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Buckminster
Fuller championed the idea of doing more with less in a material sense, through
the proper understanding of efficient structural principals found in nature.
Explore and illustrate his concepts of synergy and tensegrity and show examples
of how these principles were applied in his built work and in the following
work of others.

 

In this
essay I will be exploring how Buckminster Fuller used minimal materials on his
buildings throughout his career due to his understanding of efficient
structural principals found in nature. I will exemplify his concepts of synergy
& tensegrity and display how these principles were applied in his built
work. Finally, I will show how these principles were applied in his built work
and in the following work of others.

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Buckminster Fuller

 

Richard Buckminster
Fuller was a 20th century visionary and inventor who did not limit
himself to one particular field but instead worked as a “comprehensive
anticipatory design scientist” according to his online institution 1. Even today
Fullers ideals and work continue to influence the work of designers, artists,
architects and scientists looking to create an eco-friendly planet.

 

Fuller was
born on 12th July 1895 in Milton, Massachusetts he developed a
strong understanding of nature from his frequent family outings to Bear Island
which was a small island 11 miles off Maine, which is also where he also became
familiar with Construction and Boat Maintenance. Fuller was a victim to poor
vision from his crossed eyes which kept him from seeing objects clearly during
his youth nonetheless he learned studied large designs and patterns of nature
that he’d encounter on his summer trips to Bear Island with his family. After
attending Milton High Schools in 1913 Fuller joined Harvard University and was
kicked out for skipping out on his exams in order to take show girl who he was
dating, to dinner in New York. After he left Harvard his mother arranged with
his uncles for him to move to Quebec, Canada to work with distance relatives as
a mechanic on their cotton mill. He began to keep a notebook of his sketches
after impressing the chief engineer. Harvard then agreed to reinstate Fuller in
1914 only to expel him again in 1915 for skipping classes, Fuller later
admitted that it was “for general irresponsibility” (Ideas & Integrities,
p.11). Furthermore, didn’t return to do his degree 3. Fuller then secured a
job in a leading meat-packing company and in 1917 he married Anne Hewlett, they
had two children.

 

Fullers
poor eyesight relieved him of the army service in World War I, but the navy
accepted him after the offer of the family’s cabin cruiser. Whilst located in
Virginia Fuller designed a combined winch, mast and boom for rescue boats which
overturned aircrafts out of the water by rapidly pulling them. This invention
saved hundreds of pilots from drowning. The navy was very impressed with this
invention and as a result they sent Fuller to is academy in Annapolis for three
moths of intensive officer training.

 

That same
year Fuller worked to compile the official statistics of Atlantic troop
operations. He then became a communications officer on the George Washington,
Fuller helped install the radiotelephonic equipment for the worlds first
wireless transatlantic telephone conversation.

 

After
returning to New York in 1919, Fuller decided to resign from the navy to spend
time with his young daughter who was suffering with both infantile paralysis
and spinal meningitis. He placed some of the blame of the unfortunate death of
his daughter on their drafty house. He then vowed to improve housing conditions
and began manufacturing a lightweight, innovative building material invented by
his father-in-law, the renowned architect James Monroe Hewlett, he showed him
how it was problematic introducing new ideas and materials could be. The both
of them lost control of their Stockade Company in 1927.

 

Irrespective
of the birth of Fullers second daughter in 1927, he began heavily drinking and
contemplated committing suicide, but he was saved by an experience he
encountered whilst on the shore of Lake Michigan. A magical voice spoke “You
belong to the Universe” before explaining that he had no right to kill himself
and insisted that he should use his talent to help others 4. Deeply moved by
this rare experience fuller spent the following 2 years studying in libraries,
he ceased socializing and communicating with people unless absolutely
necessary. As a result of this, he began formulating ideas on serving humanity and
searched for local and fast ways to assess them. Consequently, he assisted in
introducing the concept that “every aspect of man’s physical environment was
connected to every other”. 5

 

Fuller than
began working to express interconnectedness mathematically in what would later
be known as Synergetic Geometry, Fuller also used the term “Fourth Dimension”
(4D) what is commonly used in both physics and mathematics alongside length,
width and depth to discuss phenomena that depends on four variables (for
example, there is now a fourth dimension for locating points in space). Fuller
then founded the 4D research company and began distributing essays titled both
“4D” and “4D Timeline” 6. These essays outlined his design philosophy and
used aircraft technology to plan large multi-deck apartment houses and single
family dwellings. Fuller decided that his job was to identify a problem,
develop a way to solve it and then he’d wait, sometimes as long as twenty to
twenty-five years for the public to catch up.

 

The first
creative period for Fuller began around 1927 – 1946 where he focused on housing
and transportation.

 

He acquired
“Dymaxion” as a trademark in 1929, it is a combination of dynamic, maximum and
tension. It was created when a wordsmith hired by Chicago’s Marshall Field
Department Store renamed his futuristic 4D House and was displaying it as that.
The word expressed Fullers’ maximum gain of advantage from minimal energy
input” 6. This design consisted of two bedrooms, a living room, library,
utility room and a covered patio. The house was enclosed by six aluminium and
glass walls and was suspended by six cables from the central mast that
contained the staircase, plumbing and the electric power cables. The home was
heated and cooled by natural means that produced its own power, it was
earthquake and storm-proof and cost around forty thousand dollars.

 

Fuller’s
next creations which started in 1933 come to be more prominent than the house,
it was three Dymaxion cars. This car could seat eleven people and reach a top
speed of ninety miles per hour. Considering the time that it was released, the
car was extremely innovative and ultimately influential to the common car of
today including, a three-wheel design with rear wheel steering, front wheel
drive and it was the first long body car spanning around twenty feet. It was a
very aerodynamic design as well as it being quite efficient running thirty
miles per gallon. This car caused excitement when released and changed the car industry
with its lightweight materials and streamlined design. The designs of these
extremely navigable vehicles, (which were acting models of a design planned for
both air and land travel), was based on the “maximum efficiency and low
resistance in motion” of birds and fish. 7

 

Fuller
quickly learned that his inventions could not be mass produced, working first with
the American Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company (1930-32) and later for
the Phelps Dodge Corporation (1936) so he continued to refine down the plugin
bathroom until it slotted in to the home like a refrigerator. Fuller began to increase
his cash flow with his inherited funds alongside selling some insurance
policies that he held. However, in 1940 he came in to a substantial profit when
the government brought his inexpensive Dymaxion Deployment Units, which was circular
metal gain bins that was brought to house troops and protect radar equipment in
remote areas.

 

Tensegrity

 

Tensegrity
is a term coined by Fuller himself, it is a portmanteau of “tensional integrity”.
It describes a structural principle based on the use of isolated components in
compression inside a net of continuous tension in such a way that the
compressed members do not touch each other and the pre-stressed tensioned
members delineate the system spatially.

 

When Fuller
created it, it was about “environmental control and doing more with less” for humanity
so that you can take care of everybody”

 

What Fuller
seen was that within structuring and engineering, it was about bricks on bricks
and structure was designed so that there was compression on compression, there
was no tension in the structure. It was only in 1851 that steel began to be
used as a structural material, an example of this was Brooklyn Bridge, which
was built in 1883.

 

What Fuller
looked at was Johannes Kepler’s three famous theories one of them being that
that the Earth doesn’t touch the Moon and the Moon doesn’t touch the Sun yet
they are held together through something invisible, tension whilst being millions
of miles apart. He used an example of that if two swimmers met in the middle of
a pool and pressed their feet against one and other, bent their knees and then pushed
off from each other, they’d both get the same thrust as they would from pushing
off from a wall.

 

The image
above shows one of Fullers Tensegrity structures. Fuller seen that from the principles
of this structure he could enclose an unlimited area of space because the furthest
planet from the sun is Pluto which is over three point five billion miles away
yet they are connected though tension.

 

A tensegrity
structure is about doing more with less, when describing how he developed his theory
Fuller would relate it to the way in which the solar system works. He would say
it works like the planets, for example “there is a planet that is one billion
miles from the sun, but it still orbits around it, this is through tension”, and
this was the essence of the Geodesic Dome.

 

How fuller
describes it is that “Tensegrity, is islands of compression inside an ocean of
tension.”

 

Synergy

 

 

 

He dedicated his life towards making the world
work for all humanity.

 

 

He used to
refer to his work as “artefacts” and held a total of 28 patents, authored 28
books and received 47 honorary degrees. His most known artefact to date is the
“Geodesic Dome” which has been reproduced over 300,000 times as you can see
below.

 

It was the
simplicity and refinements in geometry which Fuller founded which showed
designers and creators of of technology, architecture and designers in general
to do more with less. In an architectural sense it allowed to create a
structure of equal stability and strength with a cleaner and more refined
outcome. By doing more with less, we are able to save in abundance both money
and resources but most importantly, time. Which is why Buckminster Fuller is acknowledged
as one of our “greatest minds” of all time.

 

Even today
the work and theories of Buckminster Fuller is imitated, for example, covering nearly
every football stadium is a tensegrity structure as you can see below.

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