Buckminster Fuller

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Buckminster Fuller : biography

July 12, 1895 – July 1, 1983

In his 1970 book I Seem To Be a Verb, he wrote: "I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing—a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process—an integral function of the universe."

Fuller 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. One confirming result was that the strongest possible homogeneous truss is cyclically tetrahedral.Edmondson, Amy, "A Fuller Explanation", Birkhauser, Boston, 1987, p19 tetrahedra, p110 octet truss

He had become a guru of the design, architecture, and ‘alternative’ communities, such as Drop City, the community of experimental artists to whom he awarded the 1966 "Dymaxion Award" for "poetically economic" domed living structures.

Major design projects

The geodesic dome

Fuller was most famous for his lattice shell structures – geodesic domes, which have been used as parts of military radar stations, civic buildings, environmental protest camps and exhibition attractions. An examination of the geodesic design by Walther Bauersfeld for the Zeiss-Planetarium, built some 20 years prior to Fuller’s work, reveals that Fuller’s Geodesic Dome patent (U.S. 2,682,235; awarded in 1954), follows the same design as Bauersfeld’s.

Their construction is based on extending some basic principles to build simple "tensegrity" structures (tetrahedron, octahedron, and the closest packing of spheres), making them lightweight and stable. The geodesic dome was a result of Fuller’s exploration of nature’s constructing principles to find design solutions. The Fuller Dome is referenced in the Hugo Award-winning novel Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner, in which a geodesic dome is said to cover the entire island of Manhattan, and it floats on air due to the hot-air balloon effect of the large air-mass under the dome (and perhaps its construction of lightweight materials).

Transportation

In the 1930s, Fuller designed and built prototypes of what he hoped would be a safer, aerodynamic car, which he called the Dymaxion. ("Dymaxion" is said to be a syllabic abbreviation of dynamic maximum tension, or possibly of dynamic maximum ion.) Fuller worked with professional colleagues for three years beginning in 1932 on a design idea Fuller had derived from aircraft technologies. The three prototype cars were different from anything being sold at the time. They had three wheels: two front drive wheels and one rear, steered wheel. The engine was in the rear, and the chassis and body were original designs. The aerodynamic, somewhat tear-shaped body was large enough to seat eleven people and was about long, resembling a blend of a light aircraft (without wings) and a Volkswagen van of 1950s vintage. All three prototypes were essentially a mini-bus, and its concept long predated the Volkswagen Type 2 mini-bus conceived in 1947 by Ben Pon.[[Dymaxion Car]]

Despite its length, and due to its three-wheel design, the Dymaxion turned on a small radius and could easily be parked in a tight space. The prototypes were efficient in fuel consumption for their day, traveling about 30 miles per gallon. Fuller contributed a great deal of his own money to the project, in addition to funds from one of his professional collaborators. An industrial investor was also very interested in the concept. Fuller anticipated that the cars could travel on an open highway safely at up to about 160 km/h (100 miles per hour), but, in practice, they were difficult to control and steer above 80 km/h (50 mph). Investors backed out and research ended after one of the prototypes was involved in a high-profile collision that resulted in a fatality. In 2007, Time Magazine reported on the Dymaxion as one of the "50 worst cars of all time".