Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Buckminster Fuller Still an Inspiration

Design Education needs to include the life and work of Buckminster Fuller. Considered to be one of the greatest minds of our time, R. Buckminster Fuller was known for his comprehensive perspective on the world's problems. For more than five decades, he developed pioneering solutions that reflected his commitment to the potential of innovative design to create technology that does more with less and thereby improves human lives.

Fuller entered Harvard University in 1913, but he was expelled after excessively socializing and missing his midterm exams. His "simple aim in life," as quoted in Fortune magazine in 1946, was "to remake the world." He was so prolific that 20 years later The New Yorker billed him as "an engineer, inventor, mathematician, architect, cartographer, philosopher, poet, cosmologist and comprehensive designer." By then, R. Buckminster Fuller had adopted the shorter job descriptions of "comprehensive anticipatory design scientist" and "astronaut from Spaceship Earth."

He designed the Dymaxion™ House, an inexpensive, mass-produced home that could be airlifted to its location. Originally called the 4D House, it was later renamed by a department store that displayed a model of the house. The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan has a Dymaxion House on display. The word "dymaxion was coined by store advertisers and trademarked in Fuller's name. Based on the words "dynamic", "maximum", and "ion", it became a part of the name of many of Fuller's subsequent inventions. The word became synonymous with his design philosophy of "doing more with less", a phrase he later coined to reflect his growing recognition of the accelerating global trend toward the development of more efficient technology.

These inventions included the Dymaxion Car, a streamlined, three-wheeled automobile that could make extraordinarily sharp turns; a compact, prefabricated, easily installed Dymaxion Bathroom; and Dymaxion Deployment Units (DDUs), mass-produced houses based on circular grain bins. While DDUs never became popular for civilian housing, they were used during World War II to shelter radar crews in remote locations with severe climates, and they led to additional round housing designs by Fuller.

After 1947, one invention dominated Fuller's life and career: the geodesic dome. Lightweight, cost-effective, and easy to assemble, geodesic domes enclose more space without intrusive supporting columns than any other structure; they efficiently distribute stress; and they can withstand extremely harsh conditions. Based on Fuller's "synergetic geometry", his lifelong exploration of nature's principles of design, the geodesic dome was the result of his revolutionary discoveries about balancing compression and tension forces in building.

Fuller was a pioneering global thinker. In 1927, at the beginning of his career, he made a now-prophetic sketch of the total earth which depicted his concept for transporting cargo by air "over the pole to Europe. He entitled the sketch "a one-town world. In 1946, Fuller received a patent for another breakthrough invention: the Dymaxion Map, which depicted the entire planet on a single flat map without visible distortion of the relative shapes and sizes of the continents. The map, which can be reconfigured to put different regions at the center, was intended to help humanity better address the world's problems by prompting people to think comprehensively about the planet. In the early 1950's he coined the now familiar phrase "spaceship earth to describe the integral nature of Earth's "living system". Beginning In the late 1960s, Fuller was especially involved in creating World Game®, a large-scale simulation and series of workshops he designed that used a large-scale Dymaxion Map to help humanity better understand, benefit from, and more efficiently utilize the world's resources.

After Fuller's death, when chemists discovered that the atoms of a recently discovered carbon molecule were arrayed in a structure similar to a geodesic dome, they named the molecule "buckminsterfullerene."

R. Buckminster Fuller died in Los Angeles on July 1, 1983.

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