Richard Buckminster Fuller: The Man Who Experimented With His Life…
Fuller was born on July 12, 1895, in Milton, Massachusetts. Born into a wealthy and patrician family, he never experienced lack of money or lack of popularity. In his teenage years he horrified his parents by getting expelled from Harvard twice: once for treating an entire New York dance troupe to champagne on his own tab and then, after having been readmitted, for his “irresponsibility and lack of interest”. To his family’s shock, he never completed his college education.
Between his sessions at Harvard, Fuller worked in Canada as a mechanic in a Cotton mill, and later as a laborer in the meat-packing industry. At the age of 22 in 1917, he married his sweetheart Anne Helwett and joined the US Navy for wartime service, where for two years he eagerly served as a shipboard radio operator, and later as a crash-boat commander.
His life seemed almost perfect at the time, but in only a few years his familiar and secure world had turned upside down.
By the age of 32 Fuller was bankrupt and jobless, living in low-income housing in Chicago. His daughter Alexandra died from polio meningitis. He had no viable means to support his wife and his other new born child. His failures and misfortunes pushed him over the edge and he started drinking heavily.
Not seeing a way out, Fuller seriously thought about committing suicide. But before drowning himself in Lake Michigan, he decided to give himself one last chance.
That was the day when Buckminster Fuller vowed to stop living for just receiving a paycheck. From this moment he made the decision to spend the rest of his life discovering “what the little, penniless, unknown individual might be able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity.” He kept his word and spent the next half century searching for “ways of doing more with less” so that all people could be fed and sheltered.
In spite of the fact that he did not have an official degree in Architecture or Engineering, a few years later Fuller designed the Dymaxion House or a pre-fabricated, pole-supported dwelling which was intended to house the technology needed for people to live. A year later in 1928 Fuller worked on the design of the highly unconventional Dymaxion car. This three wheeled machine was capable of carrying 12 passengers and reaching a speed of nearly 200 km per hour. This project, however, has not been brought to life.
Another one of Fuller’s famous creations is the Dymaxion Air-Ocean Map, which projects a spherical world as a flat surface with no visible distortion, which up to this day remains the only navigationally-correct whole-world map of the Earth.
But true popularity and public acceptance he received only after designing his Geodesic Dome. At the time it was hailed as the lightest, strongest and most cost-effective structure that could cover the maximum possible space without internal supports. It is the only kind of building that has no limiting dimensions. In fact, the bigger it is, the lighter and stronger it becomes.
Over 200,000 such domes have been built all over the world to offer inexpensive shelter to homeless families in Africa, or to house weather stations in 180 mph winds in the Antarctic. But the most famous example of Geodesic Dome probably is the United States pavilion built for the 1967 international exhibition in Montreal.
During his life time Fuller lectured at 550 universities throughout the world. Almost 40 years after being expelled, Fuller returned to Harvard keeping his head high as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry.
His ‘Synergistic’ way of thinking was so ahead of his time that it took years for the natural sciences to catch up with the significance of such discoveries. Basing his designs on a principle that everything is connected and that we can “do more with less”, declaring that in order to make a living you do not have to take from someone else, bringing mass media’s attention to the fact that the world’s human and material resources are not infinite and must be handled with the greatest economy and care, Fuller provoked resistance and even indignation. Many of his contemporaries openly made fun of his ideas, considering them naïve and even crazy. Maybe that is why a motto that Buckminster Fuller used in many of his speeches and writings was “Dare to be naïve”.
True recognition of the importance of Fuller’s scientific research came only after his death. By then he had written 28 books, registered 25 US patents, traveled around the globe 57 times and received 44 honorary doctorates as well as a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.
He died on July 1st, 1983 in Los Angeles of a heart attack. His wife, Anne Hewlett, died two days later.
Buckminster Fuller once said, “There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.” Similar, no one would ever predict that a tiny 5’2” man without a degree or substantial capital would turn into a person destined to influence the world and become one of the brightest minds of 20th century.
R. Buckminster Fuller Quotes:
1. “There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes”
2. “God, to me, it seems, is a verb, not a noun, proper or improper.”
3. “Everyone is born a genius, but the process of living de-geniuses them.”
4. “Faith is much better than belief. Belief is when someone else does the thinking.”
5. “Controlled time is our true wealth.”
6. “Don’t fight forces, use them.”
7. “You must choose between making money and making sense. The two are mutually exclusive.”
8. “Man knows so much and does so little.”
9. “Either war is obsolete, or men are.”
10. “Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.”