What did Buckminster Fuller invent

The space age futurist

The "Bucky Season" has broken out in New York: The architect, inventor, designer and futurist Richard Buckminster Fuller, who died 25 years ago and who was once celebrated as a visionary and decried as a crank, is on everyone's lips again.

The reason for this are several new publications, a recently advertised $ 100,000 prize for "solving the most pressing problems of mankind", but above all a comprehensive exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art that seeks to place Fuller's utopian-bizarre ideas in a new context .

From practical to bizarre
Fuller's most important development, the geodesic dome, is still used today, for example when it comes to emergency shelter after a disaster. He developed a world map that compensated for the distortion caused by the Mercator projection - the polar regions appear enormously enlarged - in the middle of the Depression of the 1930s, he had the idea of ​​a car with minimal fuel consumption and wanted to put a huge glass dome over Manhattan.

Despite his sprawling imagination, R. Buckminster Fuller must today be regarded as a pioneer: He dreamed of a symbiotic connection between nature and technology, the careful use of resources and an even distribution for all inhabitants of the "spaceship earth" - by the way, a term , which Fuller also shaped. "By 1985" all of this could be done, he said in a famous TV appearance.

Repurposed military technology
"Buckminster Fuller: Starting With the Universe", the exhibition at the Whitney Museum, serves on the one hand the nostalgic longing for these space-age dreams, but on the other hand also emphasizes how relevant Fuller's understanding of technology and the environment can be today.

Fuller, who grew up in tranquil Maine, was an army radio operator during World War I. One of his central ideas comes from this period: using technology developed for war purposes for civil purposes.

"Flying saucer" for living
Even the first works in the show, which date from the 1920s, are committed to this idea. Several sketches show the first version of the 4D Lightful Towers residential project; they are lightweight accommodations for aircraft technicians that are docked on zeppelins and should therefore be highly mobile.

The further development of this was the Dymaxion House, a UFO-like hexagonal structure made of a new type of aluminum alloy that could be dismantled, packaged and transported. On almost 100 square meters around a central steel spindle, it offered all the functions of a single-family home - American suburban idyll combined with nomadic mobility.

Only two prototypes
The made-up word "Dymaxion", possibly an abbreviation for "dynamic maximum tension", was invented by Fuller in 1928 by an advertising expert because he was looking for a name to market the company. However, only two prototypes of the Dymaxion House were built. In the absence of financiers, it was never manufactured industrially. After all, Fuller liked the product name so much that he recycled it for a number of other projects.

The Dymaxion House testifies to Fuller's pragmatic and technological approach to the task at hand; his space-age design is just a side effect. Radical aesthetics was not Fuller's first concern, and that made him an outsider among other influential architects of his time.

Famous "Domes"
The Whitney curators also link the American's projects closely to working conditions during the Cold War. While Fuller wanted to make the Dymaxion House available to Siberian workers in the 1930s, after the Second World War he worked for American clients such as Ford and the US Navy.

His post-war utopias were often misused as propaganda. Fuller's geodesic "domes", spherical domes with a substructure of triangles,
Not only appeared in science fiction films, but also served as military bunkers and US trade fair pavilions, for example at world exhibitions in Moscow and Montreal.

Fuller's ideas became even more utopian over time: he wanted to put a huge glass dome over Manhattan and create a green oasis underneath. In similarly constructed bubbles floating in the sea, millions of people were supposed to find a new home away from the overcrowded metropolises.

Fuller tweeted
During his lifetime, the wider public saw him more as a weirdo than a visionary. In view of his pithy, often at the same time naive and far-sighted saying - "Every experience begins and ends - ergo it is finite", "God is a verb" - no wonder.

The Whitney exhibition now processes the extensive pool of quotes in a Web 2.0-compatible manner: Parallel to the exhibition, Fuller's most bizarre sagas are posted on the short message service Twitter.