Happy Birthday, Bucky!
In 1964, Time magazine called Buckminster Fuller "an American original," and I might argue that there have been few figures within the annals of twentieth-century architectural history as compelling as the inventive Mr. Fuller. Somewhere between radical visionary and total crackpot, Fuller was a modern sensation- a man ahead of his time working to shape the world in ways few could understand. Born on July 12, 1895, in Milton, Massachusetts, Fuller spent his life trying to improve society by doing more with less. He saw the world as an interconnected system and sought to improve the whole of humanity, making "Spaceship Earth" work for everyone.
So in honor of his birthday- here are 10 things to know about Bucky Fuller.
1. From an early age, Fuller saw the world through an unusual lens (literally).
As a young child, Fuller suffered from poor vision, an impairment that left him to see the world a bit blurry. But even after he received his first pair of glasses, Fuller continued to challenge the establishment, upending conventional science and design as an intellectual outlaw.
2. He was a lousy student.
Like many great architectural minds (think Mies, Wright, or Sullivan), Fuller never graduated college. In fact, he was kicked out of Harvard. Twice.
3. He hated the label "inventor."
Yes. That's right. One of America's most famous inventors disliked the common moniker. Instead, he referred to himself as a "comprehensive anticipatory design scientist" (or "comprehensivist" for short). Don't even ask me what it means, but it just might be the best title ever.
4. Fuller was brilliant but many of his ideas were flops.
Case #1- the Dymaxion House (see also the Dymaxion Car and Bathroom). Fuller designed the hexagonal-shaped aluminum home, to be mass-produced, affordable, and easily transportable. First conceived during the 1920s, the lightweight Dymaxion House was an environmentally efficient machine for living and displayed Fuller's forward-thinking approach to housing and sustainability. Although the original Dymaxion House was never built, the post-World War II housing shortage prompted the design scientist to revisit his affordable housing solution. During the late 1940s, Fuller unveiled two new prototypes of his Dymaxion design, but unfortunately, the prefabricated home was never put into full production. (A surviving prototype currently lives in Michigan.)
5. His work with the geodesic dome, however, was a triumph (of sorts).
Perhaps the design scientist's most lasting legacy (though he didn't actually invent it) was his popularization of the geodesic dome. Though the dome didn't quite catch on as Fuller had initially intended (as reliable housing for the masses), the lightweight, cost-effective, and easy-to-assemble structure garnered international attention during the 1950s, making Fuller a household name. Related to his principles of "synergetic geometry", the geodesic dome encloses the largest possible volume of interior space with the least amount of material (an ideal solution for quick and efficient shelter). Today, geodesic domes appear pretty much everywhere, functioning as remote housing, covers for military satellites, and jungle gyms on children's playgrounds.
6. He taught at the famed Black Mountain College.
After architect Bertrand Goldberg abandoned his teaching assignment (last minute, no less) at Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina, in 1948, the relatively unknown Fuller stepped in to teach a summer session. Arriving at Black Mountain College at a critical point in his career (after his failed Dymaxion experiment), Fuller began working on his geodesic dome, perfecting the structure with the support of the school's influential faculty and students. After his successful stint at Black Mountain College, Fuller would go on to teach and lecture at a number of institutions including Harvard, MIT, and Southern Illinois University.
7. The FBI opened a file on him.
Beginning in the 1940s, the FBI kept tabs on the eccentric polymath (and many of his Black Mountain College colleagues). Spurred by speculation over his relationship with the Russian government and his status as a countercultural icon, the FBI took a special interest in Fuller's comings and goings. You can read the redacted FBI report here.
8. He led MENSA for more than a decade.
From 1974 to 1983, Fuller served as the second World President of the high-IQ society.
9. Fuller held 28 patents, authored 28 books, and received 47 honorary degrees.
Not too shabby for a man that was kicked out of Harvard. Twice.
10. He died in Los Angeles in 1983- at the dawn of the computer age.
He may have passed away before the "Age of the Internet", but Buckminster Fuller spent his life envisioning a time when social connectedness and technology could solve humanity's problems. Silicon Valley take note.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Fuller.
Image at top:
R. Buckminster Fuller, architect and Bill Engdahl, Hedrich-Blessing, photographer. Expo '67. Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, 2018648091.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.