Iowa Alumni Magazine | December 2009 | People

Outside the Box

By Kathryn Howe
UI Alumni looks to the past for inspiration in architecture.

Although he didn't realize it at first, Thomas Kincaid's* passion for environmentally sound architecture originated during his days at the University of Iowa.

As an industrial design major, Kincaid, 52BA, studied the basic elements of constructing products such as furniture and cars. He went on to earn a degree in architecture in Florida and establish his own firm in Sarasota. Over the years, he built award-winning schools, churches, dams, wineries, dinner theaters, and high rises.

Most of these projects came to fruition through complex, conventional building methods. But, in the back of his mind, Kincaid always wondered: Why can't we construct big buildings like we do a chair—strong, with few materials, and at a low cost?

Then, about 15 years ago, he stumbled across a magazine article about monolithic domes. He was struck by their sustainability, energy efficiency, low maintenance, and indestructibility. Now, Kincaid is one of only a handful of licensed concrete monolithic dome builders in the world.

Kincaid maintains that traditional building methods contribute in excess of 70 percent of a project's carbon footprint: "Once I learned of the environmental benefits of this design technology, I couldn't bring myself to use any other form of construction."

Monolithic thin-shelled dome design, Kincaid says, encloses the most amount of space with the least amount of material in the least amount of time. Because concrete is the primary material, these domes can withstand a F5 tornado. In addition, the concrete and polyeruthane foam used in the construction process combine to naturally regulate room temperature. Another benefit of round design: acoustical perfection.

A former member of the UI swim team, Kincaid is currently working with the USA Swimming Federation to build domed aquatic centers across the U.S. He's also in consultation with school districts and church groups across the country and abroad on upcoming projects.

Despite all the pros, the public acceptance of "roundness" can be slow. "We're born in a rectangular building, we go home to one, we go to school in one, and, when we die, they put us in one," Kincaid says. "Round seems strange, but it's not a new idea. What do we consider one of the most beautiful buildings in the world? The Taj Mahal."

What's old is new again.