Space Frame Structures, Design & Examples

26 May.,2023


Learn about space frame structures. Discover who developed space frames and learn what a spherical dome space frame is, along with examples of structures. Updated: 07/18/2022

Andria Emerson has taught high school science for over 17 years. She has a M.S from Grand Canyon University in Educational Leadership and Administration, M.S from Grand Canyon University in Adult Education and Distance Learning, and a B.S from the University of Arizona in Molecular and Cellular Biology.

What is a Space Frame?

A truss is an assembly of frameworks, like beams, used to support an object. Trusses are often used in bridge building because they use a small amount of material in proportion to the weight they can support.

Truss Bridge over Deerfield River

A space frame is a 3-dimensional truss that utilizes interlocking triangles to create lightweight and strong structures. The space frams's integrity comes from its geometric strength. Space frames use the geometric stability of triangles to form structures that defy size, space, and gravity. Triangles are considered the strongest shapes in structural building. The triangular design allows weight to be distributed throughout the triangle. This structural design holds its shape and provides a strong base with immense support that can withstand tremendous pressure.

Space frame structures are mainly used in buildings that span large areas with few interior supports. They are also used because of their pleasing architecture. Space frame architecture can be found in airports, stadiums, exhibition galls, swimming pools, and towers.

The Ericsson Globe Stadium in Stockholm, Sweden, was built between 1986-1989 and is the largest spherical building in the world.

Ericsson Globe Stadium utilizes space frame design

History of Space Frames

The development of space frames was guided by material production and techniques during the industrial revolution and the development of mathematical techniques.

The first application of the space frame design is attributed to Alexander Graham Bell in 1907. Bell utilized the space frame design to create efficient, large, and lightweight structures. It was not until the development of computers with the capability to perform complex calculations that large-scale space frame designs were used.

Richard Buckminster Fuller was an American engineer and architect who spent almost 20 years perfecting geodesic domes. These domes resembled golf balls. A geodesic dome is a spherical space frame dome structure made of a network of linked triangles. Fuller's domes were used everywhere, including restaurants and military facilities. Fuller's first dome utilized aluminum aircraft tubing with plastic skin. One of the most impressive geodesic domes Fuller created was the biosphere built for the 1967 World Exhibition in Montreal, Canada. Fuller collaborated with architect Shoji Sadao to build a giant geodesic dome about three-quarters of a sphere, 200 feet high, and with a spherical diameter of 250 feet. Fuller's intent was to design the dome to resemble lacy filigree. The biosphere, also known as the Montreal Biosphere, is now a science museum in Montreal, Canada.

Round translucent dome Montreal Biosphere is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Montreal

Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei used the space frame in his designs to stabilize asymmetrical structures that resembled bamboo, contrast with the opaque design of the Pyramid of Giza, and design a transparent pyramid that symbolizes stability and life. I.M. Pei designed the Louvre Museum, a historic Paris landmark. This space frame pyramid is a large glass and metal structure designed by I.M. Pei.

Louvre in Paris

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