If you're not already familiar with the wildly eccentric personality of R. Buckminster Fuller when you read The House of Tomorrow, you might be tempted to think that he is a fictional character. However, Richard Buckminster Fuller was, indeed, very real. Born in 1895 in Milton, Massachusetts into the New England tradition of Transcendentalism (he was related to journalist and women's rights activist Margaret Fuller), "Bucky" grew up playing architect and was intrigued by structural design from a very young age.
In 1927, out of work and grieving over the death of his young daughter, Fuller was on the brink of committing suicide when he instead resolved to make his life "an experiment to find what a single individual can contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity."
As Bognanni describes in The House of Tomorrow, Fuller's optimistic and futuristic ideas appealed to people of the Great Depression; they longed for progress and hope after such difficult times. He was one of the earliest proponents of renewable energy sources and swore adamantly that, "There is no energy crisis, only a crisis of ignorance." Similarly he believed that the problem of world hunger could be solved within his own lifetime. In the early 1930's he invented a three-wheeled vehicle, which he called the Dymaxion (a term he coined along with the word "synergy"), which he claimed could hold eleven people, travel 120 miles per hour and get 30 miles per gallon. The car drew a lot of press and even H.G. Wells was photographed in front of the car for the cover of Saturday Review, and discussed using it in the film version of his story "The Shape of Things to Come." However, after a test-driver died, Bucky lost his potential investors and turned to a different pursuit.
In the summers of 1948 and 1949, while teaching at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, Fuller revived a structural design that would be the turning point of his career: the geodesic dome. While the first geodesic dome had been engineered by Walther Bauersfeld just after WWI, Fuller developed the engineering and mathematical principles behind the dome and extended its functionality. In 1949, he successfully built his first geodesic dome with a group of students, and forever changed how the industry viewed architectural efficiency. The geodesic dome is "a complex assemblage of triangles in which all structural members contribute equally to the whole, form a spherical shape, and grow stronger as they grow larger. They can sustain their own weight with no practical limits and have the highest ratio of enclosed area to external surface area for any structure. When complete, the structures - especially very large ones - weigh less than their parts because of the air mass inside the dome; when it's heated warmer than the outside air, it has a net lifting effect like a hot-air balloon." (progressiveengineer.com). He received a patent for his design and since then geodesic domes have been built all over the world, including the famous Epcot landmark at Disneyworld and the basic jungle gym design found on playgrounds everywhere.
While some people dismiss Buckminster Fuller as an eccentric nut, many believe he was a revolutionary inventor. By his death in 1983, he had earned forty-seven honorary doctorates, and continues to be revered by futurists and budding inventors alike.
This article was originally published in March 2010, and has been updated for the
March 2011 paperback release.
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