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Richard Buckminster Fuller was a renowned American architect, systems theorist, author, futurist, and inventor. He held 28 patents, including his famous inventions, the geodesic dome and Dymaxion. Fuller expressed his belief that human societies would soon rely mainly on renewable energy sources, such as solar- and wind-derived electricity.
Key Facts & Information
Fuller’s Family and Early Life
- Richard Buckminster Fuller was born on July 12, 1895, in Milton, Massachusetts. He was the eldest of four children of Richard Buckminster Fuller and Caroline Wolcott. His family and close friends called him Bucky. He styled his name as R. Buckminster Fuller in his work and creations.
- Fuller was a grand-nephew of an American journalist, critic, and women’s rights advocate, Margaret Fuller.
- Fuller showed his inventing capability at 12 years old when he invented a push-pull system that allowed him to row while looking in the boat’s direction.
- The Fuller household experienced a dark episode in their life when his father suddenly died of a stroke in 1910. As the eldest, Fuller was expected to carry over his father’s responsibilities, both in family and business interests.
- The family name was well connected to Harvard. After attending Milton Academy, Fuller entered Harvard University in 1913 to continue the family legacy. However, he was expelled in his second year because of excessive socializing and missing the midterm exams.
- He moved to Canada following his expulsion and took work at a mill. He developed his interest in machinery there.
- In 1915, Fuller returned to Harvard but was dismissed again due to a lack of ambition.
Tragedy in the Family
- Fuller married Anne Hewlett, daughter of American Beaux architect James Monroe Hewlett, in 1917.
- He then joined the US Navy, where he invented a winch for rescuing downed airplanes from the sea.
- Consequently, his superiors recommended Fuller for officer training at the US Naval Academy. After only a year, he was promoted to Lieutenant.
- His new rank allowed him to witness the world of new technologies, such as the first-ever transatlantic telephone call.
- In 1922, tragedy struck Fuller’s family when their first child, Alexandra, died of polio and spinal meningitis.
- Fuller blamed the family’s poor living conditions for his daughter’s death. This experience changed Fuller’s life. In the same year, he left the Navy, ventured into civilian life as an entrepreneur, and made a lifelong mission to provide better housing for ordinary Americans.
- A few years later, he became the president of Stockade Building Systems, a business he and his father-in-law developed that offered affordable and efficient housing. However, their design failed to generate significant commercial interest.
A Dark Episode of His Life
- In 1927, Fuller lost his position at Stockade and made his family struggle financially. During this time, his second daughter was born, which added to the financial challenges.
- As a result, he drank heavily and contemplated suicide by drowning in Lake Michigan so that his family would benefit from life insurance. This was one of the episodes in his life that he would repeatedly recount to his audience because of its transformative impact.
- Fuller recovered from this dark episode and resolved to find ways to use technology the “save the world from itself”.
- It led him to New York, where he would paint the walls of a cafe in Greenwich Village in exchange for meals. He befriended the playwright Eugene O’Neill and the artist and architect Isamu Noguchi, with whom he developed a friendship and working relationship.
- Fuller also made mathematical notes and sketches that stayed with him throughout his life and revealed the simplicity of his design.
- In 1928, Fuller distributed 200 copies of his essay “4D Time Lock”, explaining his plan for a new style of affordable housing. He applied his paper to a practical design, presenting a sketch of “one town world” that offered a type of inexpensive, mass-produced home and could be delivered by air all around the world. The house was named “Dymaxion House”, which came from the words dynamic, maximum, and tension and was coined by store executives of a department store where it was put on display. The name became synonymous with his design philosophy of “doing more with less”.
- The Dymaxion house had a roof designed to utilize the dome effect, which ventilated hot air out and forced cooler air downward, creating natural air conditioning.
- It also used packaging toilets which would put waste for composting. In addition, the house had a one-piece prefabricated unit with fogging shower heads to conserve water.
- He collaborated with his friend Noguchi and released his blueprint for his Dymaxion Car, a three-wheeled vehicle capable of carrying 12 passengers with a top speed of 200 km per hour. Unfortunately, there were only three prototypes made.
- Fuller was teaching at Black Mountain College during the summers of 1948-1949. He also served as its Summer Institute Director in 1949.
- This was also the period when he began reinventing the geodesic dome, a project that would make him famous.
- He secured a United States patent in 1954 as a German patent was already awarded on June 9, 1925, by Dr. Walther Bauersfeld. Fuller was mistakenly credited for its design. Nevertheless, he undoubtedly popularized this type of structure.
- Fuller constructed the early models of the geodesic dome in 1945 at Bennington College, where he often lectured. However, it was not until 1949 that Fuller erected the first dome building to sustain its own weight with no practical limits.
- The dome was 4.3 meters in diameter and used aluminium aircraft tubing and a vinyl-plastic skin in the form of an icosahedron. Its triangular elements were structurally rigid and could distribute the structural stress throughout the structure. The US government employed Fuller’s firm Geodesics, Inc. to make small domes for the marines.
Success Around the World
- The geodesic dome received international attention in the 1950s. Fuller met James Fitzgibbon while lecturing at North Carolina State University in 1949 and would become the director of Geodesics, Inc and Synergetics Inc.
- In 1954, Fuller started collaborating with friends, such as Shoji Sadao, and they co-founded the architectural firm Fuller & Sadao Inc. in 1964. Their first project was to design the large geodesic dome for the US Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal, now called “Montreal Biosphere”.
- Another friend recruited him to serve as a research professor of “design science exploration” at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. SIU architecture professor Jon Davey described the position as more of a celebrity role than a teaching job. Regardless, Fuller’s time at SIU was highly productive. He collaborated with John McHale at SIU and inaugurated the World Design Science Decade at the International Union of Architects meeting in Paris in 1965.
- In 1968, he was promoted to university professor and distinguished university professor in 1972.
- In 1971, Fuller designed a dome at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Religious Center. From 1972-1975, he held a joint fellowship at a consortium of Philadelphia-area institutions. The affiliation resulted in the University of Pennsylvania’s appointment of him as professor emeritus in 1975.
- Eleven days before his 88th birthday, Fuller died due to a heart attack. Before his death, his wife was lying comatose because of cancer. On July 1, 1983, he visited her when he suddenly exclaimed that she was squeezing his hand. He stood up, then suffered a heart attack and died an hour later. His wife died 36 hours later.
Richard Buckminster Fuller Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle that includes everything you need to know about Richard Buckminster Fuller across 28 in-depth pages. These are ready to use worksheets that are perfect for teaching about Richard Buckminster Fuller, a renowned American architect, systems theorist, author, futurist, and inventor. He held 28 patents, including his famous inventions, the geodesic dome and Dymaxion. Fuller expressed his belief that human societies would soon rely mainly on renewable energy sources, such as solar- and wind-derived electricity.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
Below is a list of all the worksheets included in this document
- Richard Buckminster Fuller Facts
- Fuller’s Bio
- Fuller’s Inquiry
- Challenges Before Fame
- Friends and Colleagues
- Pivotal Events
- Fuller’s Later Years
- Dymaxion House
- Designer’s Wisdom
- Architect’s Creations
- Your Own Geodesic Dome
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