Dare To Be Naive
by Sarah Feldman
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Jobless, without savings or prospects, with a wife and newborn daughter
to support, suicidal and drinking heavily, in 1927 Richard Buckminster Fuller
had little reason to be optimistic about the future. R. Buckminster Fuller
-- or "Bucky," as he's affectionately known -- transformed that
low point in his life into a catalyst for transforming our planet's future
and as well as his own. A mathematical genius, environmentalist, architect,
cartographer, poet, and an engineer of rare foresight and a philosopher
of unique insight, Fuller was born in 1895 but can be truly considered a
21st century man.
Renouncing personal success and financial gain, at age 32 Fuller set out
to "search for the principles governing the universe and help advance
the evolution of humanity in accordance with them." Central to his
mission were the ideas that 1) he had to divest himself of false ideas and
"unlearn" everything he could not verify through his own experience,
and 2) human nature -- and nature itself -- could not be reformed and therefore
it was the environment -- and our response to it -- that must be changed.
Fuller entered into a two-year period of total seclusion, and began working
on design solutions to what he inferred to be mankind's central problems.
With his goal of "finding ways of doing more with less to the end that
all people--everywhere--can have more and more," Fuller began designing
a series of revolutionary structures. The most famous of these was the pre-fabricated,
pole-suspended single-unit dwelling Dymaxion House.
Dymaxion was derived from the words 'dynamic,' 'maximum,' and 'ion.') In
1933, he developed the three-wheeled, rear engine, streamlined Dymaxion
Unfortunately, though the car performed well, negative publicity resulting
from a fatal accident halted its production. Fuller's designs tended to
be based a geometry that used triangles, circles and tetrahedrons more than
the traditional planes and rectangles. His Dymaxion Air-Ocean Map,
projected a spherical world as a flat surface with no visible distortion,
brought him to the attention of the scientific community in 1943, and his
map was the first cartographic projection of the world to ever be granted
a U.S. patent.
In 1947 and 1948, Fuller's study of geodesics, "the most economical
momentary relationship among a plurality of points and events," led
him to his most famous invention, the geodesic dome.
A hemispherical structure
composed of flat, triangular panels, the domes were inexpensive to produce,
lightweight yet strong space-efficient buildings. The geodesic dome combines
the sphere, the most efficient container of volume per square foot, with
the tetrahedron, which provides the greatest strength for the least volume
of weight. Its design allows the dome to withstand winds of 210 mph, while
at the same time it is light and easily transportable. Today, Fuller's geodesic
domes can be found in varying sizes in countries all over the world, from
Casablanca to Baton Rouge. Recognized as a landmark achievement in design
and architecture, Fuller's dome was described in 1964 by Time magazine as
"a kind of benchmark of the universe, what seventeenth century mystic
Jakob Boehme might call 'a signature of God.'"
In 1959 he joined the faculty of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale
and used that as a base of operations for what Fuller called his "toings
and froings." For the next two decades, Fuller globe-trotted and lectured
and consulted on a variety of projects. During this period of upheaval and
great change, Fuller's ideas and work in such areas as ecology, conservation,
education and environmental design found an enthusiastic audience among
young people all over the world. After a stint at the University Science
Center in Philadelphia, in 1972 the non-profit Design Science Institute
was formed in Washington, DC to perpetuate Fuller's ideas and designs.
A self-proclaimed "apolitical," Fuller maintained there was "no
difference between left and the right." Nevertheless, he admitted he
struggled to "dare to be naive," and retained an optimistic faith
that "an omni-integrated, freely intercirculating, omni-literate world
society" was within our grasp. A prolific writer, Fuller's magnum
opus is undoubtedly "Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of
Thinking", on which he collaborated with E.J. Applewhite in 1975. The work
is considered a major intellectual achievement in its examinations of language,
thought and the universe.
Though he only stood 5'2" tall, R. Buckminster Fuller looms large over
the 20th century. Though a man of incredible intellect and vision, many
of "Bucky's" fans remain most impressed by the man's awe-inspiring
humility -- and his abiding love for his planet and his fellow human beings.
"Above all, said Fuller, "I was motivated in 1927 and ever since
by the most mysterious drive we ever experience -- that of love. I don't
think there's any influence upon my life that compares with...love."
R. Buckminster Fuller
July 12, 1895-July 1, 1983