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Default What We Can Learn from Buckminster Fuller

</img>photo: Courtesy of the R. Buckminster Fuller estateSure, he's famous for giving us the geodesic dome &mdash; the super-lightweight building that gets stronger as it gets bigger &mdash; but Buckminster Fuller's legacy extends way beyond the soccer-ball structure. He was an avid futurist who tinkered in mathematics, engineering, environmental science, architecture, and art, all the while keeping notes in a mad-scientist-style filing system he called the Dymaxion Chronofile.
There was nothing mad, however, about Fuller's objectives: He just wanted to invent devices that would help humankind and protect the planet (which he dubbed, no kidding, "Spaceship Earth").
Here is Fuller's sketch for the US Pavilion at the 1967 International and Universal Exposition in Montreal. It was one of almost 100 pavilions at Expo 67 &mdash; and one of Fuller's later projects &mdash; but he maintained his trademark style, and love for, geodesic domes. A small train passed through the pavilion, and the interior was devoted to the effective use of creative energy. It is currently a museum dedicated to water and the environment called The Biosphere of Environment Canada.
</img>photo: Courtesy of the R. Buckminster Fuller estateTurns out, Fuller (1895-1983) was so far ahead of his time that we're just now catching up to some of his ideas &mdash; off-the-grid housing, two-way TV, mass customization. So it's an ideal moment for the Whitney Museum's exhibition Buckminster Fuller: Starting With the Universe, on view through September 21.
After World War II, Fuller became frustrated with how architects and designers used technology in their craft &mdash; he felt they used only the necessary amount to make their work easier, instead of allowing the possibilities of the technology to dominate the decisions.
In this model of the Dymaxion Dwelling Machines community from 1946, the 1,000-square-foot saucer-shaped homes would be constructed from aluminum. Plexiglas windows would be affixed to support columns, which would contain the plumbing and ventilation systems.
</img>photo: Courtesy of the R. Buckminster Fuller estateIn 1960, Fuller hatched a plan to build a dome over Manhattan. It seems far-fetched, but only until you consider the geoengineering projects &mdash; space mirrors! atmospheric sulfur injections! &mdash; currently being given serious thought.
"We didn't talk about sustainability in Fuller's day," says Michael Hays, the Whitney's adjunct curator of architecture and a professor of architecture at Harvard. "But he was trying to develop ways of living that would benefit the largest number of people with the fewest possible resources."
Here, an acrylic dome &mdash; a crucial component of several of Fuller's designs &mdash; covers a chunk of Manhattan (1960).
</img>photo: Courtesy of the R. Buckminster Fuller estate In addition to the geodesic model homes and the only existent Dymaxion car, you can peer into the Chronofile to see other designs we might exploit. Take his Lightful Tower Mobile Housing &mdash; also called "4D" &mdash; sketched in 1928 and shown here in comparison to a traditional home: The stacked abodes promise self-sufficient power, heat, and sewage disposal; single-day installation; built-in furniture; and a gymnasium.
</img>photo: Courtesy of the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University According to Hays, Fuller's obsession with designing self-sufficient housing (many of which would be classified as "zero-carbon footprint" today) often led to some wacky ideas.
To construct one of his Lightful Towers, Fuller imagined that one airship would first drop a bomb and create a hole in the ground, then a second airship would drop the building into the hole. The stacked apartment unit would be sealed into the ground with cement and ready for use.
"So, 10 families could move in in a single day," Hays says. "[Fuller] was thinking it would be a good idea for places like the Antarctic or the Amazon rainforest."
</img>photo: Courtesy of the R. Buckminster Fuller estate In this 1949 photograph, Fuller displays his models of the Standard Living Package and Skybreak Dome. Hays explains that the Standard of Living Package is "an entire home ... that could be packed inside a trailer truck."
The truck would unload the trailer, and the home would unfold &mdash; with a minimal amount of human labor. Next, a helicopter would airlift a dome (the Skybreak Dome) that could be placed over it, protecting the inhabitants from the weather, yet keeping them relatively close to the outdoors.
</img>photo: Courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University Ca In his study of geodesic domes and octahedral shapes, Fuller would craft models out of paper and then assign numerical "frequencies" to the different triangle patterns in each section.
Moving counterclockwise in this model, "2, 4, 6, 7 ... Frequency," from the upper right-most quadrant of this 14-inch model, the largest ("2") triangle could fit four triangles from the next ("4") frequency inside of it. Six of the "6-frequency" triangles could also fill one 2-frequency triangle. The 4-, 6- and 7-frequency triangles do not fit inside each other, but they are sized appropriately to perfectly cover the sphere.
</img>photo: Courtesy the R. Buckminster Fuller estate The Triangular Framed Auto-Airplane was an early hybrid of sorts: Its inflatable wings collapsed for highway driving.
</img>image: Courtesy of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) was a Japanese-American sculptor who specialized in the biomorphic style &mdash; an abstract interpretation of organic, natural forms. When Noguchi moved to New York City, he met Fuller and the two quickly hit it off and collaborated on several projects. Here is a chrome-plated bronze sculpture of Noguchi's head (1929), which Fuller completed in the same year the two met.
</img>image: Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries Another colleague, artist Boris Artzybasheff (1899-1965), drew this portrait of Fuller in 1963. Artzybasheff was an illustrator acclaimed for his numerous magazine covers for Time, Life, and Fortune.
</img>image: Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries
When peering at a globe, humans can see only about one hemisphere at a time. But if we were placed inside a globe, like being in a planetarium, we could take in much more of the sphere. This idea, Hays says, was the inspiration for Fuller's Minni Earth Location proposal (1956) for the United Nations building in New York City.
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