Let me be perfectly clear—I have never built a high-strength polymer dome over a major city. At least, I’ve never actually built a dome over an actual city. But, I did enjoy my actual time with a fictitious work crew while they taught me the basics of building a dome over a somewhat real city. Confused? God, I hope so, because I am.

In UNDERCURRENT, I started with coastal cities, and even more specifically, the city of Baltimore since that’s where I grew up. I wondered one day how rising sea levels would affect the city. Now, I don’t remember why I was thinking that, but that’s where the story started. And then logically, if we can’t stop the water, then how would we protect the city? Domes, baby! Ya got trouble, folks, right here in Bawlmer City. Trouble with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “D” and you need a dome. A high-strength, polymer (or maybe polycarbonate), optically transparent, dome.

Here is a guest post from Phelan Maxwell:

I found a letter in a box of old stuff that used to belong to my great-grandfather, Ben Maxwell. When he was younger, he was a reporter for the Boston Chronicle, and he wrote about his experience with one of the work crews building the world’s first dome, over the city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates back in April of 2028. It’s pretty cool, so I thought I’d share that letter with you all.

I spent several weeks with one of the Compositor Crews—groups of six people who work on a machine affectionately called a “Wall Crawler,” or its more official name, the “Ascending Polymer Deposition and Forming Machine.” We’re working on the Almasi Capitol Dome Project over the city of Dubai.

Our unit, Compositor Crew 7, began the day getting ready for the climb into our crawler, which straddled the wall of the dome 250 feet up where the angle of the dome had already started arching toward the center. Osman Haddad, CC7’s lead engineer, helped me get fitted into my harness and connected to the hoisting cable. Admittedly, I was not ready to be dragged up the side of the dome and inside the crawler, but Haddad talked me through it and kept me from looking down.

The Crawler is about the size of a large bus. Dai’jon, our Crawler operator, gave me a quick tour before our work began. Chemical tanks line the walls, and fluid lines trace out of the tanks and to the keel where they are deposited and formed into the existing part of the dome wall. Crew members are strapped into their seats in front of control panels on each side of the crawler, and they monitor the flow of polymer materials to ensure an accurate mixture reaches the composition head unit.

Two other crew members monitor the composition head, which acts like a 3-D printer, depositing the new material onto the old. Precise temperatures must be maintained to ensure an absolute bond of the materials. The crew members monitor these processes using spectral imaging systems, surveying every inch of the dome wall as it is created. Dai’jon ensures our forward speed is consistent, allowing all the composition processes to work as designed.

Our remaining crew member, Rasima, is strapped into a seat at the front of the Crawler. She sets the course for the machine, based on the radius, height, and the angle of the dome wall at each stage of construction. As the seventh member of the crew, my job is stay out of the way, don’t break anything, and don’t touch the controls. I do notice the horizon display in front of Dai’jon, and I see that our Crawler is leaning inward forty degrees.

The inside of the machine rotates so it is less noticeable, but when you do notice, it is very unsettling. There is a small window on the left side of the Crawler, and when I look out of the window, I’m surprised to find that I’m looking almost straight down. We are very high up. From the window, I can also see eight other Crawlers, all spiraling around the wall at a speed of about thirty feet per hour. It will be about another six months before this dome is complete. Okay, so how do we get down from this thing?

You can read about the Undercurrent by following this Biqi-net address: https://www.amazon.com/Undercurrent

4 thoughts on “How to Build a Dome

  1. I’m toying with the idea of building a new dome underwater in one of my subsequent books. As in UNDERCURRENT, they are able to repair a dome, but starting one from scratch would be a whole new challenge!


  2. Hey Mike, as a woodworker, you might enjoy looking at YouTube videos by UK woodworker Paul Robinson on how he came up with two workable jigs that he uses to create pentagons and hexagons, which he attaches together to build geodesic domes. Mostly he builds garden domes, but you can build them yourself with a basic set of woodworker’s power tools. This is in my future, I swear!


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