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Building a PVC geodesic dome with SketchUp

Here on the SketchUp team, we’re DIYers at heart -- we like solving design problems and building things. For a while now, we’ve had a big presence at Maker Faire. We go because we truly enjoy nerding 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, because, well, why not?

PVC geodesic dome with SketchUpWho wouldn’t want to build a geodesic lair out of PVC pipe? You can check out our fabricatable project model and build instructions here on 3D Warehouse

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.

Here’s how we pulled it off: 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 generating reports and some spreadsheet magic to crank out a cut-list for our PVC stockpile from Home Depot.

DCScreenshotUsing the proportional math from Domerama’s 3V ⅝ dome calculator, we built a dynamic component that uses dome diameter and hub protrusion as inputs for automating a 3V dome. You can download this dynamic geodesic model on 3D Warehouse

As our fabrication captain, Eric got to turn our SketchUp model into a collection of ready-to-assemble parts. Using some simple jigs to speed up the cutting and drilling, he churned through 1,600 feet of pipe -- about a quarter-mile of PVC -- from his workshop in Massachusetts. Rounding out the list, he ordered up the awesome purpose-built connector hubs from Sonostar and grabbed a giant bag of nuts and bolts to keep things from sliding apart. With just two days to go before assembly, he loaded 152 connectors, 322 pipes, two ladders, and a dozen hammers into a van we’re pretty sure he had permission to borrow.

PVC geodesic dome pipesTwo geodesic domes and enough left-over pipe to spit out a few of these bad boys...

On-site at the New York Hall of Science, the pipe-laden van was met by a jet-lagged assembly crew of SketchUppers who’d only ever seen the geodomes in our working model. Over the course of a few hours, we assembled the two domes according to these hilarious yet exceedingly clear build instructions, courtesy of Eric and LayOut.

Banging pipes togetherBanging pipes together at World Maker Faire. See more photos of our geodesic dome build here, or watch the time lapse of our build here

The next day, our team hammered together several pieces of SketchUp-designed PVC furniture (generously contributed by our friends at FORMUFIT), and fitted vinyl tarps to the roof. We had designed the tarps to be a modular shading system so that we could leave some sections of the dome exposed or cover everything up in case of crummy weather.

To derive the tarps from our SketchUp model, we drew out some basic gore-like polygons over the dome component and then used the Flattery extension to derive their dimensions for printing. The tarps were manufactured with grommets that allowed us to join and secure them with zip ties.

SketchUp tarping systemOur tarping system was one of those simple ideas that were meant to work, but not be perfect. We anticipated (and desired) stretching in the tarp, so we modeled our gore polygons for stretched-out coverage, then laid the geometry flat with Flattery

Throughout the weekend, thousands of attendees -- attracted by the awesome sight of our booth and the promise of shade -- wandered through our domes, where they were pumped full of SketchUp knowledge and slapped with these bracelets before being sent, disoriented, but not sunburned, back into the Faire.

We introduced a lot of people to SketchUp and Buckminster Fuller (not bad company, right?) over the weekend, and now we have a pair of geodesic domes to keep us cool at the next team picnic.

The SketchUp team at Maker Faire.The SketchUp team on good behavior at Maker Faire. We also did a lot of this

Looking to build your own geodesic? Explore the links above, then download this dynamic component model and these build instructions to get started. Be sure to Tweet us the pics if you pull it off!

About the Author

A product manager on the SketchUp team, Mark is also an avid Colorado outdoorsman. You’re likely to find him roaming Boulder's mountain bike trails, scaring up marmots, pikas, and black bears.

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