A few print items recently might leave you with the impression that Buckminster Fuller was either battling a Napoleon complex or merely indulging one to the fullerest. Certainly, in our constant quest to find the "emotional center" of any story, this kind of analysis is all but irresistible, but we'd love to see more ink (or pixels) thrown at the principles of efficiency, lightness, and utility, along with--okay--his personal demons and extra-curricular activities.
Here are some choice, deflating, lines:
Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker:
Toward the end of his stay [at Black Mountain], Fuller and a team of students assembled a trial dome out of Venetian-blind slats. Immediately upon being completed, the dome sagged and fell in on itself. (Some of the observers referred to it as a "flopahedron.") Fuller insisted that this outcome had been intentional--he was, he said, trying to determine the critical point at which the dome would collapse--but no one seems to have believed this.
In Mr. Baldwin's view those episodes missed the point. "Focusing on the affair is like spending all your time thinking about van Gogh's ear instead of his paintings," he said. "It's very off track." Mr. Katz disagreed, saying that the seemingly crazy writings were important because they showed that in recurrent dark periods Fuller was not trying only to persuade others his ideas were important, but to persuade himself that he mattered. The letters, Mr. Katz suggested, were a form of self-encouragement as Fuller struggled to find a reason for going on.
Despite Fuller's talk of borrowing construction methods from the aircraft industry, Burgess built the car using many of the nautical methods applied to a racing boat. The chassis was aircraft-grade steel, but the body was an ash wood frame with aluminum tacked to its sides and a roof of taut, painted canvas. The crude suspension was made up of a Ford beam axle and leaf springs turned sideways. The tail was omitted.
Go ahead and read these pieces then if you'd like to get to know the man first, but maybe consider waiting until after you've seen the show if you're more interested in the machines. Or hell, just wait for the next season of Celebrity Rehab. (They do those posthumously, don't they?)
Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe is at the Whitney from June 26th through September 21, 2008.
Allan Chochinov is a partner of Core77, a New York-based design network serving a global community of designers and design enthusiasts, and Chair of the new MFA in Products of Design graduate program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Allan lectures around the world and at professional conferences including IDSA, AIGA and IxDA, has been a guest critic at various design schools in including Yale University, IIT, Carnegie Mellon, Ravensbourne, RMIT, University of Minnesota, Emily Carr, and RISD. He has moderated and led workshops and symposia at the Aspen Design Conference, the Rockefeller Center at Bellagio, Compost Modern, and Winterhouse, and is a frequent design competition juror. Prior to Core77, his work in product design focused on the medical, surgical, and diagnostic fields, as well as on consumer products and workplace systems. He has been named on numerous design and utility patents and has received awards from The Art Directors Club, I.D. Magazine, Communication Arts, and The One Club.