July 3, 2006 6:00 AM PDT
Geodesic domes: 'Doing more with less'
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The biggest the company has crafted is a 120-foot structure it built for a festival in Portugal. It has also built at least one 90-footer.
The company started in 1980 after Deliverance had been living in a monastery and built a rudimentary dome using Fuller's geometry because she needed a place to live.
Quickly, she learned that others wanted them. So she ended up building a dozen. That turned into a business.
Flash forward to 2005 and the devastated Gulf Coast region, where relief workers in Biloxi, Miss., and in an area of New Orleans were using domes donated by the company as distribution centers for food and equipment.
Although making a home out of a geodesic dome can be inexpensive compared with building a traditional house, the structures are hardly cheap.
A 30-foot dome with cover can run as high as $16,100. A 44-footer is much more, at $31,600.
The company, which appears to be far and away the leader in the United States when it comes to building and selling geodesic domes, makes just three a week. So to give several away certainly took a chunk out of its bottom line.
"Even FEMA and the Red Cross ended up in our domes," she said. "We donated them for free, and it almost sunk our business because we wanted to help."
Deliverance thinks domes could be useful in areas likely to encounter hurricanes.
"If a hurricane hits an area, the only thing left are domes," she said, adding that the structures, when used with the proper tubing and staked down properly, can withstand hundreds of pounds of pressure per square inch from, say, snow accumulation or wind.
Meanwhile, as Pacific Domes continues as the leading purveyor of Fuller's creation to people desiring them for personal use, the company also regularly rents them--for rather fantastic sums of money--to companies and productions as diverse as Mars (which showcased its M&Ms brand with a bunch of domes colored to look like the tiny candies), the "Survivor" television series, Volkswagen, the Golden Globes and DaimlerChrysler's Mercedes.
But the mainstay of the business seems to be its consumer sales. In this regard, it's notable that Pacific Domes has stayed in Ashland rather than moving its operations overseas. Deliverance said she has gotten offers from companies in countries like China to build the domes there, but said she wants to remain an American company.
That, however, cuts into the company's profit margin. Deliverance said she isn't making much more per dome now than she did when the company was much smaller.
Still, her 20 employees are clearly the vanguard for what some people might not even recognize as an architectural movement. But with dome kits that can result in attractive and comfortable housing for a fraction of the price of a typical house, it's likely that we will see more geodesics.
There are a number of other companies that sell domes. Almost all sell completed dome homes, while Pacific Domes focuses on kits with frames that buyers must assemble themselves. But the company is likely to face more direct competition if one of her employees succeeds in opening his own geodesic business. In fact, she mentioned, that employee is the very one who saved me and my friends' bacon at Burning Man in 2000. So I can only give him my blessing.
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