s last. The California company of Temcor (co-founded by a student of Fuller’s) not only erected the Pioneer Theater dome but also erected the dome at the Silver Legacy. More recently, the Reno Bowling Stadium features a dome reminiscent of its bowling use (originally a theater inside).

Reno took a leap of faith in choosing the design for the Pioneer Theater but ultimately the choice has been successful. Despite the necessary separation of the stage building, itself, from the auditorium within the dome, the building has served its purpose admirably and not only continues to be a mainstay of the community but somehow doesn’t look out-of-date despite its fifty years (happy birthday, Pioneer Theater!). 

Sources and Further Reading:

Read Reno Historical’s history of the Pioneer Theater here.

More about Buckminster Fuller on this 99pi Episode; more about bubble houses on this episode (you know you’re curious!).

See the National Park Service overview here.


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