Dome Project: Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

Heikoff Giant Dome Theater


Located in San Diego’s historic Balboa Park, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center includes a hands-on science museum as well as the world’s first IMAX Dome, the Heikoff Giant Dome Theater.

Built by the San Diego Hall of Science in 1973, the then-“Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater” was a watershed design, diverging from traditional planetarium theater configuration in two important ways: 1) The dome was tilted at a 25ยบ angle, rather than parallel to the floor; and 2) The seats were arranged to face in the same direction, rather than concentrically around the theater center. These changes provided the entire audience with a common center of focus and a common orientation, opening up flexibility in creating more compelling, theatrical presentations.

In conjunction with this novel theater geometry, The Fleet approached IMAX Corporation to investigate the feasibility of presenting the company’s revolutionary large-format films in a domed theater. While the concept presented several serious technical challenges, the resulting fisheye projection system paved the way for dozens of IMAX Dome theaters around the world.

The Challenge

After several decades of highly successful operation, The Fleet’s dome theater was due for a major upgrade. The geodesic dome suffered from visible seam lines, which limited the immersive impact of the theater’s wraparound configuration. With upgrades to digital projection on the horizon, The Fleet approached Spitz for solutions to return its theater to the forefront of dome projection.


San Diego, CA, USA



Dome Size

23m (76ft)

Dome Type

Spitz NanoSeam

Projection Type

IMAX 1570 film, 4K digital fulldome

It’s like sitting inside a giant eggshell.

Dr. Jeffry Kirsch

Former Director, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

The Spitz Solution

With seam visibility reduction as their paramount concern, The Fleet selected Spitz’s NanoSeam for their new projection surface.

Because the original dome’s unusual geodesic configuration used many small triangular panels (with many, many seams as a result), its supporting structure wasn’t able to be repurposed for the new NanoSeam dome. Instead, we removed the existing dome, skeleton and all, then built a brand new framework from the basering up to support NanoSeam’s much larger, pre-curved, trapezoidal panels.

Sound reinforcement was another major element of this upgrade. To support the additional weight of the new sound system’s much more powerful speakers, Spitz custom-fabricated mounting hardware which allowed the speakers to be mounted directly on the rear of the dome.

More Spitz Projects

Contact Spitz to learn more

To learn more about Spitz planetariums, projection domes, fulldome shows, and architectural spheres, contact Spitz at +1.610.459.5200.