R. Buckminister Fuller—known to many as “Bucky”—was a brilliant visionary, designer, and thinker, deeply concerned with the equitable distribution of global resources. His many groundbreaking inventions (garnering over twenty-five patents) included the Dymaxion car and the geodesic dome. Born in Milton, Massachusetts, Fuller attended Milton Academy from 1904 until 1913. Between 1913 and 1915, he was enrolled at Harvard University, from which he was expelled twice for what he later described as “general irresponsibility.” During World War I, 1917 to 1919, Fuller was an ensign, then lieutenant, in the United States Navy, and took classes at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.
Fuller held various positions in industry before founding and serving as president of Stockade Building System, a company that made bricks from compressed wood shavings with large holes for poured concrete. During the 1930s he invented and manufactured mass-produced kitchens and bathrooms, and the Dymaxion car, which derives its name from three words: dynamic, maximum, and tension. Streamlined like an airplane, the three-wheeled vehicle held eleven passengers was ultimately discontinued after a fatal accident. During World War II, Fuller was the chief mechanical engineer for the United Stated Board of Economic Warfare. Over the ensuing years, he directed several entities relating to his inventions.
For the 1948 Black Mountain College summer institute devoted to arts and architect, Josef Albers invited Fuller to teach architecture and design. While there, he brought to near fruition his first geodesic dome. Because it was constructed of metals strips from Venetian blinds that were too thin (the college could not afford thicker materials), the dome collapsed. Fuller’s response was philosophical: “You succeed when you stop failing.” More successful was the performance of The Ruse of Medusa in which he co-starred with Elaine de Kooning. The following summer, Fuller returned to western North Carolina and, in Albers’ absence, directed a comprehensive design program. One project was to cast tetrahedron panels in fiberglass for another dome, but because it was an unusually wet summer the panels did not dry and the initiative was jettisoned.
Fuller was known as an inspirational lecturer who could talk for upwards of three hours with few notes. One of his favorite topics was “Spaceship Earth,” the concept that the earth is a spaceship like a mechanical vehicle that requires maintenance; “we are all astronauts,” he claimed. By the late 1960s, Fuller was very much in demand; he was the architect of the impressive large United States Pavilion at Expo ’67 in Montreal and served in the same capacity for structures in Oxford and London, England, Toronto, Canada, and Israel. He authored numerous books and held a series of academic appointments at prestigious institutions including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, as well as Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore colleges. He also held a one-year post as a poetry fellow at Harvard University. Throughout the 1970s until his death, he was senior partner in the design firm Fuller & Sadao, as well as a consultant to many architectural projects and educational institutions. One week before their sixty-sixth wedding anniversary, Bucky suffered a fatal heart attack, just thirty-six hours before his gravely ill wife died.