Fuller, Buckminster

Carroll Gantz
Birth/Death Age: 
Buckminster Fuller, H/IDSA

Born Richard Buckminster Fuller, he was one of the Century's most intellectual and radical inventor/designers. He studied mathematics at Harvard 1913-1915, worked with Armour & Co. until 1922, and became president of a wall-building systems company. In 1927, he formed the 4-D Company to develop his "design science." His first invention was a circular house mounted on a central pole, called a "4-D Utility Unit," conceived as a solution to global affordable housing. He also began development of a half-plane, half car, called the "4-D Zoomobile." In 1929 Fuller displayed his work at the Marshall Field department store in Chicago, where public relations expert Waldo Warren created the term "Dymaxion" for Fuller's house and car. "Dymaxion" was coined from the words dynamic, maximum and tension. In 1933 he patented and demonstrated working prototypes of his teardrop-shaped "Dymaxion Transport Unit" for the Chicago Century of Progress exhibition. Designed by him and Starling Burgess, the car was driven by two front wheels, with a third steering wheel in the rear. Three cars were built, but a fatal accident in one in 1935 doomed the project. In 1938 Fuller designed and prototyped a prefabricated integrated unit with all necessary functional bathroom fixtures and called it the "Dymaxion Bathroom. " In 1942, Fuller patented a prototype of his circular Dymaxion House including his "Dymaxion Bathroom" in response to the aircraft industry's demand for low-cost temporary housing. He built the prototype in Wichita, KS in 1946 using components produced by the Beech Aircraft Company and called it the "Wichita House." Despite orders for 35,000 units, Fuller delayed production with design improvements until it was too late, and his company went bankrupt. In 1949, he started experimentation seeking a structure using minimum weight and materials to enclose maximum space. In 1954 he was granted a patent for what he called a "geodesic dome" and built the first prototype with his students at Black Mountain College where he was teaching. He founded Geodesics Inc. and Synergetis Inc. to commercialize the dome. The first production order was for Marine Corps "flyable shelters". At the Tenth Triennale in Milan in 1954, The Container Corporation of America sponsored an American exhibit of two 36-foot Fuller geodesic domes constructed of impregnated paper and stapled together. The US government then funded an exhibit for the 1957 Triennale. Two hundred US products were housed in a luminous geodesic dome of aluminum rod-supported fabric by Buckminster Fuller, which attracted considerable attention. From 1959, Fuller was a research professor at Southern Illinois University. That year, the USIA (US Information Agency) exhibit in Moscow included a geodesic dome by Fuller, which now attracted worldwide fascination bordering on a space-age fad. That same year, the Museum of Modern Art displayed three "Structures by Buckminster Fuller," a cantilevered "Octet Truss" space frame, a plastic geodesic dome and an aluminum "tensegrity" mast. In 1964, Fuller was featured on the cover of Time magazine, and in 1967 at Expo 67 in Montreal, Canada, the main attraction was a 250 ft. diameter, twenty-story high geodesic dome by R. Buckminster Fuller housing the entire US pavilion. For it, he received the World Medal of Architecture in 1968. In 1969, the book, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, by Fuller, was published by Southern Illinois University Press. Fuller was also nominated this year for the Nobel Peace Prize. In November 1983, Thonet introduced a storage and library unit called "Hang-It-All." It was based on the 25th and last patent by Fuller, who died that July. The idea emerged from a 1928 floating and tensionally-supported table for his 4-D house. In 1985, Fuller was posthumously honored with the naming of a newly created form of carbon molecule (C 60) as "buckminsterfullerene" (nicknamed buckyballs) and others in its class (fullerenes), such as buckeytubes, discovered in 1991. The carbon molecule resembled ageodesic dome. How many designers have a molecule named after them?

100 Years of Design consists of excerpts from a book by Carroll M. Gantz, FIDSA, entitled, Design Chronicles: Significant Mass-produced Designs of the 20th Century, published August 2005 by Schiffer Publications, Ltd.
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