U.S. postage stamp commemorating Buckminster Fuller and his contributions
to architecture and science, some of his inventions are visible. Most
notably, his head is shaped after one of his geodesic domes. Other elements,
such as futuristic cars, other craft and radar dishes are also present.Richard
Buckminster "Bucky" Fuller (July 12, 1895 – July 1,
1983) was an American visionary, designer, architect, and inventor.
Throughout his life,
Fuller was concerned with the question of whether humanity has a chance
to survive lastingly and successfully on planet Earth, and if so, how.
Considering himself an average individual without special monetary means
or academic degree, he chose to devote his life to this question, trying
to find out what an individual like him could do to improve humanity's
condition that large organizations, governments, or private enterprises
inherently could not do.
Pursuing this lifelong
experiment, Fuller wrote twenty-eight books, coining and popularizing
terms such as "spaceship earth", ephemeralization, and synergetics.
He also made a large number of inventions, mostly in the fields of design
and architecture, the best-known of which is the geodesic dome.
Late in his life,
after working on his concepts for several decades, Fuller had achieved
considerable public visibility. He traveled the world giving lectures,
and received numerous honorary doctorates. Most of his inventions, however,
never made it into production, and he was strongly criticized in most
of the fields that he tried to influence (such as architecture), or
simply dismissed as a hopeless utopian. Fuller's proponents, on the
other hand, claim that his work has not yet received the attention that
Fuller was born
on July 12, 1895 in Milton, Massachusetts, the son of Richard Buckminster
Fuller and Caroline Wolcott Andrews. The Fuller family in particular
produced noted New England non-conformists. Buckminster Fuller's father
died when the boy was 12. Spending his youth on a farm on an island
off the coast of Maine, he was a boy with a natural propensity for design
and for making things. He often made things from materials he brought
home from the woods, and he even sometimes made his own tools. Notably,
he experimented with designing a new apparatus for the human-powered
propulsion of small boats. Years later he decided that this sort of
experience had provided him not only an interest in design, but a habit
of being fully familiar and knowledgeable about the materials that his
ambitious later projects would require for actualization. Indeed, Fuller
earned a machinist's certification, and he also knew how to fabricate
using the press brake, stretch press, and other tools and equipment
relied upon in the sheet-metal trade.
Fuller was sent
to Milton Academy, in Massachusetts. Afterwards, he began studying at
Harvard but was expelled from the university twice: firstly, for entertaining
an entire dance troupe; and secondly, for his "irresponsibility
and lack of interest." By his own appraisal, he was a non-conforming
misfit in the fraternity environment. Later in life, Fuller received
a Sc.D. from Bates College in 1969.
Between his sessions
at Harvard, he worked for a time in Canada as a mechanic in a textile
mill, and later as a laborer working 12 hours a day in the meat-packing
industry. He married in 1917, and he also served in the U.S. Navy in
World War I. In the Navy he was employed as an aboard-ship radio operator,
as an editor of a publication, and as a crash-boat commander. After
discharge, he again worked for a period in the meat-packing business,
where he acquired management experience. In the early 1920s he and his
father-in-law developed the Stockade Building System for producing light-weight,
weatherproof, and fireproof housing — though ultimately the company
In 1927 at the age
of 32, bankrupt and jobless, living in inferior housing in Chicago,
Illinois, he saw his beloved young daughter Alexandra die of pneumonia
in winter. He felt responsible, and this drove him to drink and the
verge of suicide. At the last moment he decided instead to embark on
"an experiment, to find what a single individual can contribute
to changing the world and benefiting all humanity."
a position at a small college in North Carolina, Black Mountain College.
There, with the support of a group of professors and students, he began
work on the project that would make him famous and revolutionize the
field of engineering, the geodesic dome. Using lightweight plastics
in the simple form of a tetrahedron (a triangular pyramid) he created
a small dome. He had designed the first building that could sustain
its own weight with no practical limits. The U.S. government recognized
the importance of the discovery and employed him to make small domes
for the army. Within a few years there were thousands of these domes
around the world.
For the next half-century
Buckminster Fuller contributed a wide range of ideas, designs and inventions
to the world, particularly in the areas of practical, inexpensive shelter
and transportation. He documented his life, philosophy and ideas scrupulously
in a daily diary and in 28 publications. Fuller financed some of his
experiments with inherited family money, sometimes augmented by funds
invested by his professional collaborators, one example being the Dymaxion
recognition was established by the success of his huge geodesic domes
in the 1950s. Fuller taught at Southern Illinois University Carbondale
from 1959–1970 (Assistant Professor 1959–68, full Professor
in 1968) in the School of Art and Design. Working as a designer, scientist,
developer, and writer, for many years he also lectured all over the
world on design. In 1965 Fuller inaugurated the World Design Science
Decade (1965 to 1975) at the meeting of the International Union of Architects
in Paris. This was (in his own words) devoted to applying the principles
of science to solving the problems of humanity.
human societies would soon be relying mainly on renewable sources of
energy, such as solar- and wind-derived electricity. He hoped for an
age of "omni-successful education and sustenance of all humanity."
He regarded information as "negative entropic".
Fuller was ultimately
to be awarded 25 US patents and many honorary doctorates. On January
16, 1970 Fuller received the Gold Medal award from the American Institute
of Architects and also received numerous other awards.
He died at the age
of 88, a guru of the design, architecture, and 'alternative' communities.
His wife was comatose and dying of cancer and while visiting her in
the hospital he exclaimed at one point: "She is squeezing my hand!".
He then stood up, suffered a massive heart attack and died an hour later.
His wife died 36 hours later. He is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery
near Boston, Massachusetts.
strove to inspire humanity to take a comprehensive view of the finite
world we live in and the infinite possibilities for an ever-increasing
standard of living within it. Deploring waste, he advocated a principle
that he termed "ephemeralization" — which in essence
(according to Stewart Brand) Fuller coined to mean "doing more
with less." Wealth can be increased by recycling resources into
newer, higher value products whose more technically sophisticated design
requires less material. In practice, it has often meant miniaturization,
for example, as when table-model calculating machines were succeeded
over time by smaller ones, until the calculator of today fits in one's
hand. Fuller also introduced synergetics, which explores holistic engineering
structures in nature (long before the term synergy became popular).
Fuller was one of
the first to propagate a systemic worldview (see 'Operating manual for
Spaceship Earth', 'Synergetics') and explored principles of energy and
material efficiency in the fields of architecture, engineering and design.
Viewing petroleum from the standpoint of its replacement cost out of
our current energy "budget" (essentially the incoming solar
flux), he declared that it had cost nature "over a million dollars"
per U.S. gallon ($300,000/L) to produce. From this point of view its
use as a transportation fuel by people commuting to work represents
a huge net loss compared to their earnings.
He dedicated himself
to advancing the success and fulfillment of humanity and lived by a
set of self-disciplines; he was deeply concerned about sustainability
and about human survival under the existing socio-economic system, yet
was profoundly optimistic about humanity's prospects. Defining wealth
in terms of knowledge, as the "technological ability to protect,
nurture, support, and accommodate all growth needs of life", his
analysis of the condition of "Spaceship Earth" led him to
conclude that at a certain point in the 1970's humanity had crossed
an unprecedented watershed.
What might otherwise
sound like an article of faith in some spiritual or philosophical system
had for Fuller become an objective fact — that the accumulation
of relevant knowledge, combined with the quantities of key recyclable
resources that had already been extracted from the earth, had reached
a critical level, such that competition for necessities was no longer
necessary. Cooperation had became the optimum survival strategy. "Selfishness",
he declared, "is unnecessary and...unrationalizable...War is obsolete..."
By considering historical
comparisons like the fact that even relatively poor people today are
able to travel at speeds and with a degree of comfort which were unobtainable
at any price in earlier times, and that illnesses that were fatal even
to kings in the past can now be cured with affordable drugs, he concluded
that everyone alive today can potentially live like a "billionaire."
Hence he described the human race as "four billion billionaires."
In the 2000 tour
for the hit musical Godspell by Stephen Schwartz, Fuller is one of the
seven philosophers in the show's Prologue and Tower of Babel songs,
with the words, "Man is a complex of patterns, of processes."
comprehensiveness of thought and his philosophical concepts, Fuller's
most lasting insights may be geometric. He claimed that the natural
analytic geometry of the universe was based on arrays of tetrahedra.
He developed this in several ways, from the close-packing of spheres
and the number of compressive or tensile members required to stabilize
an object in space. Some deep confirming results were that the strongest
possible homogeneous truss is cyclically tetrahedral.
Fuller was most
famous for his geodesic domes, which can be seen as part of military
radar stations, civic buildings, and exhibition attractions. Their construction
is based on extending some basic principles to build simple tensegrity
structures (tetrahedron, octahedron, and the closest packing of spheres).
Built in this way they are extremely lightweight and stable. The patent
for geodesic domes was awarded in 1954, part of Fuller's decades-long
efforts to explore nature's constructing principles to find design solutions.
had designed and built prototypes of what he hoped would be a safer,
aerodynamic Dymaxion car ("Dymaxion" is contracted from DYnamic
MAXimum tensION). To this end he experimented with a radical new approach.
He worked with professional colleagues over a period of three years,
beginning in 1932. Based on a design idea Fuller had derived from designs
of aircraft, the three prototype cars were all quite different from
anything on the market. For one thing, each of these vehicles had three,
not four, wheels — with two (the drive wheels) in front, and the
third, rear wheel being the one that was steered. The engine was located
in the rear. Both the chassis and the body were original designs. The
aerodynamic, somewhat tear-shaped body (which in one of the prototypes
was about 18 feet long), was large enough to seat 11 people. It somehow
resembled a melding of a light aircraft (without wings) and a Volkswagen
van of 1950s vintage. The car was essentially a mini-bus in each of
its three trial incarnations, and its concept long predated the Volkswagen
Type 2 mini-bus conceived in 1947 by Ben Pon.
Despite its length,
and due to its three-wheel design, the Dymaxion Car turned on a small
radius and parked in a tight space quite nicely. The prototypes were
efficient in fuel consumption for their day. Fuller poured a great deal
of his own money (inherited from his mother) into the project, in addition
to the funds put in by one of his professional collaborators. An industrial
investor was also keenly interested in the unprecedented concept. Fuller
anticipated the car could travel on an open highway safely at up to
about 100 miles per hour (160 km/h); however, due to some concept oversights,
the prototypes proved to be unruly over the speed of 50 mph (80 km/h),
and difficult to steer properly. Research came to an end after one of
the prototypes was involved in a collision resulting in a fatality.
In 1943, industrialist
Henry J. Kaiser asked Fuller to develop a prototype for a smaller car,
and Fuller designed a five-seater; the car never went into the development
or production stages.
Another of Fuller's
ideas was the alternative-projection Dymaxion map. This was designed
to show the Earth's continents with minimum distortion when projected
or printed on a flat surface.
and low-cost Dymaxion houses garnered much interest, but have never
gone into production. Here the term "Dymaxion" is used in
effect to signify a "radically strong and light tensegrity structure".
One of Fuller's Dymaxion Houses is on display as a permanent exhibit
at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan. Designed and developed in the
mid 1940s, this prototype is a round structure (not a dome) shaped something
like the flattened "bell" of certain jellyfish. It has several
other innovative features, including revolving dresser drawers, and
a fine-mist shower that reduces water consumption. According to Fuller
biographer Steve Crooks, the house was designed to be delivered in two
cylindrical packages, with interior color panels available at local
dealers' premises. A circular structure at the top of the house was
designed to rotate around a central mast to take advantage of natural
winds for cooling and air circulation.
The American Pavilion
of Expo 67, by R. Buckminster Fuller, now the Biosphère, on Île
Sainte-Hélène, Montreal. Fuller developed the geodesic
dome in the 1940s in line with his "synergetic" thinking.Conceived
nearly two decades before, and developed in Wichita, Kansas, the house
was designed to be lightweight and adapted to windy climes. It was to
be inexpensive to produce and purchase, and easily assembled. It was
to be produced using factories, trained workers, and technologies that
had produced World War II aircraft. "Ultramodern"-looking,
it was structured of metal and sheathed in polished aluminum, and the
basic model enclosed 1000 square feet (90 m²) of floor area. Due
to high-level publicity, there were very many orders in the early Post-War
years; however, the company that Fuller and others had formed to produce
the houses failed due to internal management problems.
made a radical commitment to understanding, discovery, and research.
He wanted to be a trailblazer, which is a risky role in any field. His
life and his work therefore constituted a kind of noble gamble.
Certainly, a number
of Fuller's projects did not meet success in terms of commitment from
industry or acceptance by a broad public. However, many geodesic domes
have been built and are in use. According to the Buckminster Fuller
Institute Web site, the largest geodesic-dome structures (listed in
descending order from largest diameter) are: /
of the dome and his roles as a philosopher and as a gadfly within the
design and architectural communities left an important legacy. He introduced
a number of concepts, and if every one wasn't entirely new, we can still
say that he honed each one well.
Thousands of geodesic
domes have been built, but they are not an everyday sight in most places.
Contrary to initial hopes, in practice most of the smaller owner-built
geodesic structures proved to have drawbacks (discussed in the Wikipedia
section on geodesic domes); plus, as a home, many people have been put
off by the domes' unconventional appearance.
So, while an envisioned
widespread and common adoption of geodesic domes is yet to materialize,
Fuller's ideas, teachings, and attitude to life and creativity, in combination,
have prodded designers and engineers. What Fuller accomplished, in this
sense, was to make professionals and students think "outside the
box"; to question convention. Fuller was followed (historically)
by other designers and architects (for example, Norman Foster —
especially his "Armadillo" project — and Steve Baer)
willing to explore the possibilities of new geometries in the design
of buildings, not based on the conventional rectangles. The English
writer, playwright, and philosopher John Dryden wrote something quite
relevant to the pioneering forays of Fuller still to be brought to full
result: "We must beat the iron while it is hot, but we may polish
it at leisure."
with polyphasic sleep.
A new allotrope
of carbon (fullerene) and a particular molecule of that allotrope (buckminsterfullerene
or buckyballs) have been named after him.
On July 12, 2004 the United States Post Office released a new commemorative
stamp honoring Buckminster Fuller on the 50th anniversary of his patent
for the geodesic dome and on the occasion of his 109th birthday.
his life every 15 minutes from 1915 to 1983, leaving behind 270 feet
/ 80 m worth of journals. He called this the Dymaxion Chronofile. This
is said to be the most documented human life in history.
kept a very accurate record of a human being, going through the era
from the Gay’90’s, from a very different kind of world through
the turn of the century — as far into the twentieth century as
you might live. I decided to make myself a good case history of such
a human being and it meant that I could not be judge of what was valid
to put in or not. I must put everything in, so I started a very rigorous
John Denver were very close friends and the song "What One Man
Can Do" on John's 1982 album "Seasons of the Heart" was
written on the occasion of R. Buckminster's 85th birthday. John dedicated
this song to him.
a term coined by Fuller to replace worldwide. The general belief in
a flat Earth died out in the Middle Ages, so using wide is an anachronism
when referring to the surface of the Earth — a spheroidal surface
has area and encloses a volume, but has no width. Fuller held that unthinking
use of obsolete scientific ideas detracts from and misleads intuition.
The terms sunsight and sunclipse are other neologisms, according to
Allegra Fuller Snyder collectively coined by the Fuller family, replacing
sunrise and sunset in order to overturn the geocentric bias of most
pre-Copernican celestial mechanics.
Fuller also coined
the phrase Spaceship Earth, and coined the term (but did not invent)
Born: 12 July 1895
in Milton, Massachusetts, USA
Died: 1 July 1983 in Los Angeles, California, USA
R Buckminster Fuller
was referred to as an architect, inventor, scientist, engineer, mathematician,
educator, philosopher, poet, speaker, author, consultant, economist,
futurist, transcendentalist, designer. Twice expelled from Harvard University,
he received 47 honorary doctorates in the arts, science, engineering
and the humanities. He examined a vectorial system of geometry, energetic-synergetic
geometry, based on the tetrahedron which provides maximum strength with
Fuller spent a
few summers in the late forties and early fifties teaching at the Black
Mountain College. He was research professor at Carbondale, Southern
Illinois University, from 1959 to 1968. In 1968 he became a university
professor and retired in 1975. He was awarded 25 U.S. patents; authored
28 books; received dozens of major architectural and design awards including,
among many others, the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects
and the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects created
work which found itself into the permanent collections of museums around
the world circled the globe 57 times, reaching millions through his
public lectures and interviews.
is best known for the invention of the geodesic dome –the lightest,
strongest, and most cost-effective structure ever devised. The geodesic
dome is a breakthrough in shelter, not only in cost-effectiveness, but
in ease of construction. Today over 300,000 domes dot the globe. Plastic
and fiberglass "radomes" house delicate radar equipment along
the Arctic perimeter, and "radome" weather stations withstand
winds up to 180 mph. Corrugated metal domes have given shelter to families
in Africa, at a cost of $350 per dome. The U.S. Marine Corps hailed
the geodesic dome as "the first basic improvement in mobile military
shelter in 2,600 years". The world’s largest aluminum clear-span
structure is a geodesic dome which houses the "Spruce Goose"
at Long Beach Harbor. Fuller is most famous for his 20-story dome housing
the U.S. Pavilion at Montreal’s Expo ’67. Later, he documented
the feasibility of a dome two miles in diameter that would enclose mid-town
Manhattan in a temperature-controlled environment, and pay for itself
within ten years from the savings of snow-removal costs.
the term "Spaceship Earth". His Dymaxion™ Map was awarded
the first patent for a cartographic system and was the first to show
continents on a flat surface without visible distortion, appearing as
a one-world island in a one-world ocean. His World Game® utilizes
a large-scale Dymaxion Map for displaying world resources, and allows
players to strategize solutions to global problems, matching human needs
with resources. His Inventory of World Resources, Human Trends and Needs
was created to serve as an information bank for the World Game.
Throughout the 1940s
and 1950s, Fuller gained a formidable reputation as an early researcher
of renewable energy sources. Drawing upon US Navy experiences, Fuller
developed tensegrity structures, notably the Geodesic Dome (minimalist
structures that actually get stronger as they get larger). He also discovered
the science of Synergetics, which explores holistic engineering structures
in nature (long before the term synergy became popular). Famous Geodesic
Domes include The EPCOT Center at Florida's Walt Disney World and the
US Pavilion at the 1967 Montreal World's Fair.
that any true social or political revolution must arise from and encompass
design revolution insights, and not just be based upon shallow political
rhetoric. Beginning in the 1930s initiatives like the Dymaxion World
Map (which gives more accurate representations than traditional maps),
the Global Energy Network grid and World Game geostrategic scenarios
were promoted by the State of the World Forum and futurists including
Robert Anton Wilson, Barbara Marx Hubbard and Marshall Savage.
Books like Operating
Manual for Spaceship Earth (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1969) and
Critical Path (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982) captured a wide audience.
These books (and many others) featured systems theory principles, laying
the groundwork for Alvin Toffler, Tom Peters, John Naisbitt and Peter
Senge. The Spaceship Earth meme became popular with the awakening of
Gaia-consciousness, and the Overview Effect experienced by astronauts
books explore how 100% of humanity could have high living standards
- have sold over a million copies. His efforts were recognised by over
fifty honorary degrees in the sciences and humanities, and receiving
the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan in 1981.
Since Fuller's death
in 1983, a diverse network has continued to research and apply Buckminster
Fuller's work to diverse areas. This network generates new scenarios
and options for humanity's survival in the Cosmos.