American Masters Buckminster Fuller: Thinking Out Loud
Our essay contest has concluded and winners have been selected. We asked for essays of no more than 1,000 words related to the work of Buckminster Fuller. The contest was judged by filmmakers Kirk Simon and Karen Goodman, as well as Ann Willmott Andersson, producer of this web piece. Congratulations to the winners and thanks to all who participated!

The Winners

Rockwell Buckminster Schrock

My name is Rockwell Buckminster Schrock. I am eight years old and live on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. I was named for Buckminster Fuller and live in a geodesic dome. You can see a picture of my dome at

My Dad is a civil engineer and became involved with geodesic domes when he built a geodesic greenhouse in 1976 at his high school in New Jersey. He and my Mom decided to build a geodesic dome home because of the neat way it looks from the inside and the outside. My Dad and I are also going to build the Dymaxion car for my next year's Cub Scout Pinewood Derby car. I will be adding this website to my home page so people can find out more about the man I was named after. I can't wait to watch the program when it is on tonight.

Jon Hardie

It was a dark and stormy night. There I was, out in the North Maine woods in the winter of 1965, doing wildlife photography. So cold (how cold was it?), that the batteries on the hasselblad froze after half a dozen shots, the shoot took longer, I was distracted with the camera and it became too late to snowshoe out. Needing to spend the night and build a shelter, Bucky Fuller came to mind. With my folding swedish saw in my pack, I was able to construct a small dome, cover it with pine boughs. The next morning I snowshoed out safely. It's been like that for thirty years-- with Bucky and me. Amateur Astronomy...averted vision to see the global implications of discrete elements...Design of a wraparound theater that predated omnimax...Biophysics research and the DNA Helix. At each turn of the road, Bucky's model of visioning, cognition and globalization has driven the core of my personal and professional life. It is disconcerting to some, frustrating to others, a delight to a few. We need to connect the dots...and Bucky Fuller has been both a model for a cognitive structure...a conceptual toolbox and a platform to connect the order of magnitude elements of sub-micron DNA structures and Cosmic Threads connecting Galaxies and a reassuring "assemble the global elements" voice in an often cynical, incremental, isolating, disjunctive, dysfunctional, cubbyholed perception of "the possible." I find that I bring that fresh, "why not. . . how can we connect the elements. . . got to be a horse around here somewhere" view to the personal mission statement that life is a series of opportunities to solve problems. . .Thanks Bucky!

The Runners-Up

Curtis Palmer

On Bucky...In hindsight it was a kind of revelation, a salvation when I read Buckminster Fuller's Inventory of World Resources Human Trends and Needs (Southern Illinois University, 1963-71.) I read it in 1972 at the age of 20. I was awash in the euphoria and affluence that was Western Canada -- lots of jobs. Money went a long way. The social contract seemed a federal idea, providing grants to floaters like me. There was oil and gas money, too. There was also an undercurrent of existential tragedy and guilt. Millions worldwide were born into the new aristocracy, such was the extent of the new middle class's wealth. The world seemed evenly split between the haves and have-nots. Amidst all this affluence there was the ongoing psycho-drama by the administrators of scarcity that produced the various wars -- hot, cold, economic, cultural, ideological -- raging around us. The systems of power seemed too obtrusive and inept to embrace the new potentials of industrialization with visions of peace. We reviled the system, the establishment. We, "tuned in, turned on, dropped out" so that the cold war, the bomb, Vietnam and the third world would go away and we could really enjoy our affluence. We wanted to rock & roll. It seemed so natural to be free. We wanted to enjoy it without the dread of losing it all with the press of a button, the revolt of the masses or environmental catastrophe. For me this affluence was a hollow utopia tending towards escape and self abuse. Then along came Bucky who systematically put a geodesic framework around the greatest design challenge - "making the world work for all humanity." For over twenty years his work has been for me the measure of design and purpose in the world. His message remains a compelling one.

Bob Rudner

Fuller's Flock: The Virtual Family

Global thinking is wrapped around the Earth like its crust. Minds that comprise global thought form a surface of conscience made of human energy. Electrons, we are told, consist of a spherical surface with nothing solid inside, just light. At the speed of light -- in all directions -- a family is forming, like dawn unfolding as the planet revolves. For those of us who witnessed him in the corporeal, watching Bucky Fuller was like having an uncle over who never left. Death itself cannot deprive us of his genius. What's coming and going around is as renewable as us. As long as there are people, there will be Fuller followers. They will even breed. The mere century which has passed since his birth is only a sample of what to expect. Let the children play with Internet, and the present void will soon be filled with the critical masses necessary to build that kind of world Bucky spoke of where people make technology work for them. Because Fuller was pronounced anathema by architects, several generations of architects have come into the world with their bearings set slam against the establishment in successive barrages: Wright, Soleri and Hoberman. Change should get easier on in thanks to Bucky's work. Frank Lloyd Wright's organic architecture took off from his mentor Louis Sullivan. In turn, Paolo Soleri, who came to America to study at Wright's Taliesen, multiplied the concept a bit further to generate images of holistic cities which he calls "arcologies." Soleri even applied Taliesen's apprentice fellowship to his own school Arcosanti, now in its 26th year. Chuck Hoberman, like Fuller, attacked the barriers of architecture by surrounding it with circles. Now enclosed within the human sphere, architecture will take on shape s that the past generations of architects pioneered since Archimedes.

Nature has provided more models from which to shape living than will likely ever be used. Shapes, microscopic to cosmic, will flow through the minds of the designers of the future. Outside the circle looking in, the designers will utilize a hologram of the construction site. Landsat, GIS, aerial photography, and cherry-picker images will all be fed into the CAD. Take blighted urban landscapes, feed in the images, then place the desired shapes chosen by the community into the setting and presto! -- inner-city communities resign the world around them. The image of the geodesic dome has set into motion an omni-view of the world -- City-Under-Glass -- handle with care. One can never get to arcology without surrounding it with love. Choose a better way and follow through by involving people in all dimensions of the project. If Bucky's dome projects mean anything, they proved what people can do by working together, like many projects at Arcosanti. While in real life, Paolo and Bucky got along like a couple of prima donnas, their students jived O.K. Inspiration has been transformed into rammed earth, clay, bronze and reinforced concrete creations which have allowed Arcosanti to survive while the spirit of volunteerism took a long beating. Despite setbacks, ecological concepts in urban engineering thrive in the central Arizona sun where Soleri's students keep up the tradition of learning by building. If the virtual network now amassing is any indication of what's to come, we are about to witness a transformation unpredicted by people looking the other way. Distractions of violence, fear, hatred and cheap thrills can be set aside when the more beautiful world of our desire comes into view. The power of whim, like Rube Goldberg, can lead to delightful but tangible results. Fuller's dymaxion house may have flown past the production stage in his lifetime, but the emergence of his concepts in regions of great need should clear a landing for his ideas soon. People who rejected his insight will later grow so fond of them they will act like they agreed with them all along. It doesn't matter, as long as the people get to use the ideas. Internet should have a catalogue of arcologies, dymaxion designs and other architectural concepts for sustainable living. If the 10 billion people who will be living on this planet will have any place to live, it will be the result of access to such ideas -- today. Sure as the world is round, Bucky's ideas will come back in year-round bloom for generations to come. Some interesting resources on Internet include:

Chris Rywalt

Recently a bomb exploded outside of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, destroying the building and killing 167 people. The news at the time recounted the litany of humanly-contrived detonations of recent years, a list of deadly events of varying severity and motivation: 200 killed here, 30 dead there, 50 someplace else. Everywhere, people appear to be dying, not from hunger or disease, but at the hands of discontented other people. It is apparent from the foregoing that humanity can no longer afford for anyone, anywhere at any time, to feel that they are being disadvantaged in any way. If you were to plot a graph of energy input against output for a particular technology over time, you'd find that as that technology advances, smaller energy inputs yield larger energy outputs; further, you'd find that this upwardly-trending curve is exponential. Nearly identical curves seem to obtain for all human endeavors, from airplanes to skyscrapers...unfortunately, they also seem to obtain for "anti-personnel" devices. In the same way that a six-pound computer today can outperform a hundred-pound computer of ten years ago, a small bomb today can outperform larger bombs from years ago. The implication of this is that it no longer takes the government of a country to build weapons of mass destruction: one individual can make a device of enormous power. All it takes is one person or small group with enough determination to cause the deaths of hundreds of people and it can happen. And according to this exponential curve of killing machines, soon one person will be able to kill perhaps millions of others with something they built in their own home. This makes it clear that the needs and wants of every single individual alive on this planet today must be attended to immediately. As long as any one person feels that they are not receiving everything that they are entitled to, humanity is in danger.

But saying that we must make the world work for everyone is not the same as doing it. When it comes to doing it, we must look for guides and inspiration that will help us. And, if you go on a search for other thinkers who approached this problem positively, one person's thought you will find is that of Richard Buckminster Fuller. Fuller believed that the most important activity people could engage in was learning about the universe and applying that knowledge to increase the welfare of human beings. And he believed that, as much as science and technology are doing to improve our lives, more should be done -- with current science and technology -- to improve the lives of everyone on Earth. And he sought to discover ways of doing more with less, always using the latest advancements in applied technology. He wrote that he believed the problems of today -- the seemingly unsolvable difficulties of war, hunger, disease, poverty and so on -- can and must be solved. Each of Fuller's projects has something in common with the others: the improvement of each artifact over its predecessor results from an increased investment of design effort. This effort reduces the materials investment many thousands of times. Eventually, enough design may be expended to enable humans to do everything with nothing: and if that sounds far-fetched, think of what keeps the Earth rotating on its axis, or the planets orbiting the Sun, or what supplies the Sun and all the other known stars with power. The energy bound up in the matter which comprises our planet, were it to be released all at once, is nothing whatsoever compared to the amount of energy moving around the universe constantly. Fuller writes that the sum-total of the energy utilized by humans across the whole history of the human race amounts to less than one-millionth of one percent of the energy reaching the Earth's surface on a daily basis. There certainly is a lot of energy out there, waiting for someone to come along and put it to use. The universe is the ultimate free lunch. Even from a shallow analysis of recent scientific advancement, it's clear that we are surrounded by an abundance of energy which we are continually learning to put to better use. This abundance, provided for us by our application of scientific principles, forms the firm foundation for Fuller's thinking. And on that foundation he built, not a rectilinear tower or a square-based pyramid, but a tetrahedron -- the most structurally stable and efficient geometric form known to man. When Fuller replaced a 150-ton home with a 3-ton home, he saw a vast improvement in invested resources -- that he now had 147 tons of material to invest in another project. And he believed that if every engineer, scientist and artist applied themselves to working towards the goal of doing more with less to the very limits of technology, we could indeed provide bounteously for every human on board the planet. But, as I get up every morning and look around the world, I see a lot of want -- in this, one of the wealthiest locales of one of the wealthiest countries. The poor of America, I'm told, are not as disadvantaged as the poor of many other places: yet they certainly appear disadvantaged. And even those more well-off -- the middle-class and the rich of America, certainly the wealthy of the world -- are continually sacrificing vast amounts of their time and energy in support of inefficient systems of one kind or another, waiting for the bus or sitting in traffic. Although dwarfed by the energy expended on a minute-by-minute basis across the known universe, this energy is significant on a human scale -- in many cases, the entire output of a life is expended in this way. Fuller believed strongly that these lives could be bettered by the proper application of technology. And, every so often, something like the bombing in Oklahoma City comes along and reminds us that the world is everyone's problem. And what could be more expensive than needless death?

Peter R. Nebres

butterfly flaps its delicate wings bucky fuller sways in the gale winds