Saturday June 19, 1999
By Michael V. Copeland
BUILDING a space station is no easy task, just ask NASA.
You wait for nice weather, load up the space shuttle, send it on its flaming way to orbit, unload, and hope everything doesn't go spinning off into deep space or get demolished by space junk.
When Dr. Evil needed a moon base from which to destroy the earth in "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," the folks in charge of procurement at Warner Bros. had a much easier time. They called Timberline Geodesics in Berkeley.
The 30-year-old geodesic dome company was happy to make a moon base to order. With a few design embellishments, Dr. Evil's lunar lair was in business in a matter of weeks.
Although the moon base only went as far as a soundstage in Hollywood, it looked very lunar in Mike Myers' new hit comedy film.
"Dr. Evil was the most evil customer we've ever had," joked Robert Singer, president of Timberline Geodesics. "However, he did pay, so we don't hold it against him."
Singer, 38, said he was surprised when he received a call last September from the production design team for the spy-spoof sequel. After some back-and-forth between Berkeley and Hollywood, Singer's crew was able to man ufacture the pieces for a 75-foot-diameter dome that would fit onto the Warner Hollywood Studios soundstage.
The Hollywood crew added their own tubes and industrial fittings to the wooden frame, but the essential structure is Timberline's.
The look of the moon base was meant as a parody of the geodesic dome in the James Bond film "You Only Live Twice," said Austin Powers production designer Rusty Smith in the production notes on the movie.
"The concept is that Dr. Evil exists in a sci-fi world, but sci-fi of the 1950s," Smith said. "He really, really wants to be on the cutting edge of technology, but it never works for him properly."
While Dr. Evil's moon headquarters was dismantled and carted off after filming was finished, the vast majority of the 60 to 70 dome kits Timberline sells annually are put to use as permanent homes.
The advantages of the geodesic dome, first discovered by architect and new-age thinker Buckminster Fuller in the 1950s, are chiefly strength and efficiency. Geodesic domes combine the rigidity of triangles with the load bearing strength of a dome. That makes them well-suited for earthquake zones, snowy climes and places subject to vicious storms.
Timberline sells pre-cut kits ranging in price from $30,000 to $50,000 that allow someone with basic construction skills to build at least the outer shell of the dome themselves.
While the shells are easy to build, most people hire professionals to finish the interiors, Singer said.
Geodesic domes used to be the province of the counter-culture, but the people buying dome kits from Timberline run the gamut of lifestyles. Many invest $100,000 to $200,000 in their round homes.
Singer has shipped dome kits to all 50 states and around the world. In Timberline's Blake Street shop this week, workers were readying a 90-foot-diameter dome kit for shipping to Korea to be used as a church.
Dr. Evil's moon base was the first faux space-related use of a Timberline dome that Singer could recall.
Singer said he's yet to see his dome in the movie.
"Hopefully I'll get a few laughs out of it," he said. "I just hope it doesn't get blown up or something."