Richard Buckminster Fuller

Richard Buckminster Fuller

July 12, 1895-July 1, 1983




To say that Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller was an extraordinary visionary, an intellectual giant, a prolific author, poet, mathematician, and inventor, would be an understatement. It must be said at the onset of this short biography that, if your appetite is whetted, it is worthwhile to engage in additional research into the life of this exceptional individual. For Bucky Fuller’s life was so densely packed with accomplishment, it is impossible to note all of it here.   Richard Buckminster Fuller was born on July 12, 1895, in Milton, MA. Even as a youth, he did not prescribe to existing religious and political ways of thinking. He embraced a system of thinking and learning based on an inherent unity in nature, and used experiment and experience as a way to understand it. Perhaps it was his zest for experiential learning that led to his expulsion from Harvard…twice! It seems that the esteemed in positions of authority at Harvard knew not what they were missing.   After the death of his first daughter, Fuller was drinking heavily and considering suicide. It was 1927, he was 32, jobless, bankrupt, had a wife and newborn daughter, and he was standing on the shores of Lake Michigan, preparing to drown himself in the freezing water. He had a change of mind, though, and took a completely different course. Instead, he decided on “an experiment to discover what the little, penniless, unknown individual might be able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity.” His central theory was that science & technology could solve all of humanity’s problems. He segued that into an approach called “Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science,” which touted the idea of “doing more with less,” and attempting to anticipate and solve humanity’s largest problems with the use of technology. Thus, if we use the earth’s resources in the most effective way possible, it is possible to have enough to allow every person to enjoy a high standard of living. He is quoted as saying, “If there is the political will in this country and abroad…it should be possible to overcome the worst aspects of widespread hunger and malnutrition within one generation.” Fuller coined the term “Spaceship Earth,” in an attempt to convey the idea that this planet is not a place we passively inhabit for a while, but a vessel, on which we all must do our part. By the 1960’s, he was delivering over 400 lectures per year, and traveled around the world 57 times.   Fuller was an architect, but had no degree or license. He designed the geodesic dome, which is a structure that has no limiting dimension. The strength of the frame increases in ratio to its size, enclosing the largest volume of space within the least area of surface. The design was used for the United States Pavilion at Expo ’67 in Montreal, and the structure, reaching 200’ high, still remains. In addition to structures for individual families, he envisioned giant domes called mega structures, which would be one to two miles in diameter and would contain approximately 5,000 residents. Because geodesic domes get lighter the bigger they are, at a certain point they actually become lighter than the air they contain, so they float. He suggested that they would be moored, or would float freely. Some would be under water, served by submarines. Others would float over the water, anchored offshore, strong enough to be immune to storm damage. Some would be retrofitted over existing cities. He even drew a plan for a dome over midtown Manhattan which, considering a few years without snow removal costs and weather related street repairs, and improved air quality and thermal efficiency, would pay for itself in less than 10 years. Because the climate could be controlled in these structures, food could be grown year-round. As well, since storms and other weather conditions would not be of consequence, houses could be built with lighter materials, and they would not deteriorate as quickly. And, because of currents that occur naturally in a dome, heating and cooling costs would be very low, if at all necessary. Though the idea of mega structures never caught on in mainstream America, his geodesic domes have been used to give shelter to families in Africa at a cost of $350 per dome.   Bucky was a very early environmentalist, and a proponent of renewable energy sources. He advocated connecting together all of the world’s electrical generating plants, thereby doubling the world’s available energy. He wanted to phase out the use of fossil fuels and atomic energy, and replace them with solar, wind, hydroelectric, biomass, alcohol, geothermal, tides, photovoltaic, hydrogen, and waves. His grand scheme involved being able to produce enough energy and food for all humanity, and provide economical housing, energy-efficient transportation, high-tech communication, and education for everyone. This, in turn, would cause people to be less stressed, and, he believed, would make obsolete the need for war over limited resources.   In 1927 he designed the Dymaxion House, which was a metal structure that hung from a mast with outer walls of continuous glass. The word “Dymaxion” was a combination of the words: dynamic (dy), maximum (max), and tension (ion). The house was designed to be prefabricated and airlifted to its destination. It was also self-vacuuming and was heated & cooled naturally. It was earthquake and storm-proof, and required no periodic painting, roofing, or other maintenance. He built one in Wichita, which withstood a tornado that came within a few hundred yards in 1964. It weighed only about 3,000 pounds, vs. the 150 tons of an average home. In 1991, the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village acquired the rights to the parts of this long-abandoned prototype. After much research, it was re-built and, on October 24, 2001, the Dymaxion house was opened to the public.   Fuller also designed the Dymaxion Car, which was unveiled in the streets of Chicago at the 1933 World’s Fair. It rode on 3 wheels, seated 11, went 120 mph, and got 30 mpg. It was 20’ long, but so agile that it could u-turn in its own length. Unfortunately, there was an accident during the development of the final prototype, which was blamed on the rear-wheel steering, that left one person dead, and the investors subsequently backed out. Had it been produced, it likely would have revolutionized the auto industry. Ten years later, Fuller made a smaller version, which seated five. All three wheels steered, making it possible to crab-walk sideways into parking spaces. Had this car been mass-produced, it would have made obsolete most of today’s eco-car proposals.   Fuller also created the Dymaxion ™ Air-Ocean World Map, first published in 1954, which shows the entire earth without distorting the shapes or sizes of landmasses. Also, there are no breaks in the continental contours, which is otherwise only possible with a globe. It can either be used flat, or folded up into 3 dimensions.   In 1936, bothered by the less-than-sanitary and costly designs of bathrooms, he devised the Dymaxion Bathroom. It is prefabricated in four stamped sheet metal or molded plastic sections. The sections are light enough to be carried by two people, and small enough to fit through stairwells and doorways. All of the appliances and pipes are built in, so that it merely requires that the sections be bolted together, and wires and pipes be hooked up. There are no grout cracks or other hard-to-clean crevices, so there is no place for germs to build up. There is downdraft ventilation, which pulls fumes and steam down toward a vent under the sink. Thus, the mirror does not steam up. The sink and tub/shower are designed to make it easier to care for children and the disabled. The shower is equipped with a “Fog Gun,” which provides a hot steam shower that uses only a cup of water, and no soap. The “Packaging Toilet” shrink-wraps excrement so that it can be disposed of until it is picked up for composting. This feature alone would save approximately 2,000 gallons of water per household toilet per year, which is what is used to flush one person’s waste. If mass-produced, the Dymaxion Bathroom would cost much less than a conventional bathroom.   In addition to his multitude of inventions, Fuller was awarded 25 U.S. patents, authored 28 books, received 47 honorary doctorates, and received many architectural and design awards, including the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects and the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects. It is without question that Richard Buckminster Fuller was a man with a mind that operated far ahead of its time. In the 1960’s, he was a favorite among youths who wished to revolutionize and change the world. It was undoubtedly his intent to do just that. Sadly, it did not occur within his lifetime. Perhaps it was because many considered him to be an eccentric, with crackpot ideas, even though he repeatedly proved that his most outlandish ideas and designs were possible. We can only hope that, like great artists who are shunned in life and adulated posthumously, R. Buckminster Fuller’s lifetime of work will some day be expanded upon. Perhaps then, the world will be able to better appreciate the remarkable gift that this man attempted to bestow upon humanity.   Bucky Links :