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The Life and Times of Buckminster Fuller

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the comprehensivist-for-short dept.

Technology 203

The New Yorker features a review of the life and work of R. Buckminster Fuller, on the occasion of a retrospective exhibition in New York 25 years after his death. Fuller was a deeply strange man. He documented his life so thoroughly (in the "Dymaxion Chronofile," which had grown to over 200K pages by his death) that biographers have had trouble putting their fingers on what, exactly, Fuller's contribution to civilization had been. The review quotes Stewart Brand's resignation from the cult of the Fuller Dome (in 1994): "Domes leaked, always. The angles between the facets could never be sealed successfully. If you gave up and tried to shingle the whole damn thing — dangerous process, ugly result — the nearly horizontal shingles on top still took in water. The inside was basically one big room, impossible to subdivide, with too much space wasted up high. The shape made it a whispering gallery that broadcast private sounds to everyone." From the article: "Fuller's schemes often had the hallucinatory quality associated with science fiction (or mental hospitals). It concerned him not in the least that things had always been done a certain way in the past... He was a material determinist who believed in radical autonomy, an individualist who extolled mass production, and an environmentalist who wanted to dome over the Arctic. In the end, Fuller's greatest accomplishment may consist not in any particular idea or artifact but in the whole unlikely experiment that was Guinea Pig B [which is how Fuller referred to himself]."

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Sounds a bit like Tesla (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23898795)

Genius, no doubt, but likely to never be full understood.

Another parallell: Heidelberg and Gates. (-1, Offtopic)

ibane (1294214) | more than 6 years ago | (#23898969)

A curious blend of techincal and marketing skills [] soon to be forgotten. Surely you don't think of Wintel publications as anything more substantial than the Sears catalog?

Re:Another parallell: Heidelberg and Gates. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23899367)

Wow twitter [] this obsession [] with Microsoft is really starting to get tiresome, just like all your accounts.

Re:Sounds a bit like Tesla (5, Insightful)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899095)

Sounds a bit like Tesla...Genius, no doubt, but likely to never be full understood.

I'd say that comparison is a little unfair to Tesla. Tesla seems nutty, but largely because he was exploring and defining the cutting edge of the science of electricity. Conversely, Fuller seems nutty simply because he was a freakin' nut.

Re:Sounds a bit like Tesla (4, Interesting)

Degrees (220395) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899239)

I went to a talk given by Buckminster Fuller. He was pretty happy that a short time before, some chemists had indeed figured out *how* to craft a buckyball. (They hadn't yet, but had formulated the process). Anyway, he showed off a model of a structure he invented. He created (and showed) a sphere built of sticks and joints held together by tension (not compression). In other words, even when you pressed on it, it redistributed the load via tension.

You may think him a nut, but he did have some engineering talent beyond the norm.

Re:Sounds a bit like Tesla (5, Informative)

backdoorstudent (663553) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899587)

Re:Sounds a bit like Tesla (4, Insightful)

backdoorstudent (663553) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899625)

It's also how a spoked wheel works so it was nothing new in terms of engineering.

Re:Sounds a bit like Tesla (5, Insightful)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900021)

You may think him a nut, but he did have some engineering talent beyond the norm.

Given that his first model of a geodesic dome collapsed under its own weight, I'd say it's more likely the engineering "talent" behind its design was chance, in that he happened to discover an interesting 3D geometric pattern. He had no particular knack for engineering. After that first dome collapsed, he tried to claim he intentionally built it too weakly, in order to see where it would fail. No one present was convinced. He imagined his "dymaxion car" would be able to cross any terrain, climb any mountain, and eventually even fly. He had no idea how this would happen, nor did he seem to care--- because he was a "visionary", not an engineer. The guy invented his own map geometry that avoided the use of pi because he found the indeterminate nature of pi "unsatisfying". A distaste for the facts of mathematics is not a trait found in engineers. No, he wasn't an engineer by any stretch of the definition of the word. The guy was a salesman, and what he sold was enthusiasm. He made most of his money on the lecture circuit, which he then blew on his harebrained "Dymaxion" crap, which lost money but generated "buzz", which drew people to his lectures. Good work if you can get it, but he was no engineer.

This article gives a very distorted view. (5, Informative)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900323)

For once I can't respond with a firm RTFA since the FA is fundamentally clueless. Which since it's in a publication with less genuine interest in technology and engineering than Parade Magazine shouldn't be too much of a surprise.

Fuller's domes may not be The One True Faith that people like Brand wanted but they're still a damn good choice for certain kinds of commercial structures. They also got modern engineers thinking about dynamic load distribution in ways that are very relevant and important now, a time when yurt design, for example, is going high-tech fast.
Tensegrity Posts [] are just now starting to be appreciated for the resource-frugal, vastly compressible wonders they are. I guarantee that we'll see more and more variations on this scheme in the coming years in structures that need to be boosted out of the gravity well or simply transported at very low cost in absolutely minimal space.
Fuller's cardboard versions of his dome worked quite well as temporary structures during World War II. If we had any sense at all we'd be making them now out of modern materials.
Many of his designs failed in large part for lack of, basically, computing power and, to a lesser degree, modern materials. Done with modern resources they're practical as all get out. You may want to laugh at his two piece steel bathroom but the hundreds of thousands of blowmolded shower enclosures sold every year at places like Home Despot are direct descendents. His cooling approach in the Dymaxion Home was far more sophisticated and resource-savvy than most of the "eco-homes" being built even today. And trust me, I've reviewed the plans of hundreds.

I agree, Fuller was an obscurantist pain in the ass with some serious delusions. He also got a hell of a lot of useful work done that considerably advanced manufacturing technology, approaches in several branches of engineering, and topology. Where he focused his attention, things advanced. As for his stuff including make-do components, like the famed Ford suspension put on its side in the Dymaxion Car, he made it clear from day one that this was a proof of concept, a proof that, even with make-do parts, carried ten passengers, got over 30 mpg, and turned on its own radius. Go ahead, show me that the first proofs of concept by Burt Rutan or Armadillo Aerospace or OLPC work that well.

Re:Sounds a bit like Tesla (5, Interesting)

digital19 (1195625) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899321)

Dymaxion car was actually w-a-y ahead of its time. It got 30 mpg in 1933.

When you look at only one invention of his, it's easy to tear apart... But when you study the breadth of his work, including his piercing insight in to globalization... I think scientists should be more like Fuller. Overspecialization has made our culture perfect, but very boring.

Re:Sounds a bit like Tesla (2, Interesting)

belthize (990217) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899725)

      That's not a very good metric. A Model-T in 1908 got 25MPG. The Dymaxion was pretty light. The fabric roof was great on weight but kind of rough in a roll over.

      Improvements in fuel efficiency have sadly gone to making bigger, heavier vehicles. For some reason 25MPG seems to be the 'target'.

ps: Wikipedia seems to think 30MPG was unheard of '33. Not sure I buy that and of course there's no source.

Re:Sounds a bit like Tesla (1)

digital19 (1195625) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899815)

13 to 21mpg

not only that (2, Interesting)

unity100 (970058) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899875)

but overspecialization also brings lack of innovation, vision, and in general invention.

just think how frequent were the inventions in the 19th century. if you force yourself, you can see that institutionalization and specialization of new science branches have also brought refinements of earlier discoveries, but decreased the number of discoveries and inventions too.

we need discovery, inventions. we are sorely lacking them these days.

Re:not only that (5, Insightful)

oatworm (969674) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900381)

No we're not. They're just so commonplace now that we take them for granted.

In the 19th century, we got the internal combustion engine, radio, telephone, railroads, and cars, among other things. In the past 30 years alone, we've sequenced the entire human genome, can make computers pretty much any size you want, can predict weather accurately just about anywhere on the planet up to a week... the list kind of goes on like this. None of that would be possible without some serious inventiveness.

Keep in mind that there was so little that anybody knew about our world and the universe in 1800 that it really didn't take much to come up with inventions that took advantage of the new knowledge of the time, like electricity and radio waves. Nowadays, new knowledge involves quantum physics or genetic manipulation. I'm sure that, 100 years from now, anything we come up with will seem almost trivial, but keep in mind that it took over 50 years for someone to figure out how a battery worked and what to use one with. Turnaround time on using new discoveries is, for the most part, a little faster these days.

Deeply strange? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23899635)

Give it up, kdawson. You *REALLY* shouldn't be an editor here.

Re:Sounds a bit like Tesla (4, Interesting)

ebusinessmedia1 (561777) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900393)

And you probably weren't even born when Fuller was inventing up a storm. He was a genius, period. WAY ahead of his time, and STILL ahead of his time. I had the good fortune to hear Fuller speak when I was in grad school; he was in his early 80's. He walked on to a stage with a small folding chair and weighed in on everything from physics to the environment, and everything in between for THREE HOURS! He didn't repeat one idea; he connected everything. To this day, I have NEVER been exposed to that kind of genius. He was otherworldly - a true Renaissance man.

Re:Sounds a bit like Tesla (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899129)

Naw Tesla was a briliant man that became a nutcase. Bucky was mostly a con man. He sold dreams and people bought them.
Bucky was in the classic words of Douglas Adams, "mostly harmless"
Not the worst way to be remembered.

Re:Sounds a bit like Tesla (4, Insightful)

Admiral Ag (829695) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900191)

FTA: "instead of finding a job, [BF] took to spending his days in the library, reading Gandhi and Leonardo."

We need more people like this. I'm not saying that it would be a good thing if everyone were like this, but we do need more dream sellers.

If nothing else, they make the world less boring.

Alternating current works. (2, Interesting)

JulianConrad (1223926) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899691)

Tesla came up with a technology that made electrical power practical. He got weird in middle age when he ran out of his better ideas and kept trying to find people to give him money.

Re:Alternating current works. (2, Interesting)

NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899909)

I seem to recall from one of his biographies that , even in the best times of his life when he wasn't short on money, he had compulsions, such as having to calculate the volume of his food before he ate it, and phobias, such as not being able to touch other people's hair (except perhaps under duress "at gunpoint").

I'm sure that once he wasn't coming up with novel, and, more importantly, immediately profitable, ideas at a rapid rate, those quirks didn't help him much. I can believe that his mental issues might also have gotten worse once nobody was paying him much mind any more (the transition from scientific/engineering celebrity to obscurity would be hard to deal with I expect), but everything I've ever heard about him indicates he was a weird chap all his life by anybody's measure.

Who needs a single contribution... (5, Funny)

HitekHobo (1132869) | more than 6 years ago | (#23898809)

...when you can have the entire world referring to 'Bucky Balls'.

That should be enough for any man.

Re:Who needs a single contribution... (1)

FilterMapReduce (1296509) | more than 6 years ago | (#23898879)

The only comparable accomplishment was that of Niklaus Wirth, purportedly the namesake of bucky bits [] .

Re:Who needs a single contribution... (1)

wolftone (609476) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900311)

fortune upon login yesterday:

Niklaus Wirth has lamented that, whereas Europeans pronounce his name correctly (Ni-klows Virt), Americans invariably mangle it into (Nick-les Worth). Which is to say that Europeans call him by name, but Americans call him by value.

Re:Who needs a single contribution... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23898893)

God forbid we ever devise a use for them in which they have to touch.

Re:Who needs a single contribution... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23898999)

Because then it would fulfill the rule and become gay.

Sometimes a Cigar is not just a Cigar (0, Troll)

twitter (104583) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899085)

Would you like to be remembered by the name "MicroSoft"? Bucky Balls is so much nicer.

Re:Sometimes a Cigar is not just a Cigar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23900031)

Give it a rest, you moron. Your pet obsession is not wanted here. Get the fuck out.

(Anonymous because one of your 10 sock-puppets probably has mod points)

Part contributor, part crazy person (-1, Offtopic)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899231)

Fuller did contribute some interesting stuff but some of his ideas were unworkable. That's pretty common for most contributors/geniuses. Look at Einstein: some cool research, but he was highly disruptive in other areas (eg. quantum mechanics or putting religious beliefs before science).

Re:Part contributor, part crazy person (5, Interesting)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899267)

That's a really strange take on Einstein. I would suggest (unless I am hopeless misinformed) that you look into what he meant when he said that god didn't play dice, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Re:Part contributor, part crazy person (5, Insightful)

khayman80 (824400) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899409)

Einstein's contributions to quantum theory ranged from groundbreaking (e.g. the photoelectric effect) to unintentionally insightful (e.g. entanglement in the EPR paper) to playing a vital role as devil's advocate (e.g. Bohr-Einstein debates). Disruptive? I can't say I agree.

Putting religious beliefs before science? That's something I really don't understand. If there's anything I've learned by reading about Einstein's views on religion, it's that he was the quintessential scientist even in this respect: he didn't subscribe to any known organized religion, but vehemently refused to rule out the existence of god- and found atheists arrogant for doing so. His religious views seem to be somewhere in between pantheistic and agnostic, and I don't see how they affected his scientific work.

Perhaps you're referring to the famous quote "God does not play dice". I don't think this quote expresses a religious belief as much as it articulates a "gut instinct" about the way the universe worked: that it's fundamentally deterministic. Of course, being Einstein, he had to word it in a deliberately provocative fashion. I think gut instincts have a real place in science- they can often be useful starting points for hypotheses, or used to guide an investigation in a direction that one only grasps subconsciously at first. The only real restriction is that one needs to be able to recognize when experimental evidence has proven one's gut instincts wrong. I don't think Einstein lived to see this point; local hidden variable theories hadn't been experimentally ruled out by Bell inequality experiments such as the Aspect experiments before he died.

And I'm not even sure Einstein was thoroughly wrong about the universe being fundamentally deterministic. Even though the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics contains an element of randomness (the very randomness that Einstein railed against), the Everett-Wheeler interpretation says otherwise. The Many Worlds interpretation, as it is often called, asserts that random wave collapse merely looks random from within our own "branch" of a larger wave function that encompasses many universes. If you were somehow able to view the entire wave function, it would look completely deterministic. The only reason we see randomness in quantum "collapse" is because our macroscopic detectors (such as our eyeballs) induce decoherence in quantum states that cause environmentally-induced superselection. (Explaining that sentence in english would take many pages, so if you're curious I suggest you use those words, plus the abbreviation einselection, to do some googling.)

bullpucky (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23899731)

There is no true randomness in the universe that I have encountered (and I am a physics grad) only chaos. Chaos looks like randomness to the untrained eye but once you see that all we take as random is only the results of chaotic behaviour (which IS deterministic) then the universe seems a lot less wacky.

Re:bullpucky (3, Interesting)

symbolset (646467) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900051)

There is no true randomness in the universe that I have encountered (and I am a physics grad) only chaos.

That's because by the time you've encountered it, it's in the past and so it's determined. Chaos does deceptively look like randomness. The difference is subtle. It's in the moving present instant that the randomness becomes determined from our point of view. It may be that the determination defines our perspective, you might say. To say that the outcome is predetermined and so there is only one world line requires faith in Fate. That's not scientific, but it's a very old argument that's on point for this discussion. BTW, Everett-Wheeler does not contradict your view. In that theory every possible outcome has a predetermined world-line in which that outcome was Fate. It's just that with Everett-Wheeler all possibilities happen, spawning near-infinite worldlines. To the observer the universe with and without Everett-Wheeler look the same because it is not possible to observe events that have not occurred, yet. Perhaps after we measure the quantum unit of probability this will be possible, but I believe we will just be able to select views of the outcomes we desire and we'll wind up with the Delphi Oracle.

Personally I'm not a big believer in chaos. Misunderstood order, yes. Chaos not so much. In a multiverse where every outcome is preordained for its particular worldline, chaos goes undefined. Chaos theory, maybe. Is that weird? It's important that Everett-Wheeler be correct for a number of reasons, and certainly I believe it plausible -- but I'm not an anonymous physics grad.

For some really out-there metaphysics, consider the possibility that observers get to select their worldlines by believing in a particular outcome. A consensus vote of faith might select some outcome for a particular group of observers. This doesn't contradict Everett-Wheeler because for each possible outcome some subset of observers select the resultant worldline. In this philosophy, all things are possible through faith. Which brings us back to the topic of the thread. Perhaps BF wasn't so wacky after all.

Where in the multiverse is John Titor?

dual-slit single photon experiment FTW (1)

sd.fhasldff (833645) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900665)

The subject really says it all.

The dual-slit single photon experiment shows an interference pattern on the "wall" behind the two slits (when the "hits" of many photons, one at a time, are summed). The emitter sits in front of the two slits. The place on the wall that any given photon hits is random (with a fixed probability distribution, resulting in the aforementioned interference pattern).

Explaining that sentence in english... (1)

symbolset (646467) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900093)

I think you did pretty well, for what that's worth.

Re:Part contributor, part crazy person (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23900305)

Einstein if religious at all, was a Spinozan.

Re:Part contributor, part crazy person (2, Interesting)

Omestes (471991) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900333)

From what I picked up, the "God" who doesn't like dice, is more of the deist personification of natural law, than a best friend in the sky. The same "God" who America's founding father's talked about, and that most Enlightenment philosopher/naturalists referred to. More akin to Aristotle's "unmoved mover", than to the modern Judeo-Christian gray haired old man.

A metaphorical god, rather than a literal one, would be the most succinct way of putting it, I suppose.

The Bohr/Einstein debate though, is probably the best anecdote for modern science, still. I took a philosophy of science class that used that as the scaffold to hold up the dynamics of the modern history of science (from Maxwell to the more theoretical modern ideas, like super symmetry and strings), it was truly enlightening, even if Bohr "won" in the end.

I'm getting sick of both atheists and the self-justifying religious trying to put Einstein on their side. Einstein is probably the most abused scientist ever, we keep remaking him into what we want him, instead of accepting him as who he was.

Re:Part contributor, part crazy person (0, Redundant)

mudetroit (855132) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899441)

You should honestly go back and investigate Einstein's views and input on both subjects at some point instead of taking one out of context quote as you seem to have done.

Re:Part contributor, part crazy person (1, Informative)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899771)

Look at Einstein: some cool research, but he was highly disruptive in other areas (eg. quantum mechanics or putting religious beliefs before science).
Einstein said a funny quote about randomness, and now all the religious nuts use it to claim him as one of their own.

As with most things the religious nutters believe, this just doesn't happen to actually be true.

I received your letter of June 10th. I have never talked to a Jesuit priest in my life and I am astonished by the audacity to tell such lies about me. From the viewpoint of a Jesuit priest I am, of course, and have always been an atheist.

        - Albert Einstein, letter to Guy H. Raner Jr, July 2, 1945,

Cough cough (5, Funny)

Aussenseiter (1241842) | more than 6 years ago | (#23898817)

He documented his life so thoroughly (in the "Dymaxion Chronofile," which had grown to over 200K pages by his death) that biographers have had trouble putting their fingers on what, exactly, Fuller's contribution to civilization had been.
Future historians will note that this trend spiralled upwards, as more and more ceaseless bloggers continued to kick the bucket.

Likely would have been a slashdotter (4, Interesting)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 6 years ago | (#23898885)

Given the stuff that I have read about him, he prolly would have fit in nicely with this little place we call Slashdot.

Only idiots say "prolly". (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23899169)

It truly pains me to see someone with capitalization, punctuation, and even grammar turn himself into a blathering idiot by drooling "prolly" all over Slashdot.

This is neither YouTube nor MySpace; if you want to identify with us, please never say "prolly" again.

Re:Only idiots say "prolly". (2, Funny)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899661)

I write the way I speak, and I do include the word prolly in my vocabulary. I don't write comments to gratify your sense of proper English. Secondly, if you want to be identified with that much, why not post under who you are rather than old man anonymous. Guess you PROLLY don't have the minerals to do that.

Re:Only idiots say "prolly". (3, Insightful)

Call Me Black Cloud (616282) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900073)

Since you're "fluffeh", it seems that "probableh" would be in your lexicon instead.

But anonymous troll is correct..."prolly"? Keep using that, let us know how it works out in your career.

Hooray for New Yorker (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23898997)

The best publication from America. (IMO, of course)

Re:Hooray for New Yorker (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23899039)

Second, behind New York Review of Books.

A great self-promoter. (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23899001)

A great self-promoter. He made no contribution to civilization that I could ever see.

hallucinatory? (5, Interesting)

eclectro (227083) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899043)

Maybe he was prophet [] , giving us a car that by today's standard would have been fantastic on gas mileage back in 1933. We're all gonna be using three wheels soon when we have to try to get gas at Bartertown []

Re:hallucinatory? (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899213)

If we get to the point of Bartertown, a few of us are going to be hoping to find food, not all of us going to get gas.

The good news is that we aren't going to get to the point of Bartertown before any of us die. Take a look at the amount of coal and natural gas available if you think I am crazy.

Re:hallucinatory? (1)

Omestes (471991) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900355)

Who runs Barter Town?

Bucky runs Barter Town!

Re:hallucinatory? (1)

JulianConrad (1223926) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899707)

The price of oil collapsed during the Depression so that you could buy a barrel of the stuff for two bits or so at one time. Fuel efficiency was the least of people's worries back then.

Re:hallucinatory? (1)

eclectro (227083) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900679)

Well, there does seem to be "bubble" economics at work here. Many market analysts say that the price of oil is the result of demand. But I can't help but think what would happen if nations subsidizing oil were to raise their prices. Demand destruction would take place (at a greater rate), but OPEC would lower their oil output to keep prices high.

It's true fuel efficiency was not the worry back then, but the design goals that lead to it are the same.

Whitney show (1)

virgil_disgr4ce (909068) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899057)

I'll see y'all fellow New Yorkers at the opening of the Whitney show! :D

Buckminster Fuller... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23899061)

Twitter, is that you?

Wait a second.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23899065)

Bucky balls? I am disgusted at myself for recognizing the name....I thought I had forgotten everything I "learned" in high school....

R. Buckminster Fullofhimself! (4, Insightful)

throatmonster (147275) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899077) the conclusion I came to after trying to read "Critical Path."

Re:R. Buckminster Fullofhimself! (4, Informative)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899193)

R. Buckminster Fullofhimself! the conclusion I came to after trying to read "Critical Path."

Whoever modded the above "flamebait" has obviously never tried to read Critical Path.... or if they have, they're overly impressed with hyphenated nonsense words.

Re:R. Buckminster Fullofhimself! (4, Funny)

Xyrus (755017) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899945)

That is the response I usually expect from a self-zeigleblantamous spurion migitar-analphlaxis.


Neat (0)

ThinkOfaNumber (836424) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899079)

For the article-reading-challenged:

One of Buckminster Fuller's earliest inventions was a car shaped like a blimp. The car had three wheels-two up front, one in the back-and a periscope instead of a rear window. Owing to its unusual design, it could be maneuvered into a parking space nose first and could execute a hundred-and-eighty-degree turn so tightly that it would end up practically where it had started, facing the opposite direction. In Bridgeport, Connecticut, where the car was introduced in the summer of 1933, it caused such a sensation that gridlock followed, and anxious drivers implored Fuller to keep it off the streets at rush hour.

Fuller called his invention the Dymaxion Vehicle. He believed that it would not just revolutionize automaking but help bring about a wholesale reordering of modern life. Soon, Fuller thought, people would be living in standardized, prefabricated dwellings, and this, in turn, would allow them to occupy regions previously considered uninhabitable-the Arctic, the Sahara, the tops of mountains. The Dymaxion Vehicle would carry them to their new homes; it would be capable of travelling on the roughest roads and-once the technology for the requisite engines had been worked out-it would also (somehow) be able to fly. Fuller envisioned the Dymaxion taking off almost vertically, like a duck.

I for one hail our Dymaxion driving, geodesic dome dwelling overlords...

Re:Neat (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23899131)

Hmmm, sorta sounds like the Segway

Re:Neat (1)

RuBLed (995686) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899177)

Nah... Sounds like a witch! Burnnnn it!

Re:Neat (1)

Codifex Maximus (639) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899379)

He did say duck didn't he?

This B Fuller sure sounds like an interesting character. It seems that he was an idea man that was not fully informed of physics. Wonder what he might have done had he finished his studies at college?

Re:Neat (2, Insightful)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900179)

Wonder what he might have done had he finished his studies at college?
He wouldn't have been nearly as successful. It's difficult to maintain your wild flights of fancy on the face of education. When you don't know nuthin', anything seems possible. In fact, the less someone knows, the more likely they are to treat a given impossibility as trivial to accomplish. No, maintaining your "inner dreamer" is orders of magnitude harder when you truly understand the limitations of the real world. Those few that can--- Steve Wozniak comes to mind--- are the true precious gems of society. Gas bags like Bucky Fuller are just a circus sideshow.

Re:Neat (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23899183)

That Dymaxion vehicle supposedly had a top speed of 120mph, got 30mpg, and could carry up to eleven passengers. If that's true, then it was simply amazing. Of course, it looked a bit like a bullet (read: silly) so Americans would never go for it unless gas got up to like $5/gal, but let's face it'll never go that high :).

Re:Neat (0)

waldo2020 (592242) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899329)

not to mention that it was inherently unstable, people died in crashes in that stupid thing!

Re:Neat (1)

fotoguzzi (230256) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899653)

Do you have any more information to conclude that the design was inherently unstable?

Not the Dymaxion vehicle's fault? (2, Informative)

ThinkOfaNumber (836424) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899819)


The first prototype of the Dymaxion Vehicle had been on the road for just three months when it crashed, near the entrance to the Chicago World's Fair; the driver was killed, and one of the passengers-a British aviation expert-was seriously injured. Eventually, it was revealed that another car was responsible for the accident, but only two more Dymaxion Vehicles were produced before production was halted, in 1934.
Although Wikipedia claims "The cause of the accident was not determined, although Buckminster Fuller reported that the accident was due to the actions of another vehicle that had been closely following the Dymaxion."[1][2]

[1] []
[2] []

Re:Neat (1)

Rob Simpson (533360) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900215)

not to mention that it was inherently unstable, people died in crashes in that stupid thing!

Because nobody ever dies in crashes in conventional cars.

Stability of the Dymaxion car (3, Informative)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900435)

Okay, let's go over this with at least of modicum of clue, shall we?
A.) The crash you're talking about, as you would know if you'd RTFA, was determined not to be the fault of the car.
B.) Otoh, the thing was set up, for no sufficient reason, to steer "backwards". Like the rear seat of a fire truck, you steered left to turn right and vice-versa. Fuller liked boats, that's how tillers work, so he built it that way. This did make the car less safe, as drivers complained, but it in no way relates to the fundamental design.
C.) On yet a third hand, the whole beastie, since it was designed to "take off" at high enough speeds, had a dangerous tendency for the rear wheel to lose touch with the road once the car was moving at any kind of serious slip. This was bad design, no doubt, but again, easy enough to fix and would have been if more had been built.
D.) Being so lightweight, it tended to be pushed sideways by wind. This would be harder to address but seemed far worse to drivers of the time, used to big honkin' steel contraptions, than it would to, say, modern riders of enclosed bicycles, who have long since figured out ways to deal with this.
E.) Whatever its flaws, the thing was fantastically maneuverable. Its turning radius makes the average BMW look like a freight train. It was also, as I wrote above, built with cheap salvaged parts for many of the innards that would have been replaced with decent ones if it had ever gone into production. It's not reasonable to compare it to a production car in terms of things like the suspension, which was a total kluge.
F.) If you want to criticize the Dymaxion car, first read a book like Small Wonder on the creation of the Volkwagen bug. It took over ten frickin' years to get Professor Porsche's original chowderheaded version refined into the car that has now earned such reverence. But like the Dymaxion, his fundamental ideas were good, and those eventually made it great. The difference is that Porsche's team was able to keep going through years of rebuilding, prototyping, and redesign, up to and including inventing new kinds of steel since the unibody design and the suspension couldn't be made with the kinds that existed when Porsche first designed it.

Get the facts. Otherwise you're just wasting everybody's time.

Re:Neat (1)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899331)

Of the prototypes, one remains that flipped and had killed its driver, injuring its passengers. Read it at Wired, I believe. People have been making this design subsequently for years, Morgan, Messershmitt and others. The specs above aren't quite correct, but the design had other flaws, as many of BM's did. Nonetheless, an inspirational thinker.

He was just a little early, that's all. (0)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899225)

He believed that it would not just revolutionize automaking but help bring about a wholesale reordering of modern life

It was the Segway that actually changed civilization.

Re:Neat (1)

Turfoil (730150) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899471)

i was at a museum not long ago that had a dymaxion house, it was a round pre-fab made of aluminum with windows all around. goofy looking thing, like a ufo, and had some bizarre space-saving tricks.

So? Tell us more, please. (1)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900493)

Dymaxion house. . . had some bizarre space-saving tricks.

Such as?

Cloud Cities (2, Interesting)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899195)

I have to admit, I've always wanted a city in the clouds, it would probably even be doable. Of course, some jackass will shoot it out of the sky before you can blink. I think that may be the problem with a lot of his ideas - they assume people have good will at heart.

Re:Cloud Cities (1)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900497)

Naw, you just need Lando Calrissian to manage it properly. He'll bitch but I hear that he's pretty good at that sort of thing.

"Spaceship Earth" - ahead of the green movement (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23899227)

He was a genius. He had a way of understanding three-
dimensional structures that no one had before, and that
no one else may ever again. Really.

He was a visionary. He had millions of ideas, and they were
all solutions to real problems. I guess that makes him an
engineer as well.

And yes, he was certainly green ahead of the new green trend.

Re:"Spaceship Earth" - ahead of the green movement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23899341)

He had a thousand ideas, you might have heard his name
He lived alone with his vision
Not looking for fortune or fame
Never said too much to speak of
He was off on another plane
The words that he said were a mystery
Nobody's sure he was sane

But he knew, he knew more than me or you
No one could see his view, Oh where was he going to

He was in search of an answer
The nature of what we are
He was trying to do it a new way
He was bright as a star
But nobody understood him
"His numbers are not the way"
He's lost in the deepest enigma
Which no one's unraveled today

But he knew, he knew more than me or you
No one could see his view, Oh where was he going to
And he tried, but before he could tell us he died
When he left us the people cried,
Oh where was he going to?

He had a different idea
A glimpse of the master plan
He could see into the future
A true visionary man
But there's something he never told us
It died when he went away
If only he could have been with us
No telling what he might say

But he knew, he knew more than me or you
No one could see his view
Oh, where was he going to
But he knew, you could tell by the picture he drew
It was totally something new,
Oh where was he going to?

They 'd find his influence if they read his books (4, Insightful)

museumpeace (735109) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899319)

a bunch of wusses in NY who couldn't build a dog house don't impress me much as critics. I will have to RTFA to see if they completely missed his most important influence. As a kid in high school I read Spaceship Earth. That was mid '60s, a world most of you won't remember but be assured...nobody had heard of peak oil or cared much about gas mileage. I have pretty much been for greener and less wasteful ways of doing things ever since.

Re:They 'd find his influence if they read his boo (3, Insightful)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899529)

That book should be required reading in all schools. It's out of print, but on the net [] . Take the time to read.

They's find his influence if Bucky could write. (2, Interesting)

JulianConrad (1223926) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899729)

A lot of his prose sounds like schizophrenic word salads, with all kinds of unnecessary neologisms that don't convey any information. He reads like a neo-Platonic philosopher on hallucinogens.

The Bucky Ball Globe (5, Interesting)

wylacot (47058) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899327)

If anybody wants a small sample of Bucky's genius, museum stores often sell die-cut sheets of paper which, when assembled, form a dodecahedral globe. This model is the "Fuller Projection", a more accurate representation of the world where landmasses more closely resemble their actual sizes (that is, Greenland is not as large as South America).

I think what's more interesting about the globe is how the continents are laid out on the die-cut paper. Real relationships between continents are "duh" obvious to viewers because it's clear how people would travel from one part of the world to another (or not). It all comes together when you assemble the globe. They're cheap, so buy two.

I had the great privilege to drive his Honda Accord (he was a spokesperson for Honda in the 70s, I think) with a relative of his across the country in 1979 or 1980 and had a chance to meet him and talk with him. The experience was transformative and motivational for me, and gave me more direction in life.

The above paragraph may sound mushy and corny, but apparently the curators of the Whitney seem to agree with some of my sentiments. And they're harder sells than a 23-year-old.

Tacoma Dome (3, Interesting)

Itninja (937614) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899359)

I can't say I would want a bucky ball as a personal home either, and frankly, am confused as to why anyone would even think a geodesic dome would work for such. However the Tacoma Dome [] in Washington State is a geodesic dome and works very well as an arena [] . No leaks or anything. Don't blame the design man... ;-)

Re:Tacoma Dome (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899593)

That will never be as cool as [] this [] . Biggest dome in the whole wide world

Re:Tacoma Dome (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23899811)

According to the Wikipedia article you referred to, the Tacoma Dome is in fact not a geodesic dome but "a planar radian structure of glue-laminated beams".

Re:Tacoma Dome (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900251)

In the article, that sentence refers to the Superior Dome, not the Tacoma Dome.

And the Superior Dome wikipedia article contradicts the Tacoma Dome article by claiming the Superior Dome is a geodesic dome.

Re:Tacoma Dome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23899865)

How about the fact they are the only earthquake proof structure? They ride ontop of the movement and can't collapse even in better than 9.0 earthquakes. Also the concrete ones work quite well. There are several companies making them and they have a 4000 year plus life expectancy. If they are maintained properly they should last several times that. Sorry they aren't boring ranch houses but there are advantages that offset the space usage issues.

Re:Tacoma Dome (1)

Pig Hogger (10379) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900007)

However the Tacoma Dome [] in Washington State is a geodesic dome
Er, sorry to burst your bub^h^h^h dome, but if you look at the picture (and read the Wikipedia article you're linking to [] ), the Tacoma Dome is clearly not a Schwelder dome... (Not to imply that Schwelder have the magic touch that doesn't leak -- it's really just a question of design and workmanship).

Re:Tacoma Dome (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900265)

Why are you talking about "Schwelder domes"? Geodesic domes aren't Schwedler domes.


Sealing domes... (5, Informative)

zogger (617870) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899439) not a problem. Spray foam or ferrocement works just fine. I have helped build and lived in examples of each. As to subdividing for rooms, you can use cables and tensioners (turnbuckles) for the additional floor(s) supports, build from there, with nice drop down or spiral staircases. You can get a variety of living levels then in the same structure, plus suspended walkways name it, use your imagination, it's slick. They make very nice living structures. They are *much* stronger than 90 degree flat square stick frame construction (which is actually about the weakest joints you can make, it is just easier, that is why it is done so much).

c?0m (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23899627)

That the project 4nother charnel

The Kurzweil cult is almost rational by comparison (2, Interesting)

JulianConrad (1223926) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899683)

Fuller wasn't the only inventor with a cult following of dubious rationality. Just look at Ray Kurzweil. Though in Kurzweil's favor most of his inventions (1) work; (2) perform useful tasks; and (3) have had some commercial success.

As a resident of three domes (5, Informative)

amitofu (705703) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899703)

We live in three twice-subdivided, spherically extruded gyroelognated pentagonal dipyramids [] built in 1972. Two of them are stuccoed and one is shingled. They don't leak.

They're each a single room, one with a pentagonal downstairs. I can't begin to explain how wonderful it is to live in a sphere. I love the geometry and the womb-like feeling. But I hate domes that are mangled and partitioned off like a normal house. You have to let the dome be what it is, if you do it works. And if you can't do that then you need to go with something else.

Pictures? (1)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900525)

Your user links don't work. Is there anywhere we can look to find out more about this house you live in? If not, please at least put some images on Flickr. I, for one, would certainly link to them.

What about Buckyballs? (2, Funny)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899743)

Maybe they leak, too.

Re:What about Buckyballs? (2, Informative)

GonzoPhysicist (1231558) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899887)

Actually they have been found to be rather good for storing helium.

The Synergetics Collaborative and Bucky's legacy (2, Informative)

cjfsyntropy (1312453) | more than 6 years ago | (#23899859)

The Synergetics Collaborative ( [] ) is building on Bucky's scientific, educational, and design methods and principles which we think may be his largest contribution.

The Domes Work (4, Informative)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900177)

I've been inside two geodesic dome houses, and neither of them leaked, nor were they shingled (which seems like a big pain in the ass completely contrary to the principle of the dome). The residents were very happy with the living conditions, and not just because they were into "science fiction". One had lived in it since the 1970s, and the other had worked pretty hard to get to be the latest resident of one that dated from a few years earlier.

The interior of the domes had cubical/rectangular rooms built within them, with the spaces between then and the dome structure used for storage, not living space. Nothing stops anyone from hanging floors inside the dome, or hanging walls from the floors. And above 3m high, the top floor can have a dome ceiling. The structure itself is very strong, so you can hang all kinds of stuff off it, like a hot tub on a non-reinforced floor (because it's hanging inside a distributed load webbing, not standing on a compressed pillar). The point is to use a very small amount of material and not have to worry about straining the structure as you do things with it.

I guess if you're like the hippies who just bought Stewart Brand's _Whole Earth Catalog_ as a conversation piece, a coffeetable book (rather than a book about how to make or do without coffee tables), you would just use a geodesic dome as a conversation piece. You'd fail to clamp plastic sheeting along the joints or caulk the joints properly, but you'd probably do that wrong on your regular old house, too.

Fuller was a geometer, a mathematician, not a magician. His designs can be executed spectacularly wrong, just as they're spectacularly right when executed right.

The trouble with domes. (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900233)

Geodesic domes work quite well if built properly from the right materials. They've been protecting big radars in arctic environments since the 1950s, which is an impressive achievement.

The residential domeheads took a wrong turn when they tried to make small domes out of "natural materials". Trying to shingle a sphere was a terrible idea. Putting together prefab parts is the way to go. Fibreglas works well, but the "Mr. Natural" types didn't like Fibreglas. As Fuller pointed out, domes have to be manufactured products made cheaply, with precision, in quantity.

There's also a subtle structural problem with domes that wasn't well understood until they could be computer-simulated. The abstract geometry produces a good structure. But in the real world, differential thermal expansion, when the sun is hitting one side of the dome more than the other, produces sizable stresses in the dome, which distorts slighlty. This was one of the major causes of leaks.

The other major problems come from the fact that domes require a whole range of architectural components specifically designed for them, from electrical conduits to kitchen cabinets to windows. Parts designed for rectangular structures don't fit well.

twitter? (1)

indi0144 (1264518) | more than 6 years ago | (#23900345)

Fuller documented his life every 15 minutes from 1915 to 1983, leaving 80 meters (270 feet) of journals. He called this the Dymaxion Chronofile. That is said to be the most documented human life in history.
Pretty ahead for his time.
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