The Brilliant Mind Of
R. Buckminster Fuller
By James Donahue
Early in his life it
was said that the late Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller set off on a quest to solve the question of whether
humanity could survive as a lasting and successful species on planet Earth.
Fuller devoted his life
to this question, and doing what he could to personally improve the human condition in ways that organized institutions, governments
and private enterprises could not do. In the process, Fuller became an author of 28 books, a long list of articles, a poet,
architect, designer, inventor and is remembered as an American visionary.
He traveled extensively
giving lectures. Many of his ideas were considered so radical that he was accused of being a hopeless utopian. Many of his
inventions never made it into production. In spite of this, Fuller received numerous honorary doctorates and clearly had an
impact on world paradigms.
It was Fuller who coined
and popularized such terms as “spaceship earth, ephemeralization and synergetics. His inventions were mostly in areas
of design and architecture. He is best remembered as the creator of the geodesic dome.
Fuller was born July
12, 1895 in Milton,
Mass., the son of a noted New England non-conformist family.
During his life he was
established as one of the key innovators of the Twentieth Century, the first real futurist, and original global thinker. In
1980, near the end of his fruitful life, Fuller believed that for the first time in history is was “possible to take
care of everybody at a higher standard of living than any have ever known . . . all humanity how has the option of becoming
If he were living today,
Fuller would probably be wondering where humanity went wrong. He saw so much potential and promise, but since his life, it
has been literally thrown away. Now the ecology of our planet has been destroyed and humanity is racing headlong toward extinction,
something he never foresaw only two decades after his passing.
It was said that one
of Fuller’s goals was to develop what he called “Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science.” This was an
attempt to anticipate and solve the major problems of humanity by providing “more and more life support for everybody
with less and less resources.”
Strange that Fuller had
the right idea for survival at a time when everybody should have been listening. He obviously saw, even then, that humanity
was on a wrong path and needed to get itself organized to make room for a rapidly growing population on a world that was rapidly
running out of resources. But he was optimistic in those years that this problem could be overcome and he set out to show
us the way.
Among his design inventions
was the Dymaxion Map of the world. This was the first world projection that showed the continents on a flat surface without
visible distortion created by the global view. Amazingly, his map depicts the Earth as being essentially one island in one
He invented the term
Synergy, a name he used for something he called the “Geometry of Thinking.” Much of his work was about exploring
and creating synergy, a basic principle of all interactive systems.
During his youth, Fuller
was expelled from Harvard twice. The first time he was kicked out for entertaining an entire dance troupe. The second time
he was accused of being irresponsible and lacking interest. He later described himself as a non-conforming misfit in that
Fuller later received
his doctorate in science from Bates College,
but much later in life in 1969.
Fuller served as a ship
radio operator, crash-boat commander and the editor of a military publication in the U.S. Navy during World War I. After the
war he worked for a meat-packer and acquired management experience. In the 1920s he and his father-in-law developed a building
system for producing light-weight, weatherproof and fireproof housing. While it was a grand idea, the company failed in the
midst of the Great Depression..
Now bankrupt and jobless
at the age of 32, and living in inferior housing in Chicago, Fuller’s daughter Alexandra died of polio and spinal meningitis.
The loss drove his to drink and he considered suicide. But this was a key turning point in his life.
Instead of suicide, Fuller
decided to embark on what he called “an experiment, to find what a single individual can contribute to changing the
world and benefiting all humanity.”
Fuller took a position
at Black Mountain College
in North Carolina. There with the support of students and
staff he developed the concept of the geodesic dome. Using lightweight plastic in the form of a triangular pyramid, or tetrahedron,
he created a dome shaped building that could sustain its own weight with no practical limits.
The U.S. government recognized the importance of Fuller’s
discovery and hired him to make small domes for the army. Within a few years there were thousands of dome shaped structures
constructed all over the world.
From that time on Buckminster
Fuller developed a wide range of ideas, designs and inventions, zeroing in on the areas of practical inexpensive shelter and
transportation. From 1959 to 1970 he taught at Southern Illinois University Carbondale in the School of Art and Design.
Fuller taught that society
must soon rely mainly on renewable sources of energy like solar and wind powered energy. He wanted an age of “omni-successful
education and sustenance” for all people and regarded information as “negative entropic.”
He deplored waste and
promoted a principle he called ephemeralization. He said this meant doing more with less. He believed wealth could be increased
by recycling resources into newer, higher value products and worked to design things that required less material to make.
He promoted the concept of miniaturization and introduced synergetics, which utilizes holistic engineering from structures
found in nature.
Fuller died on July 1,
1983. On that date, he was visiting his dying wife, who lay comatose and wasting of cancer. It was said that he stood up and
exclaimed that “she is squeezing my hand.” As he stood up, Fuller suffered a massive heart attack and died within
the hour. His wife died 36 hours later.