Reclaimed wooden "zome" structures are an expression of nature's double helix

Balanced Carpentry
© Balanced Carpentry

We've heard of geodesic domes and have seen them built as greenhouses, homes and more. But have you heard of a "zome"? A portmanteau of "dome" and a "polar zonohedron," a type of polyhedra where all faces are some kind of parallelogram, a "zome" is a harmonious form composed of diamonds arranged in double spiral, terminating in a pointed top. First built in the 1960s, zome buildings of wood, metal and even plastic have since popped up all over the world, from the French Pyrenees to the United States, and in books like Lloyd Kahn's Homework.

© Balanced Carpentry

Based out of Asheville, North Carolina, Bryan Lemmel of Balanced Carpentry builds these inspiring forms out of reclaimed wood. He has a passion for this geometry, explaining that while domes are "grounding" forms, zomes are naturally uplifting:

Zomes are constructed using only the rhombus, a quadrilateral with four sides of equal length, but each row of rhombuses has its own set of angles, length of diagonals, and perception of trajectory. When these rows assemble, the gradual shifting degrees of each diamond produces an overall feeling of being pulled toward the sky.

The essence of this movement brings me to my second major point... the helical nature of the zome. Universally present in everything from the pineapple and pinecone to our own DNA, the helix is beautifully imprinted in each and every zome. Start with any diamond at the top and move down a row to a diamond with which it shares an edge and continue to follow this path as it spirals downward. This process can repeated in any direction from any face. What significance does all of this have? Zomes connect us to the same ancient geometry that life itself has utilized since the beginning to maximize its own efficiency and potential.

© Balanced Carpentry

Lemmel's experiments in building zomes took shape over a period of two years, after seeing a picture of a zome in Kahn's book. Using mostly dumpster-bound wood, Lemmel constructed this "sonic spaceship" for his kids, but it also doubles as a yoga/meditation space and an extra sleeping cabin for guests (one thing of note is the incredible acoustic properties and sonic resonances of the zome, thanks to its unique form). Take a look at some photos of the building process, and the resulting details -- quite magical!

© Balanced Carpentry
© Balanced Carpentry
© Balanced Carpentry
© Balanced Carpentry

Lemmel's next attempt was Zome 9, which was built as a portable sculpture that can be disassembled into 54 separate diamonds, all fitting into a 5-foot by 7-foot trailer. It can stand as a gazebo or temporary shelter, and was created with salvaged cedar, measuring 8 feet tall, with a diameter of 10.5 feet. Zome 9 presents a harmonious but strong structure, thanks to the well-composed reinforcing struts fastened between members.

© Balanced Carpentry
© Balanced Carpentry
© Balanced Carpentry

We love geodesic domes, but zomes are a special category altogether, as zome enthusiasts will tell you. We hope to showcase more zome structures here soon, in the meantime, see more zomes and intriguing recycled wood sculptures over at Balanced Carpentry.

Tags: Architecture | Artists | Arts | North Carolina

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