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The birth of the geodesic dome; how Buckminster Fuller did it. FIRST PART.
By Admin (from 30/01/2012 @ 15:04:25, in en - Science and Society, read 2135 times)

Citation:    The Futurist, Nov-Dec 1989 v23 n6 p14(5)

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Title:       The birth of the geodesic dome; how Bucky did it. (R. Buckminster Fuller)

Authors:     Sieden, Lloyd Steven

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Subjects:    Geodesic domes_research & Dwellings_innovations

People:      Fuller, R. Buckminster_innovations

Reference #: A8121293

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Richard Buckminster Fuller, c. 1917.
Born: July 12, 1895
Milton, Massachusetts, United States
Died: July 1, 1983 (aged 87)
Los Angeles, United States
Occupation: designer, author, inventor
Spouse: Anne Fuller
Children 2: Allegra Fuller Snyder and Alexandra who died in childhood 

 

Full Text COPYRIGHT World Future Society 1989

The Birth of The Geodesic Dome

Although Buckminster Fuller invariably maintained that he was a comprehensivist who was interested in almost everything, his life and work were dominated by a single issue: shelter and housing.  Even as a young boy in the early 1900s, Fuller--who preferred to be called Bucky--was constructing rudimentary structures and inventing better "environment controlling artifacts."

The practical culmination of his quest to employ modern assembly-line manufacturing techniques and the best man-made materials in producing inexpensive, elegant housing came toward the end of World War II.  At that time, government officials contracted Fuller to build two prototype Dymaxion Houses at the Beech Aircraft Company in Wichita, Kansas.

The lightweight, circular houses were praised by all who toured them.  Because the Dymaxion House was to provide many new innovations at the very affordable suggested retail price of $6,500, orders flowed into the factory before plans for distribution were seriously considered.  However, Fuller's interests were not geared toward practical matters such as financing and marketing, and the

Dymaxion House never advanced beyond the prototype stage.  Fuller then moved on to consider other innovations that could benefit humanity in the areas of structure and housing.

He also returned to his less pragmatic quest to discover nature's coordinate system and employ that system in a structure that would, because it was based on natural rather than humanly developed principles, be extremely efficient. That structure is the geodesic dome, which, because it approximates a sphere, encloses much more space with far less material than conventional buildings.

In order to uncover nature's coordinate system, Fuller retreated from a great deal of his usual activities during 1947 and 1948.  The primary focus of that retreat was a single topic: spherical geometry.  He chose that area because he felt it would be most useful in further understanding the mathematics of engineering, in discovering nature's coordinate system, and eventually in building the spherical structures that he found to be the most efficient means of construction.

Dome Models

Having observed the problems inherent in conventional construction techniques (as opposed to the ease with which nature's structures are erected) and the indigenous strength of natural structures, Fuller felt certain that he could perfect an analogous, efficient, spherical-construction technique.  He was also aware that any such method would have to be predicated upon spherical trigonometry.  To do that, Bucky converted the small Long Island apartment that his wife, Anne, had rented into a combination workshop and classroom where he studied and discussed his ideas with others.

As those ideas started to take shape in the models and drawings he used for sharing his insights, Fuller considered names for his invention.  He selected "geodesic dome" because the sections or arcs of great circles (i.e., the shortest distance between two points on a sphere) are called geodesics, a term derived from the Greek word meaning "earth-dividing."  His initial dome models were nothing more than spheres or sections of spheres constructed from crisscrossing curved pieces of material (each of which represented an arc of a great circle) that formed triangles.  Later, he expanded the concept and formed the curved pieces into even more complex structures such as tetrahedrons or octahedrons, which were then joined to create a spherical structure.  Still, the simple triangulation of struts remained, as did the initial name of the invention.

Although Fuller's study of mathematics played a significant role in his invention of the geodesic dome, that process was also greatly influenced by his earlier extensive examination of and work within the field of construction.  During his construction experience, he came to realize that the dome pattern had been employed, to some extent, ever since humans began building structures.  Early sailors landing upon foreign shores and requiring immediate shelter would simply upend their ships, creating an arched shelter similar to a dome.

Land-dwelling societies copied that structure by locating a small clearing surrounded by young saplings and bending those uncut trees inward to form a dome that they covered with animal skins, thatch, or other materials.  Over time, that structure developed into the classic yurt that still provides viable homes for many people in and around Afghanistan and the plains of the Soviet Union.

TO BE CONTINUED...