Today, July 12, marks the birthday of R. Buckminster (“Bucky”) Fuller, one of the primary inspirations for my upcoming recording, Dynamic Maximum Tension.
Bucky is best-known for his geodesic domes, like the Montreal Expo dome seen above. Originally built to house the U.S. Pavillon at Montreal’s Expo 67, it’s now home to the Montreal Biosphere, an environmental museum. This is fitting for a Fuller structure; Bucky was an early proponent of efficiency and sustainability, and his 1969 book, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, inspired generations of environmental activists. Fuller poetically described the Montreal Expo dome as a “skybreak bubble,” and it was the highlight of the exhibition, with the elevated monorail driving directly into the dome.
As a young woman, my mom gathered her friends and made the cross-country trek to attend Expo 67, taking the train from Vancouver to Montreal. Expo was a party not to be missed! Years later, when I was an impressionable pre-teen, she took me to attend Expo 86 in Vancouver. The Expo Centre “golf ball” — now Vancouver’s science museum — was inspired by Bucky’s Montreal Dome. It remains one of the coolest buildings I’ve ever seen. Geodesic domes are maximally efficient structures — the use of triangular facets to make a spherical frame creates the strongest, lightest enclosure it is possible to build.
I have always been fascinated by Bucky’s timelessly futuristic designs. Many of them bear his personal brand, “Dymaxion” — a portmanteau of “dynamic,” “maximum” and… apparently “ion,” originally? That last one seems to have been retconned as “tension,” which better reflects Fuller’s obsession with tensional integrity, and also makes for a much better album title.
Here are some of Fuller’s designs and creations:
Dymaxion House: a round, mass-produced aluminum home, shipped in a tube and assembled on site (designed 1927, produced 1945)
4D Tower: a plan for a 12-story hexagonal dwelling, to be delivered by airship (designed 1928, never produced)
Dymaxion Car: a 3-wheeled, front-driving, rear-steering aerodynamic automobile (1933)
Dymaxion Map: a projection of the earth onto a flattened polyhedron, showing the world as one chain of islands in one ocean (1942)
Ford Rotunda Dome: Bucky’s first large-scale dome (1953)
Single-Cell Jitterbug: a folding polyhedral sculpture made up of eight triangles and six squares (1976, based on the “jitterbug transformation” Bucky discovered in 1948)
Fly’s Eye Dome: Bucky’s updated home of the future, with openings for solar panels and water collection (designed 1965, produced 1980)
For more on Fuller’s designs and work, I highly recommend the gorgeously-illustrated Buckminster Fuller: Poet of Geometry by Cole Gerst. I love this book so much, I hired Cole to design my website logo and the new Secret Society logo.
The first authoritative biography of Fuller is Inventor of the Future: The Visionary Life of Buckminster Fuller by Alec Nevala-Lee, which came out on August 2 of last year — less than a month before we went into the studio to record Dynamic Maximum Tension. This book has caused quite a stir… over the course of his life, Fuller carefully cultivated his public image as a modern-day Leonardo da Vinci, and Nevala-Lee does not shrink from the task of casting a critical eye towards Bucky’s self-mythologizing, his life, and his work.
The Dymaxion Car was unstable, terrifying to drive, and, according to Nevala-Lee, may well have been at fault in an infamous fatal accident outside the Chicago World’s Fair. Fuller was a shameless credit hog who habitually minimized the contributions of his collaborators, most notably Shoji Sadao. His relationship with his wife, Anne, is not one that anyone today would seek to emulate. His forty-two hour long lecture series, “Everything I Know,” is a shambolic mess, occasionally peppered with flashes of Fuller’s brilliance, wit, and prescience.
Still, Bucky’s work and legacy remain incredibly important and deeply inspiring. He was a relentless optimist, someone who genuinely sought to improve people’s lives through innovative, efficient, accessible designs, and strove to make us better stewards of our planet through his tireless evangelism for Spaceship Earth.
As Nevala-Lee writes:
[Fuller] found himself living permanently in the world of tomorrow, until the vision that he used to advance his goals became an end in itself. Fuller has been voted the most influential futurist of all time, but he wanted his ideas to be realized, even if it took a half century, which allowed him to insist that he was right on schedule. In reality, he survived by staking a claim in an undiscovered country, and he colonized more of it than anyone else ever would. Even the architect Philip Johnson, a lifelong enemy, granted him this grudging praise: “There hasn’t been anybody since that could lead us into the land of the future.”
Happy 128th birthday, Bucky! May we yet live to inhabit the future you envisioned.