The Pioneer Center replaced a structure erected in 1926 as the “permanent” home of the Nevada Historical Society. The geodesic-domed center dominates the concrete and brick plaza lying immediately to its west. From the front, the building evokes a bird that has swooped down to the ground with its wings spread. The firm of Bozalis, Dickinson, and Roloff of Oklahoma City designed the dome, using the technololgical principles established by R. Buckminster Fuller for a lightweight but strong structure. The gold anodized aluminum roof, 140 feet in diameter, rests on five post-tensioned concrete arches. TEMCOR, a company in Torrance, California, fabricated and erected the roof, which consists of 500 faceted panels supported by an interior steel-frame dome. The center's 1,428-seat theater provides a venue for most of northern Nevada's performing arts groups, as well as for traveling shows.
Washoe County's selection of the geodesic dome design displayed a conscious attempt by government leaders to build public structures that presented Reno as a modern, progressive city. At this time, other cities were also choosing the geodesic dome for public buildings, not only as a symbol of scientific and cultural progress but also because the structures were relatively inexpensive to erect.