A Brief History
On January 16, 1970, one of America’s greatest architects and all around “Renaissance Man,” Richard Buckminster Fuller, was awarded the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects. Mostly famous for his use of what he called the “geodesic dome” in architecture, Fuller, known simply as “Bucky” to friends, was also famous for his 30 books and penchant for inventing words and phrases.
Fuller is so highly regarded that a form of carbon molecules called “fullerenes” are named in his honor. Fuller also served as the second president of the genius organization, Mensa, from 1974 to 1983. Amazingly, Fuller accomplished all this without the benefit of a college degree, having had the ignominy of being expelled from Harvard not once, but twice!
A man of eclectic talents, Fuller worked as a mechanic, as a radio operator for the Navy during World War I, and then as a crash rescue boat commander, as well as working in the meat packing industry. He and his father in law also went into the business of producing lightweight, fireproof housing, a venture that failed. At the age of 32 (1927), Fuller was drinking heavily and was on hard times financially. Although it appeared his life would be a total flop, he had an epiphany in which a vision gave him the motivation and purpose to succeed. This revelation led Fuller to develop his idea of a “Dymaxion House” in 1930 (revised in 1945), an easily shipped and assembled model house with maximum efficiency for production and for living in. The house featured a dome like structure of aluminum tubes radiating out similar to an umbrella, with aluminum wedges as roofing between the tubes. Fuller also collaborated on a “Dymaxion Car,” with less success.
Fuller left a legacy of writings and structures, some interesting phraseology (such as “dymaxion” and “ephemeralization”), but it is his influence on so many architects that leave a testament to his life. Books and films have been made about this interesting man, a US Postage Stamp was issued in his honor (displayed on the cover of Time Magazine, January 10, 1964), and even Rock music has alluded to him. Fuller is certainly one of American History’s great architects. Question for students (and subscribers): What other American architects would you rate as being in Fuller’s class? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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The featured image in this article, a photograph by Cédric Thévenet of The Montreal Biosphère by Buckminster Fuller, 1967, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.