I thought a square foot was a square foot.
A quick explanation. A sq ft is a sq ft. The trick when relating costs to sf is to clearly define what you are measuring. For example, if you take two houses with an identical footprint (footer and slab), will they cost the same $/sf? No, of course not, because one might have cheap carpeting and the other might have marble tile. One might have vinyl windows and the other aluminum clad windows. One might have generic faucets and the other might have Grohe. So the $/sf of one could be double the other for the same size and configuration of house.
But the shell of a dome is essentially the same for a plain house as for a fancy house. They use the same foam, concrete thickness, and rebar. So we can do a pretty good job of estimating shell costs without regard to the fanciness of the house. But even better than that, we can measure the exact amt of materials the shell will require. Most people think in terms of the sf of living space, as in, "My house is 2500 sf." But a builder doesn't measure that way. They'll measure that way for the slab, but for the shell, we can measure that precisely. For example, a 2000 sf floor, covered by a half dome, will require an air form (shell) that's about 4000 sf. (Depending on the design it might be a little more or a little less than double the floor, but double is close enough for today.) We call that "sq ft of surface area" or "surface sq ft" and that's how we measure materials. Each sq ft of air form (or shell) surface needs about 1/3 cu ft of concrete and 3 or 4 board feet of foam and 2# of rebar. So if we know the size of the shell (I provide that to the builder on my designs, for example), it's easy to calculate the total material requirements with great precision.
Therefore, while most of the public speaks in terms of cost per sq ft of floor area, a dome builder will focus on the cost per sq ft of shell surface area.
Similarly, roofers for frame houses don't care at all about the sf of the house. For the same floor plan, a steeply pitched roof will require more materials than a shallow pitched roof. They care about surface area of the roof itself--how many "squares" it is. That's what tells them how many shingles to order--not the sf of the floor.
Hope that helps explain the different ways to look at the numbers, and why one might use one or the other.