Buckminster Fuller: Inventor of the Geodesic Dome

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This geodesic-like molecule was dubbed""Fullerene"".
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Buckminster Fuller in front of the U.S. Pavilion, a massive geodesic dome in Montreal, Canada.
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His 1934 Dymaxion car weighed less than 1,000 pounds and carried eight passengers at 120 mph.

In 1927, Buckminster Fuller, then 32, stood at the edge
of a freezing Lake Michigan and resolved to throw himself
into the water, thus ending a life he deemed “wasted.” His
young daughter had recently died, leaving him, his wife and
remaining infant daughter in a world of grief and
desperation. A college dropout and by most accounts
thoroughly uncomfortable in his own skin, Fuller was unable
to keep hold of a steady idea, much less a job that
supplied even the basic necessities for his family. But as
he stood and pondered the end of his young life, he was
struck suddenly by the notion that the enemy crushing his
spirit and informing his death was actually his own ego,
and that he would do better to commit “ego-cide” rather
than suicide. He chose at that moment to think and work on
behalf of all humanity, rejecting personal gain and
aggrandizement in the process. “An experiment to discover
what the little, penniless, unknown individual might be
able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity” saved him
from drowning and his family from renewed heartbreak.

Over the following 50 years, the
“experiment” resulted in the following: 50 U.S. patents, 28
authored books, 47 honorary degrees in engineering and the
humanities, the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest
national honor that a private citizen can receive) and
dozens of other awards. From an architectural standpoint
alone, he may well be the greatest American thinker of the
20th century.

Coining a term that is now part of science’s vocabulary, he
found that a lack of “synergy,” or interconnectedness, was
apparent in the social and architectural systems of the
day. Addressing the latter concern, he proposed a shelter
that enclosed more space with fewer materials than any
other. A dome composed of interlocking triangles would not
only have the virtue of accomplishing this, but would also
provide tremendous tensile strength and wind resistance. It
took a commission from the U.S. Pavilion at Montreal’s
Expo’67 to convince the world of the aesthetic and
structural integrity of the geodesic principle. Fuller
describes the system himself:

“Let me be blunt, contractors are building houses the way
they did 2,000 years ago. With traditional building, the
pillars become the essential weapon in the fight against
gravity. ‘Dome-type’ construction integrates the structure
into a continuous surface. Curves are always stronger than
planes. In conventional building the roof weighs so much,
interior walls are needed to support it. The attic becomes
a huge waste of space, material, and labor that you pay
for.

“The triangle is the strongest structure known to man. You
build a sphere from triangles you have a super
structure.”

And he dreamed on. Taking advantage of the fact that warmer
air inside a dome provides lift, he proposed a gigantic
geodesic covering all of Manhattan island. A dome over
one-half mile in diameter would actually float with only a
1°F air temperature difference, so the structure would
not only not require a foundation, it would have to be
tethered to the ground.

The U.S. Marine Corps hailed the geodesic dome as “the
first basic improvement in mobile military shelter in 2,600
years,” and domes constructed of plastic and fiberglass
have been withstanding 200 mph winds in the Arctic for over
a decade.

Buckminster Fuller’s life
experiment ended in 1983, leaving a legacy of incalculable
inspiration in its wake.