Buckminster Fuller: From the Universe Onward

Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 1:29 AM

To get ourselves from Buckminster Fuller's philosophies about the universe to his prefabricated house designs, let's ask a series of questions.

First of all what is Bucky's view of the universe? We have discussed it, but can it be crystallized in a few short points?

1) The universe is designed. It has purpose and direction.

2) The universe includes mainly thought and experience.

3) We all, as humans, participate in the same universe, composed of our collective experiences.

4) Words, concepts, and physical things have no meaning unless they are experientially understood by each individual.

5) We are all joined, and should think of ourselves as together on one "Spaceship Earth".


We now have five points. But they are still abstract. Next we can ask:

What in Bucky's life prompted him to come to these conclusions?

In 1927, Fuller's young daughter Alexandra died. Close to that time, his financial investments failed almost completely. In this crisis, he considered suicide, wondering whether his wife and family would be better off without him. Instead, he chose to take time to think, and reconsider his place in the world.

Later I will elaborate more on exactly where the five ideas above came from.

Fuller resolved to live his life as a grand experiment: a quest to determine how much a purpose-driven person could accomplish if they were fully committed. And he began to carry his views into actions.

The next question we might ask is: where did Bucky's thoughts lead first? We will reiterate the five headings.


1) The universe is designed. It has purpose and direction.


Bucky concluded that his life, and all life, had purpose.


Man had been given a brain.



So he could use it to engineer the path to his own successful future.

"Give me a lever big enough, and I will move the world." Archimedes said that, but it might as well have been Bucky.




Fuller believed that many people merely accepted the thoughts and dogmas of others, never living truly as themselves. They blended into the drab political organizations that held the world back. They drifted along, not knowing that because of their passivity, they were dooming Spaceship Earth to a...

...trip over a waterfall.




2) The universe includes mainly thought and experience.


Many scientists wouldn't allow for the existence of anything but matter and energy. Bucky said that any explanation leaving out the "weightless things", like thought, was useless.




3) We all, as humans, participate in the same universe, composed of our collective experiences.


To Bucky, everyone was connected. Humans were not American, or British, or Chinese, or Polynesian - they were human, and their thoughts and memories were the soul of Universe.




4) Words, concepts, and physical things have no meaning unless they are experientially understood by each individual.


Precision with words became crucial to his ideas. He chose to remain almost silent for two years after his crisis, just so he could really understand what he meant when he said anything: to express his experiences precisely.


He decided that while it was unfortunate to be not understood sometimes...



... it was far worse to be misunderstood.


This is why reading one of Bucky's books can seem like being caught inside a glossary of medical terms - he used as many exact, omni-useful, unpretentious descriptive phrases as he thought necessary.

This is also why he liked the word "dymaxion" so much, and used it as a trademark for nearly all his designs, including his houses. Waldo Warren, the public relations manager at Marshall Fields's Department Store came up with it after listening to Bucky lecture for two days. He noticed that Fuller used the words "dynamic", "maximum", and "ion" many times, and decided to combine them into one. Apparently, Bucky liked it.



5) We are all joined, and should think of ourselves as together on one "Spaceship Earth".


This is perhaps the most relevant point. The death of Fuller's daughter had awakened a great desire in him to protect: to shelter. Somehow, he wanted to provide this shelter to all humanity.


And to do it without overtaxing earth's resources.


Of course, he didn't understand this right from the beginning. But the idea was what started him down the road to all things Dymaxion and prefabricated.


2 comments

  1. This is great! It fits in perfectly with our narrative of starting with the big and progressing to the small. I think it will be very effective as an introduction

  2. hah! again, great drawings!

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