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Buckminster Fuller

Richard Buckminster "Bucky" Fuller (July 12, 1895 - July 1, 1983) was an American visionary, designer, architect, inventor, and writer.

The American Pavilion of Expo '67, by R. Buckminster Fuller, now the Biosphère, on Île Sainte-Hélène, Montreal

Fuller became famous for his huge geodesic domes, which can be seen as part of military radar stations, city halls, and exhibition attractions. Their construction is based on extending basic principles to build simple tensegrity structures (tetrahedron, octahedron, and the closest packing of spheres). Built in this way they are extremely lightweight and stable. After getting a first patent for his domes in 1954, Fuller went on to explore nature's constructing principles to find solutions for designs in many areas of human life. Years ahead of his time, he designed and built a safer, aerodynamic Dymaxion car, energy-efficient and low-cost Dymaxion houses (the term "Dymaxion" is essentially a trademark without specific meaning), radically strong and light tensegrity structures and much more. He also introduced the science of synergetics, which explores holistic engineering structures in nature (long before the term synergy became popular).

Many of Fuller's designs met resistance from purely profit-driven corporations, whose destructive legacies he would spend the next fifty years fighting.

His most lasting insights may be geometric. He claimed that the natural analytic geometry of the universe was based on arrays of tetrahedrons. He developed this in several ways, from the close-packing of spheres and the number of compressive or tensile members required to stabilize an object in space. Some deep confirming results were that the strongest possible homogenous truss is cyclically tetrahedral, and all solids constructed of regular polygons, except the icosahedron, have a volume that is an integral number of unit-tetrahedrons.

Buckminster Fuller was one of the first to propagate a systemic worldview (see 'Operating manual for Spaceship Earth', 'Synergetics') and explored principles of energy and material efficiency in the fields of architecture, engineering and design.

His spatial talents have been commemorated by naming a new allotrope of carbon (Fullerene) and a particular molecule of that allotrope (Buckminsterfullerene) after him.

Fuller also coined the terms tensegrity and world around.

Table of contents


Fuller was born on July 12, 1895 in Milton, Massachusetts. He began studying at Harvard but was expelled from the university. He served in the US Navy in World War I. In 1927 at the age of 32, bankrupt and jobless, living in inferior housing in Chicago, he saw his beloved young daughter Alexandra die of pneumonia in winter. He felt responsible, and this drove him to drink and the verge of suicide. At the last moment he decided instead to embark on an experiment, to find what a single individual can contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity. It was an extraordinary success. For the next half-century Buckminster Fuller contributed an astonishing range of ideas, designs and inventions to the world, particularly in the areas of practical, inexpensive shelter and transportation. Documenting his life, philosophy and ideas scrupulously in a daily diary and in 28 publications, Fuller was ultimately to be awarded 25 US patents and over 50 honorary doctorates.

His international career took off after the success of his huge geodesic domes in the 1950s. Now working as a designer, scientist, developer, and writer, for many years he also lectured all over the world on design.

On January 16, 1970 Fuller received the Gold Medal award from the American Institute of Architects[?] and has also received numerous other awards and honorary degrees.

He died at the age of 88, a guru of the design, architecture, and 'alternative' communities. It is said that while visiting his comatose wife in hospital, he said "She's waiting for me," closed his eyes, and died of a heart attack within 2 hours. His wife died 36 hours later.

Concepts and Buildings

His concepts and buildings include:

  • Dymaxion house (1928) See autonomous building
  • aerodynamic Dymaxion car (1933)
  • prefabricated compact bathroom cell (1937)
  • world map (1940)
  • buildings (1943)
  • tensegrity structures (1949)
  • geodesic dome for Ford Motor Company (1953)
  • patent on geodesic domes (1954)


His publications include:

  • Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (1969, ISBN 0525474331) - online at http://www.bfi.org/operating_manual.htm
  • Your Private Sky (ISBN 3907044886)
  • Ideas and Integrities (1969, ASIN 0020926308)
  • Utopia or Oblivion: The Prospects for Humanity (1969)
  • Approaching the Benign Environment (1970)
  • No More Secondhand God and Other Writings
  • Intuition (1973, ASIN 0385012446)
  • Buckminster Fuller to Children of Earth (1972)
  • Earth, Inc. (1973)
  • Synergetics (1975, ISBN 0-02-541870-X) - online at http://www.rwgrayprojects.com/synergetics/synergetics
  • And It Came to Pass -- Not to Stay (1976, ASIN 0025418106)
  • R. Buckminster Fuller on Education (1979, ASIN 0870232762)
  • Critical Path (1981, ISBN 0-312-17491-8)
  • Synergetics 2: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking (1983)
  • Cosmography (1992, posthumous)

Secondary Literature

An excellent discussion of his work on geometry and systems appears in A Fuller Explanation (http://www.angelfire.com/mt/marksomers/40) by Amy C. Edmondson. Buckminster Fuller also appears as a character in Paul Wühr[?]'s book "Das falsche Buch".

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