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How an Amateur Built the World's Biggest Dome

How an Amateur Built the World's Biggest Dome

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In 1418, Filippo Brunelleschi was tasked with building the largest dome ever seen at the time. He had no formal architecture training. Yet experts still don't fully understand the brilliant methods he used in contructing the dome, which tops the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral in Florence, Italy.
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Read more about the dome in National Geographic magazine online:

ART DIRECTOR: Fernando G. Baptista
ART AND ANIMATION: Fernando G. Baptista and Matthew Twombly
NARRATOR: Paula Rich
RESEARCH: Fanna Gebreyesus and Elizabeth Snodgrass
SPECIAL THANKS: Riccardo Dalla Negra, Massimo Ricci, and Francesco Gurrieri

How an Amateur Built the World's Biggest Dome

National Geographic

Top 10 Domes From Around the World

  • Doctor of Arts, University of Albany, SUNY
  • M.S., Literacy Education, University of Albany, SUNY
  • B.A., English, Virginia Commonwealth University

From African beehive huts to Buckminster Fuller's geodesic buildings, domes are marvels of beauty and invention. Join us for a photo tour of some of the world's most interesting domes, including sport domes, capitol domes, church domes, ancient classical domes, and other domes in architecture.

2.Palace of the Soviets

Similarly to Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union was also known for their monumental architectonic projects. The largest and most gigantic of them, the Palace of the Soviets, was a planned congress hall and administrative centre to be built in Moscow, near the Kremlin.

Palace of the Soviets, final design

The 1,362 feet (415 m) high palace was to be crowned by a monumental statue of Vladimir Lenin, 260 ft(80 m) high. The area of the building was to be more than 11 hectares, and the entire Palace of the Soviets would weigh more than 1,5 million tons. The Main Hall, located in the center of building, would have a capacity of more than 21,000 seats, being more than 525 ft(160 m) in diameter. The gigantic bronze statue of Lenin would weigh more than 6,000 tons, and a library would be located inside of its head.

In the year 1931, the symbol of old Russia – Cathedral of Christ the Savior was demolished to clear the place for the Palace. In year 1937, the foundations were laid and construction of the steel frame started. However, after Adolf Hitler’s invasion to Russia, lack of material and manpower halted the construction for several years, and its steel frame was disassembled to be used in fortifications and bridges.

Cathedral of the Christ the Saviour, rebuilt in year 1995

After the war, the project was abandoned, and foundations of the Palace of the Soviets were converted to the world’s largest open-air swimming pool – the Moskva Pool. In the year 1995, the pool was destroyed and the full-scale replica of Cathedral of Christ the Savior was restored on the same foundations.

1. Singapore National Stadium, 1,017 feet

Singapore National Stadium in Tanjong Rhu, Kallang holds the world record as the largest dome structure, measuring 1,017 feet in diameter. The stadium officially opened in June 2014. The Dome's roof is retractable and takes just 20 minutes to close or open it covers 95% of the seats and is made of revolutionary all-weather resistant materials. It blocks the heat from the sun and rain as well. The roof also doubles up as a giant projector screen. The lower tier seats are also retractable either mechanically or automatically, making it the only stadium capable of hosting a multitude of events like rugby, athletics, football and many others. The stadium has a sitting capacity of 55,000 people, with an innovative cooling system which is pumped from the underneath the seats consuming 15% less energy than comparable stadiums.

Rio de Janeiro Cathedral

Source: Flickr via Jorge Láscar

Rio de Janeiro Cathedral, also known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian, is the largest cathedral in South America and is a unique looking cathedral. Unlike the the traditional Gothic cathedrals of Europe, the Rio de Janeiro Cathedral looks more modern and draws inspiration from the Mayan pyramids. The interior of Rio de Janeiro Cathedral has an area of 8,000 square meters (86,111.28 square feet).

Although the Diocese of Rio de Janeiro was created in 1676, there was never an official cathedral/seat of power in the area. Instead, the Diocese and Archdiocese used various churches to serve as temporary cathedrals. Finally, in 1964, the Archdiocese was granted land to build the Rio de Janeiro Cathedral.

Did You Know?

Inside the basement of the Rio de Janeiro Cathedral is the Sacred Art Museum, which houses a collection of sculptures, murals, artwork, and fonts used to baptize the princes of the Portuguese royal family.

4. Tempietto del Bramante

Tempietto del Bramante (Credit: Peter1936F / CC).

The tiny, round temple by Donato Bramante sits inside the courtyard of the church of San Pietro in Montorio in Rome, on the spot where St Peter was crucified.

A small commemorative tomb, the Tempietto (“small temple”) is considered a masterpiece of High Renaissance Italian architecture and thought to be the prototype of St Peter’s Basilica.

On Christmas Day, 1946, the California Tower carillon was installed. The chimes are still heard across the Park on every quarter hour. In 1948 the San Diego Junior Theatre, the oldest youth theatre program in the United States, was established and the Starlight Theatre began performing Broadway musicals in the former Ford Bowl.

In 1965 the Timken Museum of Art opened in a building designed by Frank Hope. Centro Cultural de la Raza was established in its Park Boulevard home in 1970. The original Food & Beverage Building (1915/16 Exposition) was rebuilt and reopened as the Casa del Prado in 1971. In 1973 the Fleet Science Center, (then called the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center), named for the San Diego aircraft manufacturing pioneer Reuben H. Fleet, opened its doors, featuring the world's first and San Diego's only IMAX® Dome Theater.

In 1978 two devastating fires struck Balboa Park. On February 22, fire destroyed the entire San Diego Air & Space Museum (then called the Aerospace Museum) collection when the Electric Building on the Prado burned down. Two weeks later the Old Globe Theatre (the original 1935 building) burned down. Through private and public support from the San Diego community, both institutions were able to continue. The San Diego Air & Space Museum moved into the renovated Ford Building in the south Palisades area and The Old Globe built a temporary outdoor theater to accommodate their 1978 summer season. This temporary structure was upgraded and made permanent as the Lowell Davies Festival Stage, hosting the annual The Old Globe Summer Shakespeare Festival.

Also in 1978, Christmas on the Prado (now called Balboa Park December Nights) was founded by ten Park cultural organizations. That year nearly 3,000 visitors squeezed into the center of the Park and were treated to a two-evening event filled with ethnic crafts, museum store shopping, Elizabethan dances and music.

The Incredible Story Behind the World's Largest Rug

Neighboring Emirati cities Abu Dhabi and Dubai are familiar with superlatives: The two seem locked in a constant competition for the newest, biggest, most luxurious things, from skyscrapers to roller coasters to shopping malls. Perhaps the famous Texas tagline would be better used there: Nearly everything, after all, is bigger in the Emirates. When Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi and founder and first president of the United Arab Emirates, began plans for a mosque in his home city, there was no doubt that it would be spectacular. By the time the project was finished, three years after his death, the Sheikh Zayed mosque was a magnificent display of craftsmanship. While most photographs of the mosque are taken looking up at its domes and minarets, there's something quite spectacular below, too: the world's largest carpet.

The completed rug on display in Tehran in 2007, before being installed in Abu Dhabi.

When building the mosque, the government of Abu Dhabi solicited artistic commissions from across the globe, ultimately incorporating marble, stone, crystal, gold, and ceramic work from various countries in a dazzling mosaic of global creativity. Over 3,000 workers and 38 contracting companies participated in the mosque's construction, which took more than ten years. For its contribution to the project, Iran offered a handwoven carpet for the mosque's main prayer room, a fitting recognition of the rich history of carpet weaving in the region. Given the mosque's awesome size, though (it spans more than 30 acres), this could be no ordinary carpet. Using 38 tons of cotton and wool, 1,200 weavers from Iran's Khorasan Province crafted the rug over a year and a half under the design direction of Iranian artist Ali Khaliqi. The finished product, which was unveiled in 2007 in time for the opening of the mosque that year, incorporates 2.2 billion individual, hand-tied knots, covers 60,546 square feet, and weighs 12 tons.

The carpet in the mosque's main prayer room.

Each detail of the carpet's motif was as meticulously designed as it was executed. Its most prominent color is green, which has a triple significance. First, it was Sheikh Zayed's favorite color. Green was also the first color of the Islamic flag, and, in the rough terrain of the Emirates, is a near-sacred hue for its symbolism of life in the desert. The rug's perimeter, a yellowish beige, signifies the sand surrounding such an oasis. Some visitors, when standing on the rug, claim that it isn't truly one piece, that they can feel a seam. But this, too, is a thoughtful design detail: When shaving the carpet (the final stage of rugmaking), its weavers marked subtle raised lines into its surface to guide worshippers into neat rows during prayer. Part art, part textile marvel, part seating chart, the rug is a triumph of design and craftsmanship.

8. Santa Maria del Fiore

Begun in 1296 in the Gothic style and completed in 1436, The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is Florence’s beautiful cathedral and symbol of the city. The basilica is one of Italy’s largest churches, and until the modern era, the famous dome was the largest in the world. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.

Just exotic enough

Germany is no exception to Europe’s increasing rejection of foreign cultures and peoples. In 2015 alone, 13, 846 right-wing extremist crimes were committed across the country an 11-year old-refugee’s bedroom was bombed with a Molotov cocktail and the group “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident” took to the streets in Dresden. But if being German today requires commitment to a staunchly Germanic culture, then where does Tropical Islands fit in?

“The idea of the Malaysian investors was to get a mix of exotic aspects,” says Grothe. “The concept was more and more adapted­­ to the expectations of the visitors.”

What is viewed as ‘tropical’ in central Europe is not necessarily nuanced—visitors seemed delighted with the vague exoticism on offer. Conveniently, Tropical Islands doesn’t bill itself as an exact replica of the South Pacific, with all the political and historical specifics that would entail. It’s more like a persuasively South Pacific-themed waterpark.

Tropical Islands is purely hedonistic, a place to have fun, not to reflect on politics or culture, no matter what’s happening outside the park’s gates. As landscaper and horticulturalist Made Wijaya, who worked on the park’s rainforest, puts it, “Poor old Germans need a bit of fantasy since Mad [King] Ludwig died.”

Correction Sept. 28: An earlier version of this article stated that Tropical Islands is housed inside a former Nazi airplane hangar. The dome was built in 1996 on a former Nazi airfield.

Watch the video: How an Amateur Built the Worlds Biggest Dome (May 2022).


  1. Kaphiri

    Rather the helpful information

  2. Torry

    I beg your pardon that I intervene, I also want to express the opinion.

  3. Ananda

    It's incredible!

  4. Malak

    I would say about the monumentality, grandeur of some plots. And I would call it - unfiltered real. In my opinion, beauty is still something else: the best, the purest, the chosen one, which makes you tremble and be amazed. You can find beauty in everything, but everything in a crowd is not beauty. IMHO.

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