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Church Chooses Dome That Will Seat 10,000 : Congregation Saved About Half When It Needed Larger Sanctuary for Growing Flock

May 01, 1988|EVELYN De WOLFE | Times Staff Writer

Ever since Buckminster Fuller began experimenting with the geodesic dome concept in the late 1940s, his spidery grid of polygons has been applied, modified and embellished for a variety of architectural uses--bank buildings, auto showrooms, theaters, sports arenas and weather stations.

Its latest application--a domed house of worship nearing completion at 7901 S. Vermont Ave.--will house the new $8.5-million, 80,000-square-foot sanctuary of Crenshaw Christian Center.

Reportedly the largest geodesic church structure in the world, with a clear-span dome measuring 320 feet in diameter, it will provide seating for 10,000 people. The all-aluminum, 63-foot-high sphere is supported at its perimeter by a 10-foot-high steel wall.

The choice of a geodesic-domed church came about unexpectedly, said the Rev. Frederick K.C. Price, pastor of the church.

Spruce Goose Dome

"We began planning for a new church in 1977, and envisioned a conventional structure that would seat about 5,000 people. But as our congregation began to grow, so did our need for more space, and we began to think in terms of a church-in-the-round that would seat double the number of people. The cost, unfortunately, was a prohibitive $16 million," Price said.

"Then one day my wife, my daughter and I were on a tour of the Spruce Goose in Long Beach and when I saw the dome that covered it, I knew I had the answer.

"We contacted Temcor of Torrance, the builders of the Spruce Goose dome and learned, to our surprise, that it would cost only half as much to build that kind of structure for what we'd had in mind. And it answered our needs perfectly, the monetary as well the functional and aesthetic requirements."

The domed church uses more than 250,000 pounds of aluminum sheeting and shapes, supplied by Reynolds Metals Co., and weighs an estimated 170 tons. The exterior features a white baked-on paint finish and the interior has been thermally and acoustically treated with black vinyl-faced fiberglass insulation.

South Pole Structure

Temcor, founded in 1964, is a leader in industrial and commercial geodesic dome construction.

Its buildings are to be found in 15 different countries and at the South Pole, where a 164-foot Temcor-built dome provides protection for a cluster of scientific research units against the harsh Antarctic weather conditions.

Donald L. Richter, who studied and worked with pioneer Buckminster Fuller and is one of the founders of Temcor, assisted with the engineering of Fuller's geodesic dome for the 1960 U.S. Pavilion in Moscow. Later, after Temcor was founded, Fuller joined the firm's board of directors.

Temcor has since developed several of its own patents on variations of the geodesic theme, as well as improved methods of construction. Richter was the first to use aluminum in geodesic dome construction and applied it during an earlier association with Kaiser Corp. in the construction of the Kaiser Hawaiian Village project in 1957.

Lightweight Material

"In recent years we did the Spruce Goose, which required a clear-span dome 415 feet in diameter. Its aluminum structure is similar to what we have done for the Crenshaw Christian Center," Richter said, adding that aluminum has proven to be an ideal material for the triangulated space truss because the metal is both lightweight and corrosion resistant.

Patterns of the geodesic dome vary in complexity and the more complex, the stronger it is. When spans to be bridged are large, he explained, struts between joints have to be kept relatively small, and "the pieces in the geometric layout so complement one another as to provide an extremely favorable weight-strength ratio."

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