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Summary Article: Fuller, Richard Buckminster Jr. (1895-1983)
from Encyclopedia of the Environment in American Literature

Richard Buckminster Fuller, Jr., known to friends and family as “Bucky,” was a notable futurist, architect, engineer, author and lecturer, best known for inventing and popularizing the geodesic dome.

Born into a venerable New England family, Fuller was sent to Harvard, from which all Fuller men since 1760 had graduated. Expelled from the school in his first year, however, for using his tuition money to entertain chorus girls in Manhattan, Fuller would never complete a college degree, though he would spend decades as a professor and was awarded a host of honorary degrees and distinctions. In the years after Harvard he worked in a textile mill and various meatpacking plants before entering the Navy as an officer during World War I. During the war, Fuller met and married Anne Hewlett, with whom he would have two children and would remain until their deaths, one day apart, in 1983.

After the war, Fuller went to work for his father-in-law, but had little success as a businessman. In 1927, unemployed and near bankruptcy, Fuller contemplated suicide until he had what he described as a life-changing mystical experience: finding himself in dialogue with what he called “Universe,” he was told that his life was not his to take and that he belonged to Universe. Fuller then embarked on a lifelong experiment to determine what, if anything, an individual could do on behalf of all humanity, often referring to himself as “Guinea Pig B”— the “B” for Bucky.

Philosophically Fuller eschewed specialization, preferring to function as a “comprehensive, anticipatory design scientist” or “comprehensivist.” He considered himself a world citizen and viewed the planet as a massive spaceship (“Spaceship Earth”) that has supported human life for millions of years through its ingenious design. Thus the ideal way to achieve human reform was to use Design Science to competently reform the environment, rather than attempting to directly reform humans themselves. In this pursuit Fuller designed a variety of imaginative, often fantastical projects, utilizing ecological principles like recycling and “ephemeralization” — doing ever more with ever less. These designs included a three wheeled car (Dymaxion Vehicle), a waterborne city (Tetrahedronal City) and an aluminum house that cost the same as a car and could be assembled in a day (Dymaxion House). While these experiments garnered much media attention, few were ever realized and none were mass produced. Fuller's only significant commercial success as a designer was the geodesic dome, a spherical structure that encloses more space with less material and more structural integrity than virtually any other building. First patented in 1954, thousands of the distinctive domes would be built within his lifetime.

While Fuller's impact as a designer was never fully realized, he authored, co-authored or contributed to more than 50 books, and circumnavigated the world many times as a lecturer and teacher. His enduring message was that Design Science had the capability to avert environmental catastrophe, and that if humanity were to survive aboard Spaceship Earth, it would require technological innovation and social teamwork.

Bibliography
  • Kenner, Hugh. Bucky: A Guided Tour of Buckminster Fuller. William Morrow New York, 1973.
  • Lorance, Loretta. Becoming Bucky Fuller. MIT Press Cambridge, 2009.
  • Miller, Dana, et al. Buckminster Fuller. Whitney Museum of American Art, in association with Yale University Press New York, 2008.
  • Sieden, Lloyd. Buckminster Fuller's Universe: An Appreciation. Perseus Books Cambridge, 2000.
  • Paul Falzone
    © 2013 Geoff Hamilton and Brian Jones

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