Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Birthday: "Sometimes I think we're alone. Sometimes I think we're not. In either case, the thought is staggering."

Buckminster Fuller.jpg

Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)
Author, Architect, Industrial Designer, Futurist, Philosopher, World Traveler, Neologist
President of Mensa, 1974-1983
Professor at Black Mountain College, 1948-89
Professor, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, 1959-70
Honorary Fellow, Phi Beta Kappa, 1967
Recipient, American Institute of Architects Gold Medal, 1970
Recipient, Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1983

In a nation of oddballs, Buckminster Fuller was, surely, one of the oddest. Grandson of the American transcendentalist, Margaret Fuller, Bucky Fuller was expelled from Harvard twice; worked as a meat packer, a journalist, a sheet metal worker, a Navy ship radio operator in World War I, and a rescue boat commander before marrying his wife of 66 years and going into business with his father in law. They pioneered production of new materials for weatherproof, lightweight, fireproof housing, but failed to find a market and the company failed in 1927.

Facing an existential crisis- a new daughter, no savings, no prospects- Fuller long maintained he had a vision while walking along Lake Michigan. A voice told him he belonged to the Universe and should devote himself to figuring out one man could change the world, and so benefit humanity.

The Fullers relocated to New York, where he traded work as a cafe decorator for meals and hung out with city intellectuals like Eugene O’Neill and Isamu Noguchi. He took up as an itinerant lecturer and, with Noguchi, began experimenting with his radically modern Dymaxion houses and vehicles. While never commercially successful, they were enormously influential,and raised Fuller’s cred as a visionary.

During the late 1940s, Fuller was associated with that hotbed of mid-century American creativity, Black Mountain College, and there began work on what became the geodesic dome; at North Carolina State collaboration with faculty in that school’s modernist school of architecture led to formation of Geodesics, Inc. in Raleigh. That company built thousands of domes around the world, including those comprising the US military’s Arctic zone DEW line defense system. Fuller joined the faculty of Southern Illinois University in 1959 and, in 1960, built a geodesic home for his family comprised of just sixty panels. It was erected in seven hours, and has since been restored and dedicated as a Fuller museum. Obsessively self-involved, he saved nearly every scrap of paper he ever handled, his “Dymaxion Archive,” some 270 feet of boxed files, is at Stanford University.

Fuller and his work exploded into the public consciousness as television and air travel reached a new high in the 1960s. Aided by a “Dymaxion sleep system” in which he took a half hour nap every six hours, Fuller traveled some 300 days a year for two decades, wearing three wrist watches: one for home in Carbondale, one for where he was, and one for where he was going next. More than once, when the FBI wanted to interview him for its quixotic surveillance programs, they had trouble figuring out where he was, or would be, for months at a time.


Fuller’s design for the US pavilion at the 1967 world’s fair in Canada was his monument for the ages; it lives today as the Montreal Biosphere, and became part- literally- of Fuller’s persona, as two Time covers, and a 2004 commemorative stamp, demonstrate:



Fuller’s lecturing style was a verbal data dump: a tiny, bald,man in a black, three-piece suit and horn-rim glasses, he spoke fast, virtually without pause and at enormous length. In 1975, nearly 80, he produced a 42-hour set of twelve lectures called, “Everything I Know.” He became a prophet of sustainable growth, renewable solar and wind energy generation, and affordable housing. In his last year, he looked over his sixty-year career and said: “I am now close to 88 and I am confident that the only thing important about me is that I am an average healthy human. I am also a living case history of a thoroughly documented, half-century, search-and-research project designed to discover what, if anything, an unknown, moneyless individual, with a dependent wife and newborn child, might be able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity that could not be accomplished by great nations, great religions or private enterprise, no matter how rich or powerfully armed.” He was a serial word-coiner; “Spaceship Earth” and “synergistic” are among his inventions. A carbon molecule bearing a striking resemblance to the geodesic dome was named the buckminsterfullerene, or “buckyball,” after its 1985 discovery.

On July 1, 1983, Fuller was at the hospital bedside of his wife, Anne, who was dying of cancer. He stood up, exclaiming she had just squeezed his hand, had a heart attack, and died in an hour. His wife joined him three days later.

Related sites:

“Everything I Know,” Fuller’s 12 video lectures from 1975

#HenryBemisBooks #BuckyFuller #GeodesicDomes #HenrysLiteraryBirthdays

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