I associate Buckminster Fuller with the word “macro”. He was a man who was capable of very big ideas and who had a large vision for the world. Fuller also implemented many of his ideas. He is one of those eccentric visionaries I wish I could have met.
When I was a high school senior, I decided to write a short paper about the Geodesic Dome as one of my “Creative Writing” class projects. I found out that the dome is only the most famous of R. Buckminster Fuller’s inventions. The dome is a product of both his inventive mind and his methodology. He is quoted as saying, “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty; but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” There is much wisdom in that statement.
Richard Buckminster Fuller was born in Milton, Massachusetts, on July 12, 1895, to Caroline (Andrews) and Richard Buckminster Fuller, senior. The family had already produced strong-willed people noted for activism and public service. Young “Bucky” loved and understood nature through his family’s many family trips to Bear Island, Maine.
Fuller entered Harvard University in 1913 but was dismissed for neglecting to take midterm examinations. Two years later, he returned to the university only to be expelled once again. In the interim, between school attendence, Fuller was employed at a mill in Canada where he learned practical mechanics. It was at the mill, Bucky picked up the skills to improve and modify equipment.
Fuller served in the United States Navy from 1917 to 1919. During his service, he invented a rescue boat winch that could retrieve downed airplanes from the sea fast enough to save pilots’ lives. This invention led to Fuller’s nomination to receive officer training at the Naval Academy.
Fuller worked with his father-in-law, James Hewlett, on a new method of manufacturing reinforced concrete structures. The patenting of the invention was the first of Fuller’s 25 patents. Unfortunately, the resulting construction company was unsuccessful and the firm folded. In 1927, Fuller was an unemployed man and even contemplated suicide.
While Bucky pondered his own life, he realized that he didn’t have any right to kill himself. Fuller figured he had the responsibility to serve humanity. The next couple of years were spent apart from society as he dreamed about the Universe and how he could use his mind and experience to contribute to the betterment of mankind.
Emerging from his self-imposed exile, Fuller went to work inventing a simple, modular apartment building that could be delivered by dirigible to construction sites. Next, he designed a mass-produced, inexpensive house that could also be flown in to its building site. Fuller first named it the “4D-House. Later, a department store displayed a model home version of the house and renamed it the Dymaxion (TM) House. Advertisers based the name on “dynamic”, “maximum”, and “ion” and trademarked it in Fuller’s name.
Even though the Dymaxion (TM) House never caught on, it led to the Dymaxion Deployment Units (DDU) used by the US military to house radar personel in harsh climates during the second World War. The DDUs also became the basis for other round home designs by the inventor. At the same time, Fuller invented the Dymaxion Bathroom, a modular unit that could be easily installed anywhere. The Dymaxion concept was based on Fuller’s belief that the most efficient overall performance per unit was the most rational way to gain the greatest human rewards.
Fuller’s 1933 Dymaxion (TM) Car was a rear-engine, three wheeled auto that was originally conceived of as a flying car. The first draft included inflatable wings and jet engines. The Dymaxion Car was a grotesque Zeppelin shaped vehicle. The first version was highly unstable. The second version was larger and only somewhat driveable. The third Dymaxion Car featured a stabilizer fin on the roof which only contributed to crosswind instability. One of the cars was involved in a fatal mishap, thus turning off any public acceptance.
Buckminster Fuller’s most famous invention, the Geodesic Dome is based on his idea of “doing more with less”. He discovered that triangles are twice as strong as rectangles because triangular structures do not fold up as rectangular objects tend to do under equal pressures. A network of triangles shaped into a spherical form allowed the largest volume of interior space with the smallest amount of surface area to enable cost savings and reduced materials use.
The Geodesic Dome utilizes tension, not compression, so gravity is used to hold the dome together. There is no fighting of gravity to keep the structure intact. As a further bonus, the spherical design allows for more efficient air circulation, so heating and air conditioning takes place more naturally. This means that the domes are suitable for a wide range of climates.
Fuller expanded his vision into a concept he called “Spaceship Earth”. He visualized using overarching planning and strategies to improve human comfort and dignity. He dreamed of carrying out his plans in the most sustainable, efficient manner possible. This led to a new type of world map.
He created the “Dymaxion Map” or “Air-Ocean Projection Map” in the 1940s. Fuller decided to use triangles to create an entirely new type of flat map depiction of Earth. The “Fuller Projection” map was actually patented. The triangles can also be assembled to form a type of Geodesic spherical globe.
R. Buckminster Fuller died eleven days prior to his 88th birthday, July 1, 1983, While visiting his comatose wife at a Los Angeles hospital, he suffered a heart attack and died . His wife, Anne, died 36 hours later. The couple was buried in Cambridge, Massachusetts.