He has been called the greatest genius since Einstein; the Leonardo DaVinci of our time; the Benjamin Franklin of the Space Age; and a crackpot. Others saw him as an experience; an author; a scientist; an architect; a designer; a cosmogonist and a New World thinker. Buckminster Fuller said of himself that he was 'a very average human being,' 'Whatever I am, I'm not a physical me. I am not a thing, a noun. I seem to be a verb.'
THE FOLLOWING IS FROM AN INTERVIEW WITH WALTER CRONKITE
Buckminster: 'We, ourselves, consist physically of atoms and we know that all atoms have their frequencies. It is theoretically possible to pick up all of our frequencies and actually send us by radio.' (Star Trek's transporter).
Walter: 'To be reconstituted some distant place?'
In the 60s and 70s, Bucky Fuller lectured nearly 500 times a year. He primarily spoke to the youth at colleges all over the planet. He became a cult figure and a New Age guru. The great man was not a tall, John Wayne type. He looked more like a small storekeeper. In the beginning of his lectures, he stood there silent in front of large audiences for an embarrassingly long time. Slowly, he began talking. He called it 'thinking out loud.' Faster and faster the words came out until he talked at a hyper rate. Amazing ideas flew from Bucky as lectures ran 6-8 hours. On rare occasions, lectures lasted 18 hours.
BUCKY WAS A LITTLE DIFFERENT
He was born in 1895; a small child of a prominent New England family. He was unpopular, cross-eyed, bullied at school and was given the name '4 eyes.' One incident in kindergarten demonstrated how distinctive young Fuller was from his classmates. The teacher brought in toothpicks and semi-dried peas and told the class to build structures. With his bad eyesight, Bucky saw bulks and had no feeling for structural lines. The other children formed cubes because they were familiar with houses and barns. Fuller relied on different senses and he discovered that the triangle (or tetrahedron) held its shape the best. Tetrahedrons were far more stable than the fragile squares that the other children made. His teacher called everyone around to see the unexpected shape. Bucky was surprised that they were surprised.
Bucky got all As in school. He excelled in math and science. According to his teachers, he asked too many questions. They would raise a point and he would dispute it. R. Buckminster Fuller stood outside of the norm; like Einstein. He did not mesh well with the educational system. Bucky was kicked out of Harvard. In 1920, he was bankrupt.
'We have overlooked the most essential product for industrial production: the home.' Fuller was flooded with mathematical and architectural ideas. He brainstormed with endless energy and often spoke of tension/pressure. Bucky imagined service stations with aircraft that could literally pick up prefab houses in Maine and drop them off in California or Europe. Then, he thought, we would all become Universal Citizens. Fuller called the houses or the principle behind them '4D.' He even began to call himself 4D. Martin Pawley, editor of World Architecture, has said: 'There's certain individuals, one might say, were driven mad by the 20th Century. You could say Picasso,
Buckminster Fuller, maybe Stravinsky, certain composers; there is a kind of madness. They outrage the contemporary view. They're driven crazy by all the forces that they see at work on the century and all the potentialities that the century has which are not exploited.'
THE DYMAXION HOUSE
In the 1920s, Bucky left his wife and baby and moved to Greenwich Village. He was certain that what he called the 'Dymaxion House' would revolutionize the building industry. This light-weight, hexagonal pagoda simply hung in place around a solid/center pole. The Dymaxion House could rotate on its mast and follow the sun. Bucky thought traditional houses were too heavy and were artifacts that had the least development throughout history. So he reinvented it himself with a 'machine for living' that would only cost $5000. 'We are living in a spheroidal universe, around a spheroidal world, not a cubical sugarlump despite Mr. Euclid.' Architects were impressed. But, they realized this was far ahead of its time and that no one would buy it. Fuller called the construction industry the 'craft and graft industry.'
Beech Aircraft in Wichita, Kansas was used to build the first prototype for mass production. Known as the Wichita House, the round dwelling resembles a flying saucer. In the late 40s, promotional films were made which showed its many functional innovations. The house still stands today. Fuller was often asked: why a round house? His answer was: 'Why not? The only reason houses have been rectangular all these years is...that is all we could do with the materials we had. Now with modern materials and technology, we can apply to houses the same efficiency of engineering that we apply to suspension bridges and airplanes.' Once more, Fuller believed he was a pioneer to a whole new industry. After the war, he received 37,000 orders for his Dymaxion House. Nearly everyone could afford a round home. Problems, again, occurred with investors. Bucky was not going to be in control. Promised innovations were not going to be in the mass-produced units. (Sounds like Tucker). Fuller ended the fiasco. The company folded. His dream of air-delivered/universally distributed houses, where mass-production removes scarcity, remained unattained.
THE DYMAXION CAR
In 1933, Bucky Fuller believed that his Dymaxion CAR could completely turn the U.S. economy around. Just as he thought the Dymaxion House would create a revolution in the construction industry, so were his plans for the Dymaxion Car. The car had front-wheel drive and used a '33 Ford V8 engine. The normal Ford got 16 miles per gallon. Bucky's car was 21 feet long, sat 11 people and got 30 miles to a gallon. The shocker was...Bucky's car ONLY HAD 3 WHEELS! He thought 3 wheels was perfect; like a stool only needs 3 legs to stand. The car did not wiggle and drove straight. Was Bucky's design a reflection back to the toothpicks and peas? In Bridgeport, July of 1933, 3000 people witnessed Bucky driving the Dymaxion for its first public test. The car looked so damn strange; something out of the future. It had two recessed wheels in the front and one wheel in the back similar to a plane. The police told him not to drive it in Manhattan. He had pulled up to Madison Square Garden which resulted in a 7-hour traffic jam. The car dazzled crowds at Chicago's World's Fair. It could turn on a dime. Amelia Earhart rode in the Dymaxion as well as various celebrities.
The 3-wheeled car was a success and seemed on its way to change the face of the automotive industry. Then, German investors took a test ride. Another car swirved in front of it and there was a crash. The driver of Bucky's car was killed. Newspapers printed the coroner's report which cleared the Dymaxion. But, the investors pulled out. Could the crash have been staged? If 3-wheeled vehicles were allowed to develop since the 30s, what would cars look like today?
FINALLY, THE GEODESIC DOME!
Fuller was at a low point in 1948. His car had crashed. His houses financially collapsed. He had been evicted when Black Mountain College in North Carolina hired him for their summer program. Bucky came to the Black Mountains for his reason for living; people have said....to invent and give to the world the DOME. The dome is an incredibly economic way to enclose space with a minimum of structure and materials to create maximum strength. They do more with less.
Traditional constructions are not in harmony with nature. One more time, Bucky thought he would revolutionize construction with his design of the future. His first customers were in the Pentagon. Marines took control of manufacturing the domes. On August 4, 1953, Bucky finally saw his dream of a flying house come true. The military was transporting the domes by helicopter. On the other hand, the Powers That Be effectively stopped large scale dome production. The sad news was the world was not going to go geodesic.
With patent # 2,682,235, Fuller did gain financially and received deserved praise. There were dome theaters, churches, homes, high schools, stadiums, tents, jungle gyms, etc. For the 1967 World's Fair in Montreal, Bucky was given the honor of building the U.S. Pavilion. The largest geodesic dome on Earth was built with a diameter of 250 feet. It was the largest, free-standing structure in the world. The Big Bubble was exciting and made all the other buildings seem old and dull in comparison. Fuller was vindicated. Bucky said: 'People ask me: You think we should live in domes? That's all we've ever dome;' pointing to his round, bald head.
In the 60s, it was said: 'Don't trust anyone over 30, except Bucky Fuller.' He found the perfect audience with college students during the Vietnam era. Hippies loved him and many lived out in nature under domes. The non-traditionals embraced his new ideas. Fuller said: 'Up and down have no meaning to a spherical planet. We're all aboard a spaceship; Spaceship Earth is moving and rotating all the time.'
Bucky ended one lecture by saying: 'We, in our day, are literally going to see man become a physical success in the universe before he graduates into his larger function as Universal Man.' He ended another by saying, 'I think we're going to make it.'
Copyright 2005 by Doug Yurchey.
Printed with permission.
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