R. Buckminster Fuller, known as “Bucky” was born with terrible vision. In fact, his vision was so poor that medical science didn’t invent eyeglasses that would allow him to see properly until he was in his early teens. Fuller attributed his later success as an inventor to his vision problem. Because he couldn’t see, he didn’t have the same pre-formed opinion of his surroundings that others did. For example, most people would see a house and say, “That’s a house. That’s the way houses look, the way they are built, I’ll build my house just like that one with just a few changes.”
Fuller thought about things differently. He went from the general to the specific. Instead of building a house much like every other house, he thought of the concept of shelter. What was the most efficient way of keeping people and their belongings out of the weather,etc . He eventually designed the “Dymaxion House”, a self contained housing unit built around a central pier that could be mass produced and set up in a short time.
When he wanted to design a car, he didn’t just make modifications to the cars currently being made. Bucky thought of it in terms of “Transportation”, not just in building another car. He designed the Dymaxion Car, an auto that had 3 wheels instead of four, was shaped like a teardrop to provide maximum efficiency and lower wind resistance. It could travel 130 miles an hour with great gas mileage in an era when people didn’t even think about how much gas they were using. The car could turn in it’s own radius and park in the tightest of spots. One version that never left the drawing board even had the back of the car rise up at high speed so as to provide even less drag.
His most famous design was the Geodesic Dome. It was a spherical structure that appeared to be round , but was made up of light weight members that were cut to precise measurements and installed in an intricate manner that acted sort of like a spiderweb, creating huge stable structures that were built using light weight materials. The largest example of these domes was the US exhibit at Expo ’67, the Montreal World’s Fair. Just 2 years before, the Houston Astrodome, the enclosed baseball stadium was built using huge steel beams in a more traditional construction design. The Montreal dome was said to be hundreds of tons lighter than the one in Houston. It needed far less construction material and fewer highly skilled workers to cover about the same amount of space.
Many of Fullers plans didn’t work out because he was too far ahead of his time. But his inspiration has caused many inventors who came after him to “think outside the box”, to come up with design ideas that defy tradition.
Happy Birthday, Bucky. You were a true visionary.
Bucky with “Tensegrity” model