Who Was Buckminster Fuller?
by E.J. Applewhite
Click the yellow arrows above to read other essays on Buckminster Fuller.
Buckminster Fuller had one of the most fascinating and original minds
of his century. Born in 1895 in Milton, Massachusetts, he was the latest--if not the
last--of the New England Transcendentalists. Like the transcendentalists,
Fuller rejected the established religious and political notions of the past
and adhered to an idealistic system of thought based on the essential unity
of the natural world and the use of experiment and intuition as a means
of understanding it. But, departing from the pattern of his New England
predecessors, he proposed that only an understanding of technology in the
deepest sense would afford humans a proper guide to individual conduct and
the eventual salvation of society. Industrial and scientific technology,
despite their disruption of established habits and values, was not a blight
on the landscape, but in fact for Fuller they have a redeeming humanitarian
Fuller rejected the conventional disciplines of the universities by ignoring them. In their place he imposed his own self-discipline and his own novel way of thinking in a deliberate attempt--as poets and artists do--to change his generation's perception of the world. To this end he created the term Spaceship Earth to convince all his fellow passengers that they would have to work together as the crew of a ship. His was an earnest, even compulsive, program to convince his listeners that humans had a function in universe. Humans have a destiny to serve as "local problem solvers" converting their experience to the highest advantage of others.
Click above to see a telegram Bucky sent to Isamu Noguchi about Einstein's Theory of Relativity.
Fuller's favorite method of teaching--in the tradition of all great teachers
since the Greek philosophers--was lecturing to large and youthful audiences.
Though his penchant for talking for hours on end was notorious, he really
regarded all communication as a two-way street, and he was remarkably sensitive
to individual reactions--well beyond those in the front row. He tuned his
always extemporaneous discourse to the rate he could see it being absorbed
and digested. In the 1960s and 70s a generation seized on his prescription
that there was no need to "earn a living"--often disregarding
the other side of the coin: the need for individual initiative in "doing
what needs to be done." In this spirit he advanced "design science"
as the solution for worldwide social and ecological problems.
Fuller was an architect, though he never got a degree and in fact didn't even get a license until he was awarded one as an honor when he was in his late 60s. This did not prevent him from designing the geodesic dome: the only kind of building that can be set on the ground as a complete structure--and with no limiting dimension. The strength of the frame actually increases in ratio to its size, enclosing the largest volume of space with the least area of surface. This was his virtuoso invention, and he said it illustrated his strategy of "starting with wholes" rather than parts.
He was also a poet, philosopher, inventor and mathematician, as documented amply in many other web sites on the net.
America has been in the middle of a love-hate affair with technology--and Fuller is right in the middle of it. He introduced not only a unique rationale for technology, but an esthetic of it. Likewise his synergetic geometry bears for Fuller an imperative with an ethical content for humans to reappraise their relationship to the physical universe. Manifest together as design science, they offer the prospect of a kind of secular salvation.