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Building a PVC Geodesic Dome with SketchUp

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Here on the SketchUp team, the designers are DIYers at heart – the designer’s like solving design problems and building things. For a while now, we have had a big presence at Maker Faire. We go because we truly enjoy learning out with fellow makers and dreaming up our own design-build projects. At World Maker Faire in New York last month, we decided to cook up a pair of large geodesic domes.

Actually, the point of our exhibit - besides being a practice run for a future Burning Man trip - was to prove that SketchUp makes planning and building team DIY projects easier and more fun. We enlisted the help of our good pal Eric Schimelpfenig of and set out to turn a pile of PVC pipe into two huge geodesic domes and some comfortable furniture.

After exploring geodesic designs on 3D Warehouse - and a lot of discovery on Domerama - we jumped into SketchUp for conceptual design. Satellite imagery for our site plan demonstrated that two twenty-foot diameter domes would fit perfectly, and a simple massing model proved that 3V ⅝ domes - with their extra head room - would provide plenty of height and floor space for people and furniture.

Once we knew the defining characteristics of our dome, we churned out the strut lengths using Domerama’s geodesic calculator and then advanced the design using Dynamic Components to create a fabricatable model. From there, we employed generate report and some spreadsheet magic to crank out a cut-list for our PVC stockpile from Home Depot.

Modeling a laser-cut Halloween costume: October is the time of year that all of my creative energy is focused into a single, solitary purpose: the design and making of an unreasonably complicated Halloween costume for my son. This year, I was determined to reflect his outsized interest in aviation by building him his very own airplane. Something with an open cockpit.

Something with a propeller. Something vintage. I started by touring the 3D Warehouse, collecting models of airplanes that might be good candidates. I settled on a WWII-era F4F-4 U.S. Navy fighter because I liked its shape, and because the model I found (by D.James) was beautifully executed. Opening it in SketchUp, I began the process of simplifying the plane down to its most basic forms by hiding or deleting stuff I didn't need. The landing gear and propeller went. So did the wire-looking thing (I'm not much of an engineering buff) that connected the tail to the cockpit canopy. Eventually, I grouped the remaining bits of airplane together and put them on a single layer that I called "Reference."

Fabbing with friends, a WikiHouse for World Maker Faire: When we first heard about WikiHouse, we knew we wanted to build one. When WikiHouse’s co-founder gave an inspiring Ted talk this past May, we were inspired to build one. And when we read the WikiHouse modeling standards (make groups, use layers!), we knew that we just had to build one.

So as we sat down with the WikiHouse team this summer and talked about how we could collaborate for World Maker Faire, our goal was a no-brainer: design and build our own WikiHouse in just over a month. Kicking off the project, it was quickly evident that between the SketchUppers and the WikiHouse’rs, there were more than enough architects to go around. Aside from the reality that no one on the team had a CNC router in his garage, we knew we’d need a project partner with tons of CNC experience - and one who wouldn’t laugh off the idea of hammering together a thousand cut pieces in the middle of Maker Faire.

Enter our friend Bill Young over at ShopBot Tools. We’d been itching to do a project with Bill since he caught us spreading saw dust all over Maker Faire Bay Area earlier this year. Bill’s practical experience with wood selection, tolerances, and project planning are nicely measured by his ability to engrave anything (onto anything) while generally believing that most things are possible. With the right mix of optimism and practicality, we started trading SKP’s back and forth, hashing out the trade-offs in various design concepts.

Image Courtesy
Mark Harrison and Andrew Strotheide

Building a PVC Geodesic Dome with SketchUp