Richard Buckminster Fuller was a 20th
century visionary and inventor who did not limit himself to one particular
field but instead worked as a “comprehensive anticipatory design scientist”
according to his online institution 1. Even today Fullers ideals and work
continue to influence the work of designers, artists, architects and scientists
looking to create an eco-friendly planet.


Fuller was born on 12th July
1895 in Milton, Massachusetts he developed a strong understanding of nature
from his frequent family outings to Bear Island which was a small island 11
miles off Maine, which is also where he also became familiar with Construction
and Boat Maintenance. Fuller was a victim to poor vision from his crossed eyes
which kept him from seeing objects clearly during his youth nonetheless he
learned studied large designs and patterns of nature that he’d encounter on his
summer trips to Bear Island with his family. After attending Milton High
Schools in 1913 Fuller joined Harvard University and was kicked out for
skipping out on his exams in order to take show girl who he was dating, to
dinner in New York. After he left Harvard his mother arranged with his uncles
for him to move to Quebec, Canada to work with distance relatives as a mechanic
on their cotton mill. He began to keep a notebook of his sketches after
impressing the chief engineer. Harvard then agreed to reinstate Fuller in 1914
only to expel him again in 1915 for skipping classes, Fuller later admitted
that it was “for general irresponsibility” (Ideas & Integrities, p.11).
Furthermore, didn’t return to do his degree 3. Fuller then secured a job in a
leading meat-packing company and in 1917 he married Anne Hewlett, they had two


Fullers poor eyesight relieved him of the army service
in World War I, but the navy accepted him after the offer of the family’s cabin
cruiser. Whilst located in Virginia Fuller designed a combined winch, mast and
boom for rescue boats which overturned aircrafts out of the water by rapidly
pulling them. This invention saved hundreds of pilots from drowning. The navy
was very impressed with this invention and as a result they sent Fuller to is
academy in Annapolis for three moths of intensive officer training.


That same year Fuller worked to compile the official
statistics of Atlantic troop operations. He then became a communications
officer on the George Washington, Fuller helped install the radiotelephonic
equipment for the worlds first wireless transatlantic telephone conversation.

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After returning to New York in 1919, Fuller decided to
resign from the navy to spend time with his young daughter who was suffering with
both infantile paralysis and spinal meningitis. He placed some of the blame of
the unfortunate death of his daughter on their drafty house. He then vowed to
improve housing conditions and began manufacturing a lightweight, innovative
building material invented by his father-in-law, the renowned architect James
Monroe Hewlett, he showed him how it was problematic introducing new ideas and
materials could be. The both of them lost control of their Stockade Company in


Irrespective of the birth of Fullers second daughter
in 1927, he began heavily drinking and contemplated committing suicide, but he
was saved by an experience he encountered whilst on the shore of Lake Michigan.
A magical voice spoke “You belong to the Universe” before explaining that he
had no right to kill himself and insisted that he should use his talent to help
others 4. Deeply moved by this rare experience fuller spent the following 2
years studying in libraries, he ceased socializing and communicating with
people unless absolutely necessary. As a result of this, he began formulating
ideas on serving humanity and searched for local and fast ways to assess them.
Consequently, he assisted in introducing the concept that “every aspect of
man’s physical environment was connected to every other”. 5


Fuller than began working to express
interconnectedness mathematically in what would later be known as Synergetic
Geometry, Fuller also used the term “Fourth Dimension” (4D) what is commonly
used in both physics and mathematics alongside length, width and depth to
discuss phenomena that depends on four variables (for example, there is now a fourth
dimension for locating points in space). Fuller then founded the 4D research
company and began distributing essays titled both “4D” and “4D Timeline” 6.
These essays outlined his design philosophy and used aircraft technology to
plan large multi-deck apartment houses and single family dwellings. Fuller
decided that his job was to identify a problem, develop a way to solve it and
then he’d wait, sometimes as long as twenty to twenty-five years for the public
to catch up.


The first creative period for Fuller began around 1927
– 1946 where he focused on housing and transportation. He acquired “Dymaxion”
as a trademark in 1929, it is a combination of dynamic, maximum and tension. It
was created when a wordsmith hired by Chicago’s Marshall Field Department Store
renamed his futuristic 4D House and was displaying it as that. The word
expressed Fullers’ maximum gain of advantage from minimal energy input” 6.
This design consisted of two bedrooms, a living room, library, utility room and
a covered patio. The house was enclosed by six aluminium and glass walls and
was suspended by six cables from the central mast that contained the staircase,
plumbing and the electric power cables. The home was heated and cooled by
natural means that produced its own power, it was earthquake and storm-proof
and cost around forty thousand dollars.


Fuller’s next creations which started in 1933 come to
be more prominent than the house, it was three Dymaxion cars. This car could
seat eleven people and reach a top speed of ninety miles per hour. Considering
the time that it was released, the car was extremely innovative and ultimately
influential to the common car of today including, a three-wheel design with
rear wheel steering, front wheel drive and it was the first long body car
spanning around twenty feet. It was a very aerodynamic design as well as it
being quite efficient running thirty miles per gallon. This car caused
excitement when released and changed the car industry with its lightweight
materials and streamlined design. The designs of these extremely navigable
vehicles, (which were acting models of a design planned for both air and land
travel), was based on the “maximum efficiency and low resistance in motion” of
birds and fish. 7


Fuller quickly learned that his inventions could not
be mass produced, working first with the American Standard Sanitary
Manufacturing Company (1930-32) and later for the Phelps Dodge Corporation
(1936) so he continued to refine down the plugin bathroom until it slotted in to
the home like a refrigerator. Fuller began to increase his cash flow with his
inherited funds alongside selling some insurance policies that he held. However,
in 1940 he came in to a substantial profit when the government brought his inexpensive
Dymaxion Deployment Units, which was circular metal gain bins that was brought
to house troops and protect radar equipment in remote areas.


During the summers of 1948 – 1949 Fuller taught at
Black Mountain College in North Carolina serving as the colleges Summer Institute
director. It was here with the support of professors and students that Fuller
began reinventing a project al that would make him famous, the Geodesic Dome. In
spite of the fact that the Geodesic Dome was created had been created around thirty
years earlier by Walther Bauersfeld, Fuller was allowed the United States
patents, even though he neglected to include Bauersfeld prior art in the patent
applications, because of this Fuller is credited for popularizing this type of
structure. 9


Fuller erected his first geodesic dome building in
1949 that could sustain its own weight with no practical limits. It was four
point three meters in diameter and was constructed of aluminium aircraft tubing
with a vinyl, plastic skin in the form of an icosahedron. The United States
government recognized the importance of his work and employed Fuller’s firm,
Geodesics Inc. in Raleigh, North Carolina to make small domes for the Marines
and within a few years there were thousands of these domes all around the




Tensegrity is a term coined by Fuller himself, it is a
portmanteau of “tensional integrity”. It describes a structural principle based
on the use of isolated components in compression inside a net of continuous
tension in such a way that the compressed members do not touch each other and
the pre-stressed tensioned members delineate the system spatially.


When Fuller created it, it was about “environmental
control and doing more with less” for humanity so that you can take care of


What Fuller seen was that within structuring and
engineering, it was about bricks on bricks and structure was designed so that
there was compression on compression, there was no tension in the structure. It
was only in 1851 that steel began to be used as a structural material, an example
of this was Brooklyn Bridge, which was built in 1883.


What Fuller looked at was Johannes Kepler’s three
famous theories one of them being that that the Earth doesn’t touch the Moon
and the Moon doesn’t touch the Sun yet they are held together through something
invisible, tension whilst being millions of miles apart. He used an example of
that if two swimmers met in the middle of a pool and pressed their feet against
one and other, bent their knees and then pushed off from each other, they’d both
get the same thrust as they would from pushing off from a wall.


The image above shows one of Fullers Tensegrity
structures. Fuller seen that from the principles of this structure he could enclose
an unlimited area of space because the furthest planet from the sun is Pluto
which is over three point five billion miles away yet they are connected though


A tensegrity structure is about doing more with less, when
describing how he developed his theory Fuller would relate it to the way in
which the solar system works. He would say it works like the planets, for
example “there is a planet that is one billion miles from the sun, but it still
orbits around it, this is through tension”, and this was the essence of the
Geodesic Dome.


How fuller describes it is that “Tensegrity, is
islands of compression inside an ocean of tension.”




Synergetics is the study of spatial complexity, done
in an inherently comprehensive discipline. Its emphasis on visual and spatial
phenomena combined with Fuller’s holistic approach fosters the kind of lateral
thinking which so often leads to creative breakthroughs because just from
experiencing synergetics encourages a new way of approaching and solving
problems. Synergetics follows the cosmic logic of the structural mathematics
strategies of nature, which employ the paired sets of the six angular degrees
of freedom, frequencies and vectorially economical actions and their
multi-alternative, equi-economical action options. Synergetics discloses the
awkwardness that appears in present-day mathematical treatment of the
interrelationships of the independent scientific disciplines as originally
occasioned by their mutual and separate lacks of awareness of the existence of
a comprehensive, rational, coordinating system inherent in nature.


The concept of Synergetics is multi-faced it involves;
geometric modelling, exploring inter-relationships in the fact of experience
and the process of thinking. Synergy is the system of holistic thinking which
Fuller introduced and began to formulate, it endeavours to identify and
understand the methods that nature actually uses in co-ordinating the universe
both physically as well as metaphysically. It provides a direct method and
philosophy for problem-solving solution therefore it relates to all human


Again it was Fuller who coined this term an attempted
to define its scope inside his two volumes of work, Synergetics. This
particular work inspired many researchers to tackle braches of synergetics. An
example of this is Amy Edmondson (a renowned author) who explored tetrahedral
and icosahedral geometry, another is Stafford Beer who tackled geodesics in
context of social dynamics and both give praises to Fuller’s Synergetic work.


Cheryl Clark synthesizes the scope of synergetics as
“the study of how nature works, of the patterns inherent in nature, the
geometry of environmental forces that impact on humanity.” To me this was the
most understandable and truest description of Fullers concept. Cheryl Clark
also points out that “in his thousands of lectures, Fuller urged his audience
to study synergetics, saying “I am confident that humanity’s survival depends
on all of our willingness to comprehend feelingly the way nature works”.


Fuller dedicated his
life towards making the world work for all humanity. After studying several
articles and watching many of his interviews I learned that his drive came from
his wanting to simplify complex ideas and items. His work was and still is undeniable
and continues to be seen

He used to refer to his work as “artefacts” and held a
total of 28 patents, authored 28 books and received 47 honorary degrees. His
most known artefact to date is the “Geodesic Dome” which has been reproduced
over 300,000 times as you can see below.


It was the simplicity and refinements in geometry
which Fuller founded which showed designers and creators of of technology,
architecture and designers in general to do more with less. In an architectural
sense it allowed to create a structure of equal stability and strength with a
cleaner and more refined outcome. By doing more with less, we are able to save
in abundance both money and resources but most importantly, time. Which is why
Buckminster Fuller is acknowledged as one of our “greatest minds” of all time.


Fuller believed human societies would soon rely largely
on renewable energy sources such as solar and wind derived electricity. Fuller
often referred to himself as “property of the universe”, during a radio
interview he gave later in his life, Fuller declared himself and all of his
work “property of all humanity” and for his lifetime of work, the American
Humanist Association named him the 1969 Humanist of the Year.


Buckminster Fuller was a pioneer in global thinking,
he explored the principles of energy and material efficiency in the fields of
architecture, engineering and design. Fuller has come to be recognised as a
guru of the design and architecture communities due to he breakthroughs in
geometry as well thinking strategies.


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