Spring 2011 Guide: It’s a Bucky World After All….

JAN 11, 2011

Annie DiMario on R. Buckminster Fuller.

Forty-two hours. That’s the time it took for R. Buckminster Fuller to muse on his entire body of work, in a sequence of lectures recorded in Philadelphia in 1975. In the “Everything I Know” series, a camera zooms in on an aged Fuller. At first, he speaks cautiously in his patrician New England accent. But as he expounds on architecture and integrity, science and God, synergy and love, he transforms into a fast-talking, hands-flying, edge-of-the-seat interpreter all too aware that even forty-two hours isn’t enough to encapsulate his life.

Bucky Fuller was a futurist, environmentalist, designer, scientist, teacher, inventor, author, cartographer, and visionary. His ideas seep into modern life, but few people are aware of the man behind the influence. Thousands of tourists journey through Disney World’s “golf ball” on a ride called Spaceship Earth; no one tells them Fuller designed and named it. Generations of soccer players kicked around a smaller, more mobile version of this structure. Environmentally conscious drivers tool around in energy-efficient cars whose early incarnations were drafted by Fuller in 1933. European hipsters attend concerts headlined by the English band Bucky, whose songs like “Future from the Past” pay tribute to its namesake.

Fuller’s influence crosses numerous fields; his broad interests help explain why he is not better known. Had he focused his efforts on his car, he might be a household name like Henry Ford, but Ford never patented a map that displays Earth’s connected land mass in a striking new way. Had Fuller stuck solely to science, we might see him alongside Stephen Hawking in physics annals, but Hawking never taught poetry at Harvard. So expansive and myriad were Fuller’s ideas that many remain just that: fascinating ideas not completely realized. His revolutionary car was expensive to build at a time when fuel was cheap and saving energy was not on anyone’s election platform. His “Dymaxion” house was prototyped but never constructed. Even the Dodgers saw to it that Fuller’s stamp on sports remained theoretical: they fled Brooklyn for Los Angeles before his domed stadium – predating the Astrodome by ten years – could be built for them in New York. But that Orlando golf ball – and its counterparts in Montreal, Japan, the UK, and all over the world – symbolizes Fuller’s jam-packed brain. The geodesic dome, formed by a series of triangles which balance weight across a curved whole to create a huge inner space with a small amount of material, is his most reproduced design.

It also encapsulates the key idea that runs through Fuller’s work: putting an end to waste. An environmental pioneer, his altruism was born of hardship. In 1922, Fuller’s five-year-old daughter Alexandra died of polio. Her death drove Fuller through a period of alcoholism that left his family destitute. Five years later, he underwent a spiritual and scientific rebirth, rechristening himself as a “guinea pig” charged with bettering his home, at both the personal and planetary level.

Fueled by a belief that nature holds the answers to most of the world’s problems, Bucky set out to learn from the earth in order to protect it from men. This search brought him to the pattern that underlies the geodesic dome, but it also inspired dozens of small-scale inventions such as a showerhead that atomizes water to allow for a full-body cleansing with only one cup of liquid – an idea which had come to him years before during his time in the Navy, when he noticed while ship- board that the misty air removed stains from his uniform.

Fuller’s ideas did not always come to fruition, but they were uniformly utilitarian in spirit, driven by a sense of responsibility to his planet and its people. The 300,000 geodesic domes worldwide house biospheres, power plants, concert venues, and amusement park attractions, but all point toward the fundamental goal of their creator: to improve people’s lives while conserving their resources. A renaissance man long after such a thing was standard, a nerd long before it was cool, the most important hat he wore through his rich life was that of humanitarian. “We are all astronauts,” Bucky once said, “traveling aboard this beautiful little spaceship called Earth.”

Annie DiMario is a first-year dramaturgy student at the A.R.T./MXAT Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University.

Spring 2011 Guide

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