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A brief history of R. Buckminister Fuller

Fuller was most famous for his geodesic domes, which can be seen as part of military radar stations, civic buildings, and exhibition attractions. Their construction is based on extending some basic principles to build simple tensegrity structures (tetrahedron, octahedron, and the closest packing of spheres). Built in this way they are extremely lightweight and stable. The patent for geodesic domes was awarded in 1954, part of Fuller’s decades-long efforts to explore nature’s constructing principles to find design solutions.

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Previously, Fuller had designed and built prototypes of what he hoped would be a safer, aerodynamic Dymaxion Car (“Dymaxion” is contracted from DYnamic MAXimum tensION). To this end he experimented with a radical new approach. He worked with professional colleagues over a period of three years, beginning in 1932. Based on a design idea Fuller had derived from that of aircraft, the three prototype cars were all quite different from anything on the market. For one thing, each of these vehicles had three, not four, wheels – with two (the drive wheels) in front, and the third, rear wheel being the one that was steered.

The engine was located in the rear. Both the chassis and the body were original designs. The aerodynamic, somewhat tear-shaped body (which in one of the prototypes was about 18 feet long), was large enough to seat 11 people. It somehow resembled a melding of a light aircraft (albeit without wings) and a Volkswagen van of 1950s vintage. The car was essentially a mini-bus in each of its three trial incarnations, and its concept long predated the Volkswagen Transporter mini-bus that was conceived by Ben Pon in 1947 and first built in 1950.

Despite its length, and due to its three-wheel design, the Dymaxion Car turned on a small radius and parked in a tight space quite easily. The prototypes were efficient in fuel consumption for their day. Fuller poured a great deal of his own money (inherited from his mother) into the project, in addition to the funds put in by one of his professional collaborators. An industrial investor was also keenly interested in the unprecedented concept.

Fuller anticipated the car could travel on an open highway safely at up to about 100 miles per hour (160 km/h); however, due to some concept oversights, the prototypes proved to be unruly over the speed of 50 mph (80 km/h), impossible to steer properly. Research came to an end after one of the prototypes was involved in a collision resulting in a fatality. In 1943, industrialist Henry J. Kaiser asked Fuller to develop a prototype for a smaller car, and Fuller designed a five-seater; the car never went into the development or production stages. Another of Fuller’s ideas was the alternative-projection Dymaxion Map.

This was designed to show the Earth’s continents with minimum distortion when projected or printed on a flat surface. Fuller’s energy-efficient and low-cost Dymaxion houses garnered much interest, but have never gone into production. Here the term “Dymaxion” is used in effect to signify a “radically strong and light tensegrity structure”. One of Fuller’s Dymaxion Houses is on display as a permanent exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Designed and developed in the mid 1940s, this prototype is a round structure (though not a dome) shaped something like the flattened “bell” of certain jellyfish.

It has several other innovative features, including revolving dresser drawers, and a fine-mist shower that reduces water consumption. According to Fuller biographer Steve Crooks, the house was designed to be delivered in two cylindrical packages, with interior color panels available at local dealers’ premises. A circular structure at the top of the house was designed to rotate around a central mast to take advantage of natural winds for cooling and air circulation. The American Pavilion of Expo ’67, by R. Buckminster Fuller, now the Biosphre, on le Sainte-Hlne, Montreal.

A geodesic dome is a structure developed by Buckminster Fuller in the 1940s in line with his “synergetic” thinking. Conceived nearly two decades before, and developed in Wichita, Kansas, the house was designed to be lightweight and adapted to windy climes. It was to be inexpensive to produce and purchase, and easily assembled. It was to be produced using factories, trained workers, and technologies that had produced World War II aircraft. “Ultramodern”-looking, it was structured of metal and sheathed in polished aluminum, and the basic model enclosed 1000 square feet (90 m) of floor area.

Due to high-level publicity, there were very many orders in the early Post-War years; however, the company that Fuller and others had formed to produce the houses failed due to internal management problems. Buckminster Fuller made a radical commitment to understanding, discovery, and research. He wanted to be a trailblazer, which is a risky role in any field. His life and his work therefore constituted a kind of noble gamble. For Fuller to be saved from being relegated to “cult-figure” status, his project failures (for whichever reasons) as well as his successes must be acknowledged.

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