“I’m not trying to imitate nature; I’m trying to find the pencil she’s using.” ~ R. Buckminster Fuller
Buckminster Fuller is one of my favorite public figures of all time.
I first learned about him at age 14 from another of my heroes, my high school teacher Mr. Long, in a class called “Avant-garde Theater and Architecture.” I fell in love with Bucky’s various eccentricities by way of Mr. Long’s anecdotal stories. (Supposedly, Bucky wouldn’t sleep at night, but would take 10 minute naps throughout the day after learning how to go directly into REM sleep—he found sleep to be a waste of time.)
Similarly, I fell in love with the poetic-ness with which Bucky would articulate his philosophies about life and our planet. (“Everybody is an astronaut,” he said, for example, “We all live aboard a beautiful little spaceship called earth.”)
The richness, complexity, and genius of Bucky’s mind and his many inventions are impossible to cover in a single article. But for starters, he was an early environmental activist, predicting and addressing today’s most pressing problems well before they were acknowledged in popular culture.
Along the lines of environmental activism, two of his many famous inventions were the Dymaxion car (a fuel-efficient car that could fit 12 people) and the Dymaxion house (an efficient, inexpensive, easily assembled home that could be produced with the same factories, laborers, and machinery used to make aircraft during World War II.)
The Dymaxion Car, above.
The Dymaxion house.
Fuller is perhaps best known for popularizing the Geodesic dome, the Spaceship Earth at Epcot in Walt Disney World being a famous example. Found in nature, the 3-dimensional shape forms an efficient, weather-withstanding structure now commonly used in architecture all over the world.
As Bucky described, everything he did was “an experiment to discover what the little, penniless, unknown individual might be able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity.” Passionate about efficiency and addressing the limited resources of the planet, he continuously found ways to recycle materials while promoting something he called “ephemeralization,” i.e. “doing more with less.”
He was also a great teacher, encouraging inquisitiveness, and even discouraging young people from getting jobs in order to spend more time thinking. As he said:
We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.
In summary, Bucky was an original and a genius. He was an accurately self-titled “comprehensive, anticipatory design scientist,” so much so that we’re still catching up with him today, nearly 30 years after his death. To me, he’s one of the few people worthy of hero-worship, in a particularly relevant way now, as planetary awareness finally, though slowly, emerges into mainstream consciousness.
I searched for “Buckminster Fuller” on YouTube and found this CBS Sunday Morning Special that serves as a succinct introduction to Bucky and his work. Following are videos of his own Geodesic dome home, which he shared with his wife Anne (of 66 years) and footage of his remarkable Dymaxion car.
CBS Sunday Morning Special on Buckminster Fuller:
Bucky’s Dome Home:
The Dymaxion Car: