Buckminster Fuller: Anthology for a New Millennium

Overview

Buckminster Fuller, inventor, thinker and architect, was one of the best known Americans of the twentieth century. Often compared to Leonardo da Vinci and called "the planet's friendly genius," he was the inventor of the geodesic dome, the man who coined the term "spaceship earth," and an educator without parallel. Yet, most of his books are out of print today.

To remedy this situation, his longtime friend and architectural partner, Thomas Zung, has compiled a Bucky Fuller ...

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Overview

Buckminster Fuller, inventor, thinker and architect, was one of the best known Americans of the twentieth century. Often compared to Leonardo da Vinci and called "the planet's friendly genius," he was the inventor of the geodesic dome, the man who coined the term "spaceship earth," and an educator without parallel. Yet, most of his books are out of print today.

To remedy this situation, his longtime friend and architectural partner, Thomas Zung, has compiled a Bucky Fuller reader. This anthology consists of chapters selected from twenty of Bucky's many books, each with a new Introduction by such notables as Arthur C. Clarke, Steve Forbes, Calvin Tomkins, Dr. Martin Meyerson, Sir Harold W. Kroto, Arthur L. Loeb, E. J. Applewhite, and others.

Altogether, this book provides an overview of a remarkable intellectual career and the best possible introduction to the man and his thought. Bucky Fuller was one of the most original thinkers and builders that America has ever produced, and this book makes his work available to a new generation at the beginning of a new millennium.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312288907
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Tse Kwai Zung was born in Shanghai, China. He was a student of Buckminster Fuller and, with Fuller's Synergistics, Inc., designed the elongated geodesic dome in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1968. He has worked on various geodesic domes, including the Jitterbug sculpture, Tensegrities, the Fly Eye's dome, and Fuller's last invention, the Hang-It-All. Zung is president of Buckminster Fuller, Sadao and Zung, and also serves as a board member of the Buckminster Fuller institute.

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Buckminster Fuller

Anthology for a New Millennium
By Thomas T. K. Zung

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2002 Thomas T. K. Zung
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0312288905


Chapter One


The Pritzker Prize is by far the most prestigious award in architecture; it is often referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture. Bucky's friend and colleague Norman Foster was the 1999 Pritzker Prize recipient. Laureate Foster says, "Every award is special, but there is only one Pritzker. It is a recognition of architecture itself." In 1999, Sir Norman Foster was elevated to the peerage. His new title is Lord Foster of Thames Bank.

Fuller and Foster were longtime associates, and their careers brought them some of the same honors. In different years, they received the highest honor the American Institute of Architects can bestow a member, the AIA Gold Medal. Their names are inscribed in marble at AIA headquarters, along with those of Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier. And in Great Britain, Bucky and Norman received in separate years the Gold Medal of Architecture from Her Majesty the Queen.

Foster collaborated with Bucky in the design of the double deresonated dome, which Bucky had hoped to use in California. The model of this dome, along with that of Bucky's last dome, the Gigundo dome, is currently in the traveling exhibition Your Private Sky--R. Buckminster Fuller, produced by the Museum für Gestaltung, Zürich.

Norman Foster has been called a high-tech architect, but he himself says, "Since Stonehenge, architects have always been at the cutting edge of technology. You can't separate technology from the humanistic and spiritual content of a building." His work with Bucky incorporated exploration not only of architectural theory but of social, technological, and ecological theory as well.


Richard Buckminster Fuller

Lord Norman Foster


I can remember vividly my first meeting with Bucky, in 1971. He had been asked to design a theatre beneath the quadrangle of St. Peter's College, Oxford, and was looking for an architect to collaborate with him on the project. James Meller, a mutual friend, was helping by making some introductions. We met at the International Conference of Architects, which at that time had a paneled dining room overlooking the Mall. In this elegant setting, Bucky, James, and I talked through a long lunch. I had brought examples of our work to show, and the studio was on standby in the hope that Bucky would visit us. In the event, that was not necessary. Bucky decided on the spot that we should work together and headed off to the next engagement on his punishing schedule.

Only much later did I realize the extent to which Bucky was able to draw me out through that first conversation without my realizing it. He got me to reveal my attitudes to design, materials, research, and other issues, which ranged far and wide. Looking back over the twelve years of our collaboration and friendship, I realize that there are many papers that could be written on the insights that Bucky was to offer. But perhaps the themes of shelter, energy, and the environment--which go to the heart of contemporary architecture--best reflect Bucky's inheritance.

Bucky was a true master of technology, in the tradition of heroes such as Eiffel and Paxton. His many innovations--from the Dymaxion house to the geodesic dome--still surprise one with the audacity of their thinking. Yet while his public image may have been that of the cool technocrat, nothing could have been further from the truth. What was never discussed was his deeply spiritual dimension. For me, Bucky was the very essence of a moral conscience, forever warning about the fragility of the planet and man's responsibility to protect it. He was one of those rare individuals who fundamentally influence the way you come to view the world.

Bucky was the closing speaker on the occasion of my Royal Gold Medal Address at the Royal Institute of British Architects, in June 1983. He used that occasion to address issues of survival, a message that today seems even more pertinent, as some of his worst predictions are gradually coming true.

The world is changing rapidly around, but we are far from prepared for the consequences. The United Nations warned recently, in its report Global Outlook 2000, of a series of looming environmental crises sparked by water shortages, global warming, and pollution. It warned that these trends can be reversed only if the developed countries reduce their pattern of wasteful consumption of food, raw materials, and energy by as much as 90 percent.

An explosion in population growth is another crucial factor. Global population has doubled to six billion since 1960, and we are currently adding new humans to the plan: at the rate of 78 million a year. That trend is expected to continue for at least the next decade. The UN predicts that by 2050 the developed world will have 1.16 billion people, slightly fewer than today. But in the developing world in the same period, the population will have nearly doubled from 4.52 billion in 1995 to 8.2 billion. As an illustration of what that means, the population of Africa in 1950 was half that of Europe; at the turn of the millennium it is equal; in fifty years it is expected to be three times that of Europe.

Alongside accelerating population growth is a shift toward living in cities. It is estimated that by 2030 two thirds of the world's population will be urban. We can already see the growth of a new generation of mega-cities of unprecedented size, and urban conurbations in excess of 25 million people are predicted in the next fifteen years. This trend introduces us to new dangers.

In Latin America, where nearly 75 percent of the population is urban, serious problems have already surfaced. Throughout the region, in cities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, air pollution causes an estimated four thousand premature deaths a year. The reality behind these statistics, and the desperate state of our responses, was brought home to me when I was taken to see the Mexico City suburb of Chalco.

With a population of 3.5 million, Chalco is the size of many European cities. Yet there is a very significant difference. It is a place without transportation infrastructure, sewage or drainage systems, water mains, gas, or electricity. It has none of the basics that most of us take for granted. In one sense, however, the residents of Chalco are fortunate. One hundred million people around the world have no housing at all. This brings to life the estimate that in the developing world, two billion people have no access to energy other than burning natural materials or animal waste. Add to that the fact that just 25 percent of the world's population presently consumes 75 percent of the energy and the implications for energy and resources management are obvious.

In the developed world, buildings consume half the energy we generate; the remainder is divided between transport and industry, with all the associated problems of pollution. So what will happen as the rest of the world catches up? As architects--as a society--we cannot afford to sit on our hands: we have a responsibility to act. Bucky was fond of quoting Theodore Larson: "It is not to devise a better society so as to arrive at a finer architecture; it is to provide a better architecture in order to arrive at a more desirable society."

If those are not challenges enough to the design professions, then surely it is a paradox that we have "rapid responses" to war but no such responses to the social upheavals that follow. Certainly the needs of instant shelter for the victims of war, oppression, or natural disaster should be high on our collective agenda. The Kosovo conflict and the recent devastating earthquakes in Turkey demonstrated the degree to which entire societies can be overwhelmed by sudden housing crises. But still we remain unprepared.

Architects, of course, are only part of the equation. But how do we break down the boundaries between the design professions, the politicians, and industry; between conscience, provocation, and action? Bucky reminds us, "In architecture, 'form' is a verb." Architects and industrialists must be encouraged to work hand in hand, marrying innovation and production. But it is a partnership that has to be forged by political will.

However we might allocate the responsibilities, we must be able to do better than the tent cities that fill the pages of our newspapers, let alone the Chalcos of the future. Bucky himself said, "The proper goal of the architect-engineer is purposeful." By that he meant forcing the pace, challenging accepted conventions or the intellectual status quo. Asia has shown us the "can do" mentality in action. It presages a global shift that we will all soon face more out of necessity than by choice.

Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok is just one example. Rather than expand an overcrowded city airport, you commit to building a new one. And when there is no remaining land on which to build it, you create its own island. And then, when buildings are complete, you make the entire move from the old one to the new one overnight. The bravery of this thinking demonstrates the way forward. And if it can be applied to the epic scale of an airport, surely it can be focused on a solution to the problems of shelter that can arise at any time, almost anywhere in the world.

As early as 1938, in Nine Chains to the Moon, Bucky said, "What is a house?" He responded with an industrialised solution to housing provision. As ever, he backed words with deeds. He was a master of the art of "technology transfer," harnessing new industries to produce pioneering solutions to old problems. The Dymaxion Deployment Unit is just one example. Commissioned at the outbreak of the war by the British War Relief Association, it anticipated the bombing of British cities and the need for an emergency housing unit. Characteristically, Bucky looked outside the housing industry for manufacturing expertise and approached a company that specialized in making corrugated metal grain silos--the Butler Company of Kansas City--to build a prototype. He drew on the strengths of that industry but pushed it to achieve the sophistication and speed of manufacture he required. It is a lesson that we can still benefit from today.

Allied to his willingness to explore new techniques was a concern for economy of means. Bucky spoke frequently, for example, about the relationship between weight, energy, and performance--about "doing the most with the least"--and that has consistently been the story of technological progress, from the earliest cathedrals to the latest cellular phones.

I remember, in 1978, showing him our Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts and being startled when he asked: "How much does your building weigh?" The question was far from rhetorical. He was challenging us to discover how efficient it was; to identify how many tonnes of material enclosed what volume. We did not know the answer, but we worked it out and wrote to him. We learned from the exercise as he predicted we would. The basement, which is only 8 percent of the volume of the main space, Weighs 80 percent of the total, or about 3,600 tonnes. The main building weighs just over 900 tonnes--less per cubic foot than a Boeing 747--and was built far more quickly than the basement and for half the unit cost.

Back in the 1970s we made that calculation in simple volumetric terms. Today our understanding is far more sophisticated. We are familiar, for example, with concepts such as embodied energy and sustainability; and we know that some systems of construction are inherently more energy-efficient and environmentally responsible than others. Furthermore, there is a universal acceptance that the planet's natural resources are not only finite but fast dwindling. Bucky was one of the first people to advocate the recycling of source materials. He proposed that major manufactured items be rented from industry--cars for eight years, ships for twenty years, and so on. In this way, he argued, the recycling process could be guaranteed. Only recently have major manufacturers taken steps in this direction--the automotive industry is a prime example--and begun to plan for recycling in a systematic way.

The pressure to "do the most with the least," which has long been felt in the context of manufacturing industry, applies just as powerfully to energy production and consumption. Long after Bucky first warned us, we have at last recognised that we must break the pattern of energy profligacy and pollution. We now acknowledge the fragility of the natural world and the destructive impact of our industrial installations. We know, for example, that power stations that burn fossil fuels to produce electricity are inherently wasteful and environmentally damaging. It is estimated that half the energy expended to generate electricity is lost in the form of waste heat that is dissipated into rivers and oceans, harming their natural ecology. These same power plants also deposit into the atmosphere huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2)--a greenhouse gas--which has been a significant factor in global climate change.

The planet cannot naturally absorb the millions of tons of pollutants we currently tip into its oceans or pour into its atmosphere every year. As an illustration of the scale of the problem, it is calculated that a square kilometre of dense deciduous forest absorbs through photosynthesis approximately 570 tonnes of CO2 per year. To throw this into sharper relief, you only have to take one of the coming mega-cities and consider its likely CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels alone. For a conurbation of 25 million people to be CO2-neutral--that is, to absorb all the CO2 emissions from buildings, vehicles, and industry at present levels--it would need to plant a forest of 400,000 square metres, equivalent to 114,000 times the area of Central Park, or fifteen times the entire metropolitan area of New York. That is clearly impossible, so something fundamental must change.

Alternative energy sources have an important role to play. For example, if we were to produce all our energy by alternative means--by burning renewable fuels or by using wind and water turbines and solar panels--global CO2 emissions could be reduced by approximately a third. This, allied with a proactive approach to energy conservation, begins to provide us with a solution.

I am reminded of Bucky's exhortation to "think global, act local." Within my own practice, we have made significant steps in the direction of reduced energy dependency in the design of a new generation of ecologically sensitive projects. Among the most recent is our proposal for the London headquarters of Swiss Re--one of the world's leading reinsurance companies--which will be the capital's first ecological high-rise building.

Swiss Re is rooted in the thinking that Bucky first explored with us in the theoretical Climatroffice project, designed in 1971. The Climatroffice concept suggested a new rapport between nature and workspace in which the garden setting helped to create an interior microclimate sheltered by the most energy-conscious enclosures, The ovoid forms employed were selected for their ability to enclose the maximum volume within the minimum surface skin--analogies might be drawn with the naturally efficient forms of birds' eggs--while conventional walls and roof were dissolved into a continuous skin of triangulated elements. Similarly, the Swiss Re building is derived from a circular plan which, over forty stories, generates an elongated, beehive-like form that is fully glazed around a diagonally braced structure.

Successive floors are rotated, allowing voids at the edge of each floor plate to combine in a series of spiralling atria or "sky gardens" which wind up around the perimeter of the building. Socially, these green spaces help to break down the internal scale of the building, while externally they add variety and life to its facades. They also represent a key component in regulating the building's internal climate. The building's aerodynamic form generates large pressure differentials that greatly assist the natural flow of incoming and expelled air. Fresh air is drawn in at every floor via horizontal slots in the cladding and circulated through the gardens. This system is designed to be so effective that for the majority of the year, mechanical cooling and ventilating systems will not be required. As a result, energy consumption is reduced dramatically when compared with conventionally air-conditioned offices.

The rebuilt Reichstag in Berlin is equally progressive. It demonstrates the potential for a virtually nonpolluting, wholly sustainable public building. It makes extensive use of natural light and ventilation, together with combined systems of cogeneration and heat recovery, and eschews fossil fuels in favour of renewable "bio-diesel"--a refined vegetable oil derived from grape or sunflower seeds. The energy strategy for the building ensures that the minimum energy achieves the maximum effect at the lowest cost in use. In fact, because its own requirements are sufficiently modest, the Reichstag is able to perform as a local power station, supplying neighboring buildings in the new parliamentary quarter.

Refined vegetable oil can be considered as a form of solar energy, since the sun's energy is stored in the plants (the biomass). Furthermore, CO2 emissions are considerably reduced in the long term, as the growing plant absorbs almost as much CO2 in its lifetime as is released during combustion.

Heating and cooling the Reichstag by burning bio-diesel produces an estimated 440 tonnes of CO2 per annum as opposed to the 7,000 tonnes generated annually by its previous installations, installed in the 1960s--a 94 percent reduction in emissions. As a further illustration, if the Reichstag were to burn natural gas instead of bio-diesel, its CO2 emissions would be in the region of 1,450 tonnes per annum--more than three times the bio-diesel amount.

As well as forming the public focus of the budding, the Reichstag's cupola, or "lantern," provides the key to our strategies for lighting and ventilating the assembly chamber. At its heart is a light-reflecting cone--a light "sculptor" and a sculpture in its own right. The cone is covered with faceted mirrors that together form a giant Fresnel lens just as you might find in a searchlight or lighthouse. In fact, the cone works as a lighthouse in reverse, reflecting daylight from a 360-degree horizon down into the chamber. An electronically controlled mobile sunshade tracks the path of the sun to block solar gain and glare, but is designed to allow a little sunlight to dapple the floor of the chamber. In ventilation terms the cone and chamber together perform as a solar chimney, drawing air up naturally through the chamber and expelling it via the open top of the cupola.

In ecological terms, the Reichstag has shown how public buildings can challenge the status quo: big buildings do not have to be big consumers of energy or big polluters. And although it represents a minuscule first step in terms of the journey yet remaining, imagine the impact these strategies could have if they were applied more widely around the world. If every new building--public or private--were to follow this lead, the energy equation could be stood on its head. Rather than consuming energy, these buildings would be net providers; rather than emitting CO2, they would be broadly neutral. The savings in resources and running costs could be immense.

The cupola is the outward manifestation of these strategies, signaling a process of transformation. It represents the ultimate synthesis of old and new in the building and brings together all the elements that compose our program of renewal. Interestingly, it also carries more than a hint of the geodesic Autonomous House--an energy-self-sufficient dwelling with a rotating, sun-screening inner skin--that we developed with Bucky shortly before his death. For me, with its environmental and democratic agenda, the cupola is certainly more closely related to Bucky's humanist vision of the future than it is to the symbolism of the past. And, as Bucky would surely want to know, its steel structure weights just 800 tonnes.

Continues...


Excerpted from Buckminster Fuller by Thomas T. K. Zung Copyright © 2002 by Thomas T. K. Zung. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments

An Introduction to Bucky by Thomas T.K. Zung

Chronology

1. Richard Buckminster Fuller, by architect Lord Norman Foster We Call It "Earth," from Nine Chains to the Moon

2. A Brief History of Geodesic Domes, by Shoji Sada Geodesic Structures, from The Dymaxion World of Buckminster Fuller

3. Bucky as a Leonardo-like World Fellow in Residence, by Professor Martin Meyerson Education, from Education Automation

4. R. Buckminster Fuller: Cosmic Surfer, by Dr. Glenn A. Olds Comprehensive Designing, from Ideas and Integrities

5. Bucky Fuller—Nine Epiphanies, by the Very Reverend James Parks Morton Introduction to Omnidirectional Halo, from No More Secondhand God

6. Bear Island, by Calvin Tomkins Emergent Humanity: Its Environment and Education, from R. Buckminster Fuller on Education

7. Buckminster Fuller and the Game of the World, by Michael Gabel The World Game—How to Make the World Work, from Utopia or Oblivion

8. The Fountains of Paradise, by Sir Arthur C. Clarke Spaceship Earth, from Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth

9. The Path of Social Evolution, by Barbara Marx Hubbard The Lord's Prayer—First and Second Version, from Intuition

10. Bucky: Citizen of the Universe, by Valerie Harper Revolution in Wombland, from Earth, Inc.

11. My Best Friend's Father, by Marian Seldes Prologue and Tricap Stone 1 & 2, from Tetrascroll: Goldilocks and the Three Bears

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12. Continuity, Discreteness, and Resolution, by Dr. Arthur L. Loeb Discoveries of Synergetics, from Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking

13. Black Mountain College, by Ruth Asawa What I am Trying to Do, from And It Came to Pass—Not to Stay

14. Macro-, Micro-, and Nano-scale Engineering, by Sir Harold W. Kroto Definition: Universe, from Synergetics 2: Further Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking

15. Bucky, by Charles Correa Part XXIX, from Untitled Epic Poem on the History of Industrialization

16. The Future According to Fuller, by Steve Forbes Can't Fool Cosmic Computer, from Crunch of Giants

17. Bucky's Apologia, by Michael Denneny Introduction, Guinea Pig B., from Inventions

18. R. Buckminster Fuller Archives, by Professor Emer. Allegra Fuller Snyder Working with Buckminster Fuller, by Don L. Richter, from The Artifacts of Buckminster Fuller

19. The Naming of Buckminsterfullerene, by E. J. Applewhite The Mind of Buckminster Fuller, from Synergetics Dictionary

20. Ekistics and R. Buckminster Fuller, by Herbert E. Strawbridge Integrity, from Cosmography (posthumous)

21. Fuller as a Poet of Technology, by E. J. Applewhite

22. A Fuller Family

23. Frank Lloyd Wright and Nine Chains to the Moon

24. Isamu Noguchi & E=mc2

25. The United States Postage Stamp Campaign

26. Fuller's Last Diary Entry

Epilogue

Books by R. Buckminster Fuller

Suggested Reading List

Index

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