Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895 - 1983) was an architect and designer based in the US. His design philosophy of 'more for less' was applied across a range of projects, from the design of a car, housing, boats, games, to perhaps his most famous design: the geodesic dome. Geodesic domes are lightweight structures that can span large distances without any internal supports; highly cost effective they became popular for military and exhibition use as well as for emergency shelter. They inspired a whole host of architects and designers, including the use and adaptation of the domes at the hippie commune in Colorado, Drop City. This application being important for demonstrating that Fuller's ideas could also be applied in a low-tech manner.
One of the first to recognise the finite nature of natural resources, Fuller was convinced that design and technology could offer solutions to the problems of the management of resources, especially with regard to transportation and building.
Although he was mostly self-taught, having been expelled twice from Harvard University, Fuller's practice was intertwined with teaching, emphasising project based learning and collaborations with colleagues and students. During the 1950s, Fuller taught at various colleges across the US, notably at the residential Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he worked in collaboration with ex-Bauhaus tutors, such as Walter Gropius and Josef Albers, and the composer John Cage amongst others. The experimental college did not grade students' work and they lived, worked and ate alongside their teachers. Black Mountain's pedagogic approach of giving equal emphasis to creativity and practical responsibility was an ideal setting for Fuller's experiments. It was here that the first large-scale geodesic dome was built, which was to bestow widespread acceptance on his ideas.
A prolific designer and thinker, Fuller popularised and appropriated the phrase Spaceship Earth to describe the finite and unreplenishable resources of the planet and its interdependent nature. This was the basis for his systems thinking and the emphasis on access to and invention of tools to enhance living, concepts that were to prove a major inspiration for Stewart Brand, the co-founder of the Whole Earth Catalog. Amongst other designs, Fuller also developed the Dymaxion World Map which showed relative size and shape of continents with much less distortion than standard projections. The map also does not have a prescribed orientation unlike the usually adopted north-south axis which was viewed by Fuller as a manifestation of cultural bias.
Unbounded by a single discipline Fuller's influence ranges across architecture, mathematics, design and science with his theoretical work on the structure of particles leading him to discover the mathematical formula for the closest packing of spheres. His approach to design was driven by a desire to improve the lives of all of earth's inhabitants through an efficient and fair use of resources. Fuller's faith in technology and the inventiveness of humans gave his work an optimism that was often dismissed as being too utopian but the environmental challenges of our time make this type of thinking and approach to design even more relevant today.
Richard Buckminster Fuller, Operating manual for spaceship earth (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969).
---, Utopia or oblivion: the prospects for humanity (London: Allen Lane, 1970).
---, Critical path (London: Hutchinson, 1983).
Richard Buckminster Fuller, Eric Arthur Walker and James Rhyne Killian, Approaching the Benign Environment, Man and society (London: Muller, 1973).
J. Baldwin, BuckyWorks: Buckminster Fuller's Ideas for Today (New York: John Wiley, 1996).
Paul Makovsky, Belinda Lanks and Martin C. Pedersen, 'The Fuller Effect', Metropolis Magazine, http://www.metropolismag.com/story/20080716/the-fuller-effect [accessed 29 March 2010].
Robert Marks, The Dymaxion World of Buckminster Fuller (Garden City, N.Y: Anchor Press, 1973).
Joe Moore, 'Buckminster Fuller Virtual Institute', http://www.buckminster.info/ [accessed 29 March 2010].
Martin Pawley, Buckminster Fuller, Design heroes (London: Trefoil, 1990).
'R. Buckminster Fuller', Design Museum, http://designmuseum.org/design/r-buckminster-fuller [accessed 29 March 2010].
"Our little Spaceship Earth is only eight thousand miles in
diameter, which is almost a negligible dimension in the great
vastness of space. . . . Spaceship Earth was so extraordinarily
well invented and designed that to our knowledge humans have been
on board it for two million years not even knowing that they were
on board a ship."
- Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth available at; http://bfi.org/?q=node/418
"We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that
everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten
thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of
supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in
recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing
jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed
at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian
theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors
of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to
inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go
back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking
about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a
- Fuller quoted in: Elizabeth Barlow, 'The New York Magazine Environmental Teach-In', New York Magazine, 1970, available at; quote.
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