SHELLS:     By dictionary meaning: ‘A Shell is the hard protective covering, in straight or curved form that surrounds a creature or a fruit or a nut.’ A shell shall also mean a small building made to protect us from bad weather and dangers. The various synonyms of Shells are: crust, casing and covering; or skin, skeleton and shield.


SHELTER:   By dictionary meaning:  ‘A Shelter is a basic architectural structure or building that provides cover or a temporary residence for homeless people or a facility that houses homeless, lost, or abandoned.’ The various synonyms of Shelter are:   protection and cover; or refuge and shield.


The objective of constructing a shelter is to build an enclosure that protects us from the bad weather and all types of physical danger. If implied from their definitions, all naturally made shelters should be shells. But, human being has gone astray, bending the laws and principles of nature, to build the so called cubical buildings. Architects, world over, have only supported this and have left a daunting legacy of construction eras of cubical spaces called homes/ flats/ villas. The straight line geometry has prevailed, diminishing our natural instincts to build within our physical realms called shells.

Now when the humanity is being challenged by nature through the so called ‘Green House Effect’, wind storms, exceeding day temperatures, draught, excessive rainfall, cloud bursts and flash floods, we are left pondering. Add to this the up-scaling of earthquake catastrophes. We have been left with no choice but to reassess ourselves and especially our buildings. Our buildings and constructions often fail miserably. Our so called beautiful giants often turn into mass graves in the event of earthquakes. Nothing in history has failed us more than our own choice of shelter. Are we missing on some basic natural principles? Yes, we are. Let’s have a look around us. In all probability, our universe is spherical; all heavenly bodies are spherical too. Earth is a big sphere and a droplet of water is a sphere too. All eggs of all animals/birds are spherical; almost all fruits tend to be spherical. We have made several sports out of spherical Balls. And in all cases we can see a hardened/ stretched crust or a shell over the basic thing or the spherical crust in itself is the thing. If we seek some inspiration from Mother Nature, then we find that in nature, all forms of living units prepared by any living being has some element of shell-form or combinations of shell-forms in it. Even the most inspiring ant-hill is a web of small shells. Nature tends to propose a doctrine: ‘Each one- Build one’, but only man makes straight lines, straight edges and plane surfaces to depict his personality and cover a space for a living unit. However, if we study igloos, we find that:

Igloos are snow built houses in snow clad areas. Igloos are constructed without any kind of form work. Igloos are made of the most locally available material: snow. A single person, having some insight into the making of such igloos, can construct one for himself in one go. Once constructed, it can be further remodelled and ornate. An Igloo is an equally good representation of human endeavour”.


Man has often shied away from such shell-shaped structures; however, a hemispherical form called a ‘Dome’ was adapted but not always for shelters. Domes of colossal dimensions have been built in the past to satisfy the human urge to build big and build unique. Even such heavy and non- engineered domes have survived to date due to the longevity associated to such dome- shaped shells. Example: Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur, Pantheon in Rome, etc. In the modern times also, the architects and engineers have responded to their instincts of building shells and have produced wonderful shell-shaped structures like: Sydney Opera House, Lotus Temple, The Millennium Dome, etc, but the process of constructing these shells needed highest level of engineering.

A dome or spherical shape has the maximum volume out of a given surface area or say minimum surface area for a given volume. It is therefore the most stable form to exist in nature. Domes or shell structures have the ability to with-stand all type of earthquakes, hurricanes, snow blizzards and windstorms. Houses/ Building constructed in such forms have known to withstand all challenges of nature and thus surviving for centuries. Domes or shells have the unique ability to transit the unexpected loading with ease. Hence a dome or a shell should be the most dependable form of a shelter for us. Domes or shell structures are a big visual delight too and they convey grace and authority at the same time. Dome forms still symbolize religion and authority and are found atop most of religious and government buildings. The easiest form of housing developed by the first civilized man had the qualities of shells.


In the beginning of human civilization, it must be quite instinctive to build in spherical/domical forms, but with further advancement, straight-line aesthetics governed architecture. Astrology, myths and mythology set new norms for the world architecture by introducing Pyramids, Ziggurats and later cubical forms. With the man learning the means to combat and conquer nature, cubical and straight line forms began to dominate, so much so that today, the talk about structures begin and end in RCC Rectangular frames only. Assumed scientific expertise and human ego has become the face of human endeavour. This nearly unscientific but technological up-drift has furthered human beings from nature and its intrinsic science. Structural calculations, not the laws of nature, rule the roost. A simple dome- shaped hut is a petty exercise now. They say, “A dome hut is ok, but may be a tourist’s little abode in distant heights, can’t think of a regular house”. A big, unaffordable and unsafe house is a social compulsion. History has shown that domes and dome-shaped shell structures have survived even the worst earthquakes and calamities. Probably for us it seems better to die in the debris of tall flattened building than to survive in a small dome hut. Assumed views and ventures of high-end villas sell like hot cakes. This is a big pity.

It is so unbelievable that an insect can make a shell of mud/earth, but man has no means to do it affordably. Something has really gone wrong over here. There are several techniques and several supporting materials to the high-end unaffordable cuboids of a house, but a dome remains the costliest of all other forms. Why? The economy does not support domes or shells, as if it does not support safety of human life.

As for its design, we get the following replies, pitted against the feasibility of dome houses:

  • A dome house does not have the first floor, hence the space is wasted.
  • A dome house occupies more of land area than any other type of building.
  • A dome house is beautiful, but it costs more.


Each reply is actually arisen out of ignorance of a dome shape and its economics. Firstly, a dome roof top is always available as another piece of raised land for openness, lawn, landscaping, etc. Try assuming a dome/shell city with a penetrating forest to get the view of its potential. A dome house does not alter the microclimate. It shall promote an affordable healthy lifestyle. A dome house has no immediate neighbours, no common walls. A town/city/village/mohalla with dome houses can be constructed as a cluster without looking at setback rules; hence floor wise concept of housing can be done away with.

A circular form of housing spaces has never been worked out well by planners till now, if done and furniture is designed and made available accordingly, the constraint of indoor space area shall be removed. The cost of a dome house shall not go down in one day. If we start constructing today, the cost shall become half in less than two years. A dome shape shall always consume less material and thus put minimum load on our natural resources.

The intention behind casting a shell structure has to change to bring about the real change. Brining it from the ‘roof-top-element’ to the ‘earth-surface-structure’, the use of dome has to be conveyed literally. Survival of Human Beings depends upon it. No serious consideration has been given to such forms since history. Amongst the lower strata of society economy rules, here the formwork is the costliest part involved in the construction of a dome or a shell. In a conventional cast-in-situ concrete shell, a well calculated 3-D grid-formwork is a prerequisite which means an exorbitant cost. Surprise, the last patent received on Dome/Shell construction was way back in 1976. No one is innovating further, as if all the ideas have been explored. The point to be discussed is why? Why no attempts are being made? Why would a structure, as natural as a shell should require such intrinsic planning and so much cost? Why can’t we make randomly shaped shells? Why can’t we evolve a construction method which is easy and adaptable everywhere on the planet- earth?

We have to take a start somewhere. We have to start thinking about it seriously. Common let’s first open our hearts to welcome this unique structure into our daily lives and identify with it realistically. Let’s make our lives sustainable and beautiful with these beautiful shells.