About a Dome – part 1

Check out the making-of the dome here:

The month of the Dome felt more like three or four.

I blame three people for this crazy month. The first is actually a set of people – I blame my parents.

You have to understand that I came from a household that prioritized learning and making a mess in the name of making something beautiful or cool over having a pristine museum of a house. I can distinctly remember when Richard Nelson nearly set the living room aflame with the Odyssey of the Mind Green-Cross-Mosquito-First-Aid-Mini-Ambulance-Mobile’s improperly wired battery pack. It was there that I cut up more toilet paper and paper towel tubes to make sufficiently complex mazes for Chino, my hamster – where I got into Mom’s “good art supplies” for my fourth-grade comic book project – and it was there that I learned to sew, make candles, weld, paint, draw with CAD, use power tools and let my imagination get itself into as much creative trouble as it could. (Thank you Mom and Dad.)

So, when I called my Mom (who lives two states away) and told her I was looking to make a 20′ geodesic dome out of PVC, did she throw up her hands and say “Oh, not another crazy project!?!?”

No. She did not.

She instead said, “Well, I probably have enough pipe up here to make the whole thing. Your Dad and I can cut it so I can get it in the car – and I’ll meet you in Columbus the next time you come up.”

What was my mom doing with enough PVC to make a 20′ dome?

I asked the same thing.

Mom’s a teacher. And not just *any* teacher. She’s the kind of teacher who believes that it’s not enough to read about or write a book report on Rome. You have to build the Colosseum inside your classroom or you’re missing out on an opportunity to engage and excite students about math, science, literature, creative problem solving, art and a myriad of other things that will genuinely serve them well in the “real world.”

The PVC came from a wax museum installation from last year. She bought enough pipe and fittings to make three-way dividers so that each student character in the entire 7th grade (I think it was the 7th graders) could have their own fabric-covered corner of the gymnasium.

My father is a machinist and he’s a pretty handy guy.

He’s helped Mom build 48′ wide puppet-and-actor-accommodating castle sets for Wednesday Night Church (back in the day), frames for paper machete rock monster sculptures and other theatrical children’s characters, props and puppets, dozens of frames and contraptions for studying the effects of enviroment on decomposition with her science students, stands, holders, widgets, and all sorts of other low-budget (but decent quality) do-hickeys for whatever the current project is.

So from this, comes a daughter with a homemade approach to making, and a passion for teaching and learning. She got a degree in design and animation and developed a passion for programming.

I have a one-bedroom apartment. It’s *barely* enough space for two people and a turtle to comfortably not drive each other nuts. I don’t even have a 20′ diameter space in the little yard outside my apartment building where I *could* set up a dome *IF* my landlord thought it was ok.

Let’s not focus on what I don’t have, though. We have a dome to build.

360 pieces of PVC. That’s what I had. The shortest were 1′ long and the longest almost 40 inches. The ends of all the pipes came hand color-coded with Sharpie, matching the diagram I’d sent her – colored by Mother herself.

I thankfully piled them in the living room in the only available floor space.

A few months back, my friend (and newly discovered creative conspirator) Monica suggested that I get into domes. Fortunately for her career and artistic development (and sort-of sadly for myself and the Make Nashville crew) she has since moved to Colorado. Apparently, domes are a big thing out there – they are popping up everywhere and there are artists making some FANTASTIC experiences.

Monica is, in fact, the second person I “blame” 😉 for this craziness.

Dome? Why not.

Mini Maker Faire’s coming up. A month and a half is *plenty* of time to build a dome. Right?

You know, as I recall, I’ve been in a dome before.

Lynette Walworth had one at Sundance. She showed teeny tiny microscopic coral at massive size, floating around the 10 people who got to lie down on the mats on the floor and experience each micro-screening. Fortunately, I felt as if it was a good idea to take nearly a month out of my irregularly scheduled freelancer life to volunteer at the festival – and I got to help manage the venue that year.

Her dome was AMAZING and calming and soothing. And if I recall, it only used two projectors. I could do that. (Lynette, you’re the third and final person I blame for this. That experience was fantastic.)

For a few weeks prior to getting the PVC from Mom and Dad and a week or so after, I set about trying to figure out how to make the hubs for the frame of the dome. They had to be strong and they had to be able to be made relatively quickly.

Now, if you have the luxury of a budget, you can simply order them online for about $9 apiece. This sounds like a great plan until you do the math and learn that a 4V geodesic dome requires no less than 90 individual hubs.

I really don’t have a budget for this project – but does that stop me? No.

I picked up sculpey, mouldable plastic, clay, PVC of various sizes and varying bits of hardware. I melted down styrofoam with acetone outside. My living room and kitchen suffer the messy-but-amazingly-not-destructive side effects of my (insert air quotes) creativity. (Insanity may be a more accurate term.) Finally, after having met Mom in Columbus, I settled on C-PVC hubs that are heated and pinched together with a hex bolt holding the six-way and five-way connectors together.

Two solid days of drilling – heating – squeezing – attaching – detaching – reattaching – 7″ and 4″ C-PVC pieces and I’ve made 90 hubs at a cost of approximately $.40 a piece.

Problem solved.

But I don’t have the screen fabric. I don’t know how to make a screen fit that space. I don’t know how the projectors are going to work. I don’t know what sort of outer fabric or material is best for blocking light during daylight hours. I don’t know how to distort footage for the dome…. And even if I could rig up two projectors, HOW do you even begin to stitch the footage together???

What I *do* know is that I’ve figured out things that are just as complicated in the past and if it can be done, I’ll find a way.

So I put together a one-page sheet about the project, launched a GoFundMe page and showed up at the August Make Nashville meeting.

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  • Fred

    What about part II and III and IV (that version will need vines).

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