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Summary Article: Fuller, Richard Buckminster (Milton, Mass., 1895 - Los Angeles, 1983)
From The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of 20th Century Architecture

Not an architect in the usual sense of the word, but instead a unique reflection of those 20th-century concepts related to the machine aesthetic. His formal education was sketchy and did not progress much beyond two years at Harvard, 1913–15. In 1927 he perfected a kind of ‘machine for living in’ which he called the ‘Dymaxion [dynamic plus maximum efficiency] House’. In contrast to the poetic expressions of the machine age which were so frequently manifested in the buildings of the 1920s in Europe, and especially in Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye (1929–31), Fuller's product was a machine for living in in a literal rather than in a metaphorical sense. Unlike the contemporary masterpieces of European Rationalism, the Dymaxion House was not in any consequential way an object for aesthetic contemplation, but is more correctly viewed as an assemblage of mechanical services in conjunction with living areas. In 1933 Fuller developed a motorized version of this idea in his ‘Dymaxion Three-Wheeled Auto’.

Subsequently, he devoted much time and effort to the art of structures, and these studies led to his Geodesic Domes, structures of metal, plastic, or even of cardboard based upon octahedrons or tetrahedrons. He came to use the domical shape not for a traditional, architectural reason—not for instance, because it was an ‘ideal’ form—but because of its natural efficiency in providing the greatest space enclosed in relation to the surface area of the enclosing form. In their use of standardized parts, these Geodesic Domes are, in a sense, the most recent descendants of the assembly techniques that were first employed by Sir Joseph Paxton in the Crystal Palace, London, 1851. The largest of these domes to be erected was the repair shop for the Union Tank Car Co., Baton Rouge, La. (1958), with a diameter of 117 m (384 ft), a span that exceeds those of the mammoth 19th-century exhibition halls. Fuller's best-known dome is without doubt the one for the U.S. Pavilion at the World's Fair in Montreal (1967).

He also produced a structural system known as Tensegrity Structures (a contraction of Tension Integrity), spatial skeletal structures utilizing distinct elements in compression and tension rods, whereby the tension rods are joined together only via elements in compression.

Understandably more popular with students than with the established elements in the architectural profession, Fuller enjoyed notable success as a visiting lecturer in various architectural schools in the USA, among them Cornell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University and Yale University. He held a professorship at Southern Illinois Institute of Technology, 1949–75, and was an indefatigable author and promoter of his ideas. (John M. Jacobus, Jr)


Bibliography

Marks, Robert W., and Fuller, R. B., The Dymaxion World of Buckminster Fuller, Garden City, N.Y. 1973 (first published 1960) McHale, John, R. Buckminster Fuller, New York 1962
 Rosen, Sidney, Wizard of the Dome. R. Buckminster Fuller, Designer for the Future, Boston 1969
 Meller, James (ed), The Buckminster Fuller Reader, London 1970
 Robertson, Donald W., Mind's Eye of Buckminster Fuller, New York 1974.

The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of 20th Century Architecture, © 1988 Thames & Hudson Ltd

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