Richard Buckminster Fuller was a 20thcentury visionary and inventor who did not limit himself to one particularfield but instead worked as a “comprehensive anticipatory design scientist”according to his online institution 1. Even today Fullers ideals and workcontinue to influence the work of designers, artists, architects and scientistslooking to create an eco-friendly planet. Fuller was born on 12th July1895 in Milton, Massachusetts he developed a strong understanding of naturefrom his frequent family outings to Bear Island which was a small island 11miles off Maine, which is also where he also became familiar with Constructionand Boat Maintenance.
Fuller was a victim to poor vision from his crossed eyeswhich kept him from seeing objects clearly during his youth nonetheless helearned studied large designs and patterns of nature that he’d encounter on hissummer trips to Bear Island with his family. After attending Milton HighSchools in 1913 Fuller joined Harvard University and was kicked out forskipping out on his exams in order to take show girl who he was dating, todinner in New York. After he left Harvard his mother arranged with his unclesfor him to move to Quebec, Canada to work with distance relatives as a mechanicon their cotton mill. He began to keep a notebook of his sketches afterimpressing the chief engineer. Harvard then agreed to reinstate Fuller in 1914only to expel him again in 1915 for skipping classes, Fuller later admittedthat it was “for general irresponsibility” (Ideas & Integrities, p.11).Furthermore, didn’t return to do his degree 3. Fuller then secured a job in aleading meat-packing company and in 1917 he married Anne Hewlett, they had twochildren.
Fullers poor eyesight relieved him of the army servicein World War I, but the navy accepted him after the offer of the family’s cabincruiser. Whilst located in Virginia Fuller designed a combined winch, mast andboom for rescue boats which overturned aircrafts out of the water by rapidlypulling them. This invention saved hundreds of pilots from drowning. The navywas very impressed with this invention and as a result they sent Fuller to isacademy in Annapolis for three moths of intensive officer training.
That same year Fuller worked to compile the officialstatistics of Atlantic troop operations. He then became a communicationsofficer on the George Washington, Fuller helped install the radiotelephonicequipment for the worlds first wireless transatlantic telephone conversation. After returning to New York in 1919, Fuller decided toresign from the navy to spend time with his young daughter who was suffering withboth infantile paralysis and spinal meningitis. He placed some of the blame ofthe unfortunate death of his daughter on their drafty house.
He then vowed toimprove housing conditions and began manufacturing a lightweight, innovativebuilding material invented by his father-in-law, the renowned architect JamesMonroe Hewlett, he showed him how it was problematic introducing new ideas andmaterials could be. The both of them lost control of their Stockade Company in1927. Irrespective of the birth of Fullers second daughterin 1927, he began heavily drinking and contemplated committing suicide, but hewas 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 hehad no right to kill himself and insisted that he should use his talent to helpothers 4. Deeply moved by this rare experience fuller spent the following 2years studying in libraries, he ceased socializing and communicating withpeople unless absolutely necessary. As a result of this, he began formulatingideas on serving humanity and searched for local and fast ways to assess them.Consequently, he assisted in introducing the concept that “every aspect ofman’s physical environment was connected to every other”.
5 Fuller than began working to expressinterconnectedness mathematically in what would later be known as SynergeticGeometry, Fuller also used the term “Fourth Dimension” (4D) what is commonlyused in both physics and mathematics alongside length, width and depth todiscuss phenomena that depends on four variables (for example, there is now a fourthdimension for locating points in space). Fuller then founded the 4D researchcompany and began distributing essays titled both “4D” and “4D Timeline” 6.These essays outlined his design philosophy and used aircraft technology toplan large multi-deck apartment houses and single family dwellings. Fullerdecided that his job was to identify a problem, develop a way to solve it andthen he’d wait, sometimes as long as twenty to twenty-five years for the publicto 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. Itwas created when a wordsmith hired by Chicago’s Marshall Field Department Storerenamed his futuristic 4D House and was displaying it as that.
The wordexpressed Fullers’ maximum gain of advantage from minimal energy input” 6.This design consisted of two bedrooms, a living room, library, utility room anda covered patio. The house was enclosed by six aluminium and glass walls andwas suspended by six cables from the central mast that contained the staircase,plumbing and the electric power cables.
The home was heated and cooled bynatural means that produced its own power, it was earthquake and storm-proofand cost around forty thousand dollars. Fuller’s next creations which started in 1933 come tobe more prominent than the house, it was three Dymaxion cars. This car couldseat eleven people and reach a top speed of ninety miles per hour. Consideringthe time that it was released, the car was extremely innovative and ultimatelyinfluential to the common car of today including, a three-wheel design withrear wheel steering, front wheel drive and it was the first long body carspanning around twenty feet. It was a very aerodynamic design as well as itbeing quite efficient running thirty miles per gallon.
This car causedexcitement when released and changed the car industry with its lightweightmaterials and streamlined design. The designs of these extremely navigablevehicles, (which were acting models of a design planned for both air and landtravel), was based on the “maximum efficiency and low resistance in motion” ofbirds and fish. 7 Fuller quickly learned that his inventions could notbe mass produced, working first with the American Standard SanitaryManufacturing Company (1930-32) and later for the Phelps Dodge Corporation(1936) so he continued to refine down the plugin bathroom until it slotted in tothe home like a refrigerator. Fuller began to increase his cash flow with hisinherited funds alongside selling some insurance policies that he held. However,in 1940 he came in to a substantial profit when the government brought his inexpensiveDymaxion Deployment Units, which was circular metal gain bins that was broughtto house troops and protect radar equipment in remote areas. During the summers of 1948 – 1949 Fuller taught atBlack Mountain College in North Carolina serving as the colleges Summer Institutedirector.
It was here with the support of professors and students that Fullerbegan reinventing a project al that would make him famous, the Geodesic Dome. Inspite of the fact that the Geodesic Dome was created had been created around thirtyyears earlier by Walther Bauersfeld, Fuller was allowed the United Statespatents, even though he neglected to include Bauersfeld prior art in the patentapplications, because of this Fuller is credited for popularizing this type ofstructure. 9 Fuller erected his first geodesic dome building in1949 that could sustain its own weight with no practical limits.
It was fourpoint three meters in diameter and was constructed of aluminium aircraft tubingwith a vinyl, plastic skin in the form of an icosahedron. The United Statesgovernment recognized the importance of his work and employed Fuller’s firm,Geodesics Inc. in Raleigh, North Carolina to make small domes for the Marinesand within a few years there were thousands of these domes all around theworld. Tensegrity Tensegrity is a term coined by Fuller himself, it is aportmanteau of “tensional integrity”. It describes a structural principle basedon the use of isolated components in compression inside a net of continuoustension in such a way that the compressed members do not touch each other andthe pre-stressed tensioned members delineate the system spatially. When Fuller created it, it was about “environmentalcontrol and doing more with less” for humanity so that you can take care ofeverybody” What Fuller seen was that within structuring andengineering, it was about bricks on bricks and structure was designed so thatthere was compression on compression, there was no tension in the structure. Itwas only in 1851 that steel began to be used as a structural material, an exampleof this was Brooklyn Bridge, which was built in 1883.
What Fuller looked at was Johannes Kepler’s threefamous theories one of them being that that the Earth doesn’t touch the Moonand the Moon doesn’t touch the Sun yet they are held together through somethinginvisible, tension whilst being millions of miles apart. He used an example ofthat if two swimmers met in the middle of a pool and pressed their feet againstone and other, bent their knees and then pushed off from each other, they’d bothget the same thrust as they would from pushing off from a wall. The image above shows one of Fullers Tensegritystructures. Fuller seen that from the principles of this structure he could enclosean unlimited area of space because the furthest planet from the sun is Plutowhich is over three point five billion miles away yet they are connected thoughtension. A tensegrity structure is about doing more with less, whendescribing how he developed his theory Fuller would relate it to the way inwhich the solar system works. He would say it works like the planets, forexample “there is a planet that is one billion miles from the sun, but it stillorbits around it, this is through tension”, and this was the essence of theGeodesic Dome. How fuller describes it is that “Tensegrity, isislands of compression inside an ocean of tension.
” Synergy Synergetics is the study of spatial complexity, donein an inherently comprehensive discipline. Its emphasis on visual and spatialphenomena combined with Fuller’s holistic approach fosters the kind of lateralthinking which so often leads to creative breakthroughs because just fromexperiencing synergetics encourages a new way of approaching and solvingproblems. Synergetics follows the cosmic logic of the structural mathematicsstrategies of nature, which employ the paired sets of the six angular degreesof freedom, frequencies and vectorially economical actions and theirmulti-alternative, equi-economical action options. Synergetics discloses theawkwardness that appears in present-day mathematical treatment of theinterrelationships of the independent scientific disciplines as originallyoccasioned by their mutual and separate lacks of awareness of the existence ofa 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 experienceand the process of thinking. Synergy is the system of holistic thinking whichFuller introduced and began to formulate, it endeavours to identify andunderstand the methods that nature actually uses in co-ordinating the universeboth physically as well as metaphysically.
It provides a direct method andphilosophy for problem-solving solution therefore it relates to all humanareas. Again it was Fuller who coined this term an attemptedto define its scope inside his two volumes of work, Synergetics. Thisparticular work inspired many researchers to tackle braches of synergetics. Anexample of this is Amy Edmondson (a renowned author) who explored tetrahedraland icosahedral geometry, another is Stafford Beer who tackled geodesics incontext 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, thegeometry of environmental forces that impact on humanity.
” To me this was themost understandable and truest description of Fullers concept. Cheryl Clarkalso points out that “in his thousands of lectures, Fuller urged his audienceto study synergetics, saying “I am confident that humanity’s survival dependson all of our willingness to comprehend feelingly the way nature works”. Fuller dedicated hislife towards making the world work for all humanity. After studying severalarticles and watching many of his interviews I learned that his drive came fromhis wanting to simplify complex ideas and items. His work was and still is undeniableand continues to be seen He used to refer to his work as “artefacts” and held atotal of 28 patents, authored 28 books and received 47 honorary degrees. Hismost known artefact to date is the “Geodesic Dome” which has been reproducedover 300,000 times as you can see below.
It was the simplicity and refinements in geometrywhich Fuller founded which showed designers and creators of of technology,architecture and designers in general to do more with less. In an architecturalsense it allowed to create a structure of equal stability and strength with acleaner and more refined outcome. By doing more with less, we are able to savein abundance both money and resources but most importantly, time. Which is whyBuckminster Fuller is acknowledged as one of our “greatest minds” of all time. Fuller believed human societies would soon rely largelyon renewable energy sources such as solar and wind derived electricity. Fulleroften referred to himself as “property of the universe”, during a radiointerview he gave later in his life, Fuller declared himself and all of hiswork “property of all humanity” and for his lifetime of work, the AmericanHumanist 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 ofarchitecture, engineering and design. Fuller has come to be recognised as aguru of the design and architecture communities due to he breakthroughs ingeometry as well thinking strategies.