Engineer, inventor, architect and environmental activist, R. Buckminster Fuller authored a number of popular books, landed a dozen patents and had a weighty impact on successive generations of architecture and design. As a designer, Fuller advocated the theory of ‘more for less’, a philosophy he applied to several of his designs and inventions. As a young boy, Fuller studied mathematics at Harvard University, but was disqualified from the institute for ‘lack of ambition’. Since he never earned his degree, he worked for many years at meat-packing plants and other odd jobs and could not sufficiently support himself or his family. By the time he was an adult, he was near bankruptcy, but his life took a U-turn and changed for the better. His models of architecture are described as ‘futuristic’ even today and breathtaking. He combined the words ‘dynamic’ and ‘maximum’ to come up with the term ‘Dymaxion’ and he was also the inventor of the ‘geodesic dome’ design, which uses interconnecting triangular frames to form a sturdy but lightweight dome, which is in use by architects, even today. Also a poet and a philosopher, he was also renowned for nonconformist ideas on global subjects. Although Fuller was an ambitious and a successful author and architect, he suffered a personal loss with the death of his daughter, after which, he suffered an extended spell of depression and even developed suicidal tendencies. If you would like to learn more about this intriguing personality, scroll further.
Childhood & Early Life
R. Buckminster Fuller was born on July 12, 1895 in Milton, Massachusetts, to Richard Buckminster Fuller and Caroline Wolcott Andrews. He was also the grandnephew of Margaret Fuller.
He attended Froebelian Kindergarten and had trouble with mathematics from a very young age. However, he developed an interest for design and building from very early on, as he would often bring home wood and sometimes use his own tools to make objects.
He earned a machinist’s certification and became acquainted with the tools and techniques used in the sheet metal trade.
He later attended Milton Academy in Massachusetts, before he enrolled at Harvard University for mathematics. He was expelled from the university on the basis of ‘sheer lack of interest’ for the subject.
After he was expelled from the university, he worked for a little while for the meat-packing industry and also served in the U.S. Navy during World War I.
After his discharge from the army, he worked again in the meat-packing industry for more experience.
Just after his marriage, he teamed with his father-in-law in 1917, and developed the Stockade Business System, for light-weight and fireproof housing, which failed miserably in the market.
In 1927, Fuller came with the theory of ‘doing more with less’ and landed a job as an interior decorator at a café in Greenwich Village in return for meals. Here, he would often give informal lectures about design and even displayed his first ‘Dymaxion house’ model at the café. He was introduced to Isamu Noguchi, a Japanese American artist, with whom he collaborated on a number of projects, including the modeling of the Dymaxion car and the Dymaxion house.
From 1948 to 1949, Fuller taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina and served as the institute’s director as well. This is where he first proposed the idea of the geodesic dome and was awarded the full patent for popularizing this type of structure.
In the 1950’s Fuller started gaining immense international recognition and was invited by many prestigious universities for lectures such as the NC State University and the Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he later taught as well.
He inaugurated the World Design Science Decade in 1965 and gained full professorship in 1968 in the School of Art and Design.
In 1976, Fuller was a key participant at UN Habitat I, the first UN forum on human settlements.
Geodesic Dome Structures
Seagaia Ocean Dome
Round Valley High School Stadium
Former Spruce Goose Hangar
Formosa Plastics Storage Facility
The Eden Project
Disney’s Spaceship Earth
The Gold Dome
Concepts & Buildings
Dymaxion Deployment Unit
What I have learned: A Collection of 20 Autobiographical Essays.
Utopia or Oblivion
I seem To Be A Verb
Awards & Achievements
He received 28 United States Patents.
Frank P. Brown Medal, 1960
Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1968
Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal for Architecture, 1968
Humanist of the Year, 1969
Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects, 1970
Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1983
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1917, Buckminster Fuller married Anne Hewlett. He had two children, one of whom died in childhood from polio.
After the death of his daughter, Fuller suffered from bouts of depression and even resorted to alcoholism.
He passed away on July 1, 1983 of a heart attack. During the time of his death, his wife was battling her final stages of cancer and died 36 hours after him. They are buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts.
Fuller inspired and influenced a number of personalities during his lifetime and even after his death such as Medard Gabel, Michael Hays, Peter Pearce and Stewart Brand.
In his memory, an allotrope of carbon, fullerene has been named after him and in 2004; the United States Post Office released a commemorative stamp on the 50th anniversary of his patent of the geodesic dome.