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R. Buckminster Fuller Collection Architect, Systems Theorist, Designer, and Inventor

More Bucky Ideas



R. Buckminster Fuller used the word "tensegrity" to describe a structure whose form relies both on compression and tension. A good example of a tensegrity structure might be a balloon. The balloon's form depends both on the discontinuous compression (pushing) of the air molecules bouncing against the inner surface of the balloon, and the continuous tension (pulling) of the balloon, which remains stretched around the air inside it.

Fuller saw tension and compression as being complementary forces that could be balanced advantageously to create strong yet light and flexible structures. Indeed, tensegrity structures, built of lightweight linear members and strong tensile strings, can grow quite large using few materials. Among other advantages, tensegrities tend to absorb shock well and they retain their shape independent of gravity. Fuller's discussions of tensegrity with students and designers led to the building of many complex tensegrity structures, notably the Needle Tower by Kenneth Snelson at the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.

Design Science

Although he was alternately described as an inventor, engineer, and architect, R. Buckminster Fuller himself preferred to refer to himself as a "comprehensive anticipatory design scientist." Design science can be thought of as a problem solving approach and methodology whereby problems are defined comprehensively with a wide scope and outlook. After the whole situation is analyzed and assessed, tools can be designed and introduced to overcome these problems. Thus, design science employs scientific methodology to analyze problems holistically, and uses design and engineering to develop new tools to mitigate them.

The development of the 4-D Dymaxion House is a good example of how R. Buckminster Fuller applied design science to a problem. Single family homes, according to Fuller's analysis, were expensive, immobile, sometimes unsanitary, and required considerable amounts of labor, materials, and capital to construct. He confronted this problem by designing a dwelling that was light, comparatively inexpensive, highly portable, and required a minimal amount of labor and materials to construct. Fuller insisted design science principles could be used to confront other global problems, such as low standards of living and unequal access to healthcare, food, and education, in the development of more efficient ways of utilizing the Earth's limited energy and other natural resources. Fuller spoke about design science to numerous audiences around the world particularly during the 1960s and '70s and inspired many young designers to seek local solutions to global problems.

World Game

Developed in the 1950s and 1960s, World Game was a multiplayer logistics game aimed at teaching people how to understand and develop solutions to world problems including hunger, poverty, and illiteracy. Fuller insisted that there were enough resources in the world to provide all human beings with a good standard of living, clean water, food and education; yet, because of poor resource allocation, distribution, and sharing, global problems persisted in spite of planetary abundance. The World Game provided players with a forum to think about the problems facing humanity on a global scale, to work cooperatively to find solutions to these problems, and to develop good strategies for managing and sharing their resources. Fuller collaborated with his research students to collect global statistics and to develop the principle game concepts. The game would be played with the help of large maps over the course of several hours or even a few days.

The World Game has been criticized by some for oversimplifying geopolitical problems. After all, unequal access to food, water, natural resources and education often has as much to do with geopolitics, military conflict, and economic imbalance as anything else. Fuller's World Game did not take these factors into account. Nevertheless, the World Game was an important first step in inspiring people to work toward global cooperation and resource management, rather than focusing exclusively on their home countries.

In 1972 Fuller and some of his collaborators established the World Game Institute to continue to develop and promote the World Game to schools and institutions. Although the World Game as such no longer exists, a similar program called o.s. Earth Global Simulation Workshop is one of its direct descendants.