Anne & Buckminster Fuller
March 15, 1981
In search of a better world, they put their faith in the power of the
by Stacey Peck
photographs by Suzanne Murphy
A man and his media
Anne and Buckminster Fuller
Click here for hi-res image!
Bucky flying high over his development
Click here for hi-res image!
Always comfortable in the spotlight, Buckminster Fuller supervises the construction
of his Fly's Eye dome in Pershing Square (Los Angeles, CA) while local newscasters
John and Bucky studying their accomplishment
Click here for hi-res image!
Dome supervisor John Warren confers with Bucky as they direct the installation
of the dome's bulbous windows.
The Fly's Eye Dome
Click here for hi-res image!
Later termed a "mushroom with warts"
by the Los Angeles Time's architectural critic John Dreyfuss, the design
provides a fine muted light for the photographic display housed inside.
Bucky's watch chain
Click here for hi-res image!
A Fuller trademark, Bucky's watch chain is adorned with natural crystals
collected on his travels, his Phi Beta Kappa key and a miniature geodesic
Jamie and Bucky
Click here for hi-res image!
Jamie Snyder, Bucky's grandson and confidant, interviews Bucky for the press.
During his 85 years Buckminster (Bucky) Fuller has been labeled a crackpot
and a genius, but he has never been ignored. A designer, philosopher, inventor,
poet, he has won numerous awards for contributions to architecture and design.
Fuller has been awarded 39 honorary degrees from universities throughout
the United States and England, and has written 19 books and 115 major articles.
Yet he never got past his freshman year of college.
Bucky and his wife, Anne, are both descendants of America's first families.
His father, a Massachusetts leather merchant, died when Bucky was 12. After
attending Milton Academy, Bucky entered Harvard and encountered problems;
his Milton class mates would not associate with him because he was not invited
to join a club. "The club system was only for very rich people,"
he says, "and as I was not rich, I felt out of place. When I found
out my friends felt sorry for me I couldn't stand it. I began cutting classes
and going to New York, where I hung around the stage doors of popular Broadway
shows. I used my Russian wolfhound as bait. and when the girls stopped to
pet the dog, I became acquainted with them. When I cut my exams to see dancer
Marilyn Miller, I made a great hit with my classmates but not with the Harvard
officials, and they asked me to leave."
In 1914 Bucky met beautiful Anne Hewlitt, daughter of prominent New York
architect James Monroe Hewlitt. "I thought he was very nice,"
says Anne, "but we all had lots of beaus then. And everybody knew the
war was coming so it made us a little more serious and a little more gay
at the same time. We felt we should have fun while we could." They
married in 1917, and Bucky joined the Navy.
After the end of the war he worked for a meat packing company in New York,
then went into the building business with his father-in-law. Shortly after,
the couple's first daughter, Alexandra, became ill and died, and the company
failed after constructing 240 homes. "I wasn't a businessman,"
he admits, "and by the time our second child, Allegra, was born in
1927, we were penniless. I decided I'd better get out of the way, because
I was a disgrace to my family and would never make any money."
Instead of committing suicide as he had intended, Bucky decided to use his
accumulated experience for the benefit of others. In 1928 he designed a
single-family house with rooms hung from a central mast that could be easily
moved if the owner wanted to change locations. It was air-conditioned, and
featured a nearly waterless bathroom with a 10-minute bath supplied by a
fog gun. When a scale model was displayed at Marshall Field's department
store In Chicago, it was christened Dymaxion combination of dynamic and
maximum. The word became Bucky's personal trademark.
In 1932, he designed the three-wheel Dymaxion car. The steering wheel was
connected to a single rear wheel, enabling the car to circle within a small
radius. It could run at 120 miles per hour when equipped with a standard
Ford 90-horsepower engine. In 1938, an accident unrelated to the car's design
killed a passenger and Bucky abandoned both the Dymaxion house and car,
unconventional ideas during a very conventional time, had attracted the
nation's attention. His fame led to jobs as assistant director of research
and development at the Phelps Dodge Corp. and as technical consultant to
Fortune magazine. Again captivating the public consciousness, he created
the Dymaxion Airocean World Map in 1934. It showed the world as a flat surface
without distortion, and was the first map to be granted a U.S. patent.
Bucky next returned to an idea he had first developed during the 1920s-the
geodesic dome. Eventually the Ford Motor Co. commissioned him to build a
dome over its Dearborn plant rotunda. A request from the Marine Corps for
a plastic and fiberglass enclosure that could be delivered by a helicopter
followed in 1954. And in 1959 the dome served as the stage for one of the
decade's great media spectaculars, the Nixon-Kruschev kitchen debate. Another
now houses the Bicentennial information and exhibition center in Los Angeles'
Financially secure, Bucky was able to turn his attention to writing. In
1961 Harvard named him Charles Eliot Norton professor of poetry; three volumes
of verse followed. The Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (1970) found
a receptive audience in the ecologically minded college students who empathized
with his theories of universal interdependence. And In 1975, Bucky published
what many consider his major theoretical work, Synergetics: Explorations
in the Geometry of Thinking.
Today he works as hard as ever on developments to enhance the environment,
recently committing himself to more than 20 speaking engagements within
a period of eight months. He and Anne live near their daughter and two grandchildren
in Pacific Palisades, CA, and spend a portion of each summer in their house
on one of the islands off the cost of Maine.
Q. What has it been like living with Bucky Fuller for years?
Anne. I have really enjoyed it. He's a great worrier, all these tremendous
problems are on his mind and some of them weigh very heavily. But my mind
is not that way; I'm more cheery and not too concerned with weighty problems.
I realize there's not much I can do about them, so my philosophy is to enjoy
Q. You've often talked about the lag between invention and acceptance. Why
Bucky. Nature takes time. For example, It takes nine months to make
a human baby and there are all kinds of gestation rates in the animal kingdom.
In the world of electronics, where Invisible electromagnetic waves move
at 186,000 miles per second, there is only a two-year lag between invention
and its industrial use. In aeronautics, where you move about 1,000 miles
per hour, there is a five-year lag. And that is desirable. It takes time
to prove that something is safe.
We can see the second hand on a clock moving, but we can't see the minute
hand move. When you can't see something move, you don't get out of the way.
The faster a thing moves, the more chances you have to see what is wrong.
So we find that in a single-family dwelling there is at least a 50-year
lag because of the least visibility of motion.
Q. But wasn't the geodesic dome accepted very quickly?
Bucky. Oh yes, but that was only a demonstration of my structural
principle for the single-family dwelling. The Dymaxion house, an autonomous
dwelling with no plumbing, no water pipe connections, has still not been
accepted. But its time has come because now, in addition to having a critical
housing shortage, people can no longer pay for their utilities.
Q. Why did you and Anne leave the dome in which you were living in Carbondale
Bucky. Because my number one concern is not me. I travel 90 percent
of the time and have to leave Anne alone. Now, when I'm away, Anne is near
Anne. We enjoyed living in the dome. It was easy to take care of, and even
though it was only 1,000 square feet, it seemed like a big house and we
didn't feel closed in. We had a foyer, two baths, a kitchen, a dining room,
an enormous living room and a library upstairs.
Q. Have you felt hampered by the lack of a college education?
Bucky. No, never. I developed my own knowledge of physics and mathematics.
In fact, I feel that most scientists are still in the dark ages. In 1953,
when I lectured at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology faculty club,
there were about 300 scientists in the room and I asked, "Is there
anyone present who has not seen the sun go down?" There were no hands
raised and I was shocked. I said, "You have known for 500 years that
the sun does not go down and yet you have done absolutely nothing as educators
to coordinate your senses with your knowledge. When you tell your children
to look at the sun going down, you are deceiving them. What kind of educators
Q. Does our educational system hinder original thinking?
Bucky. No question about it. Every child is born to be a comprehensivist.
The mind deals with what you can't see as well as what you can. But how
do we teach the children? When a child asks, "Why do the galaxies do
what they do?" the daddy answers, "Wait until you get to school."
Then the school says, "Never mind about the universe. Let's talk about
whether you're going to get an A or a B or a D."
We have learned in biology and anthropology that extinction has been the
consequence of overspecialization and our specialization is leading to extinction
of the species. The only thing humans need is the ability to think. Unfortunately
they think mostly about how to make a living and get along in the system
rather than about what the universe is trying to tell us.
A newspaperman wanted to know how I interacted with children, so he brought
two boys, 11 and 12, and a 10 year-old girl to our house. They had read
some of my books before they met me. I asked the 12-year-old what he was
most interested in and he said he wanted to be a magician. The 11-year-old
was interested in electronics, but the girl said, "I am a comprehensivist
like you. I am interested in everything."
It's interesting that the first two were born before we got to the moon
and the girl was born after. When I was born, you would have been called
a lunatic if you said we could touch the moon. This is a completely new
world. When we got to the moon, we saw ourselves for the first time and
that made a big change in the attitudes of the young. I've gotten many letters
from 8 and 10-year-olds saying "Humanity can do anything it wants to
do. Why can't it make this earth work?"
Q. You've said that you look to the young people to improve world conditions.
We were all young at one time. Why didn't we do it?
Bucky. Because each successive child is born with a little less misinformation
and conditioned reflex. I was told by grown-ups that it is inherently impossible
for man to fly. Then the Wright brothers flew. I was told man would never
reach the Poles. When I was 14, man got to the North Pole and when I was
16, he got to the South Pole. Now we have a little girl who was born after
man went to the moon and she has absolute confidence that we can solve any
problem by using the mind and perseverance.
Q. What do you feel has been your most significant contribution to society?
Bucky. Knowing ways to catch myself telling a lie to myself. But
I never try to reform anybody else. We are born naked and helpless and are
driven to learn by trial and error. We make mistakes, but that is healthy
if you have the courage to admit you've made a mistake. I'd like to be remembered
as an average, healthy human being who used what humans are given for the
advantage of others.
Buckminster Fuller dead at 87
July 2, 1983, Los Angeles, California
An architect, inventor, writer, futurist, high priest of technology and
a college dropout died yesterday. They were all Richard Buckminster Fuller,
and he was 87 years old.
Fuller, who devoted himself to saving the world with technology, died at
4:50 pm. of a heart attack at Good Samaritan Hospital as he visited his
critically ill wife, Anne, who is a patient there, said a hospital spokeswoman.
"It was very sudden," said the spokeswoman, who asked not to be
identified and declined to discuss the specifics of the wife's illness.
"She is extremely old and very ill, and he was visiting her."
Although Fuller, who lived in Pacific Palisades, was hailed by some near
the end of his life as "the greatest living genius of industrial-technical
realization in building," many others-through most of his life-called
him a crackpot.
That label came from inventing such things as houses that could fly, bathrooms
without water, strangely folded maps and ways of living bearing the mysterious
word "Dymaxion," for designs called "octet trusses,"
"synergetics" and "tensegrity spheres."
He even envisioned our planet as a ship traveling in space, and warned that
"Spaceship Earth" was doomed if people failed to make use of technology.
For example, his famous geodesic dome was designed to cover a maximum space
with a a minimum of materials, lightweight and inexpensive.
"Personally, he was a man of integrity because of how he led his life,
how he carried himself throughout his life, all 87 years," said Jeff
Milch, a worker at the Friends of Buckminster Fuller Foundation in Pacific
Palisades, which strives to apply his ideas to practical use.
During the 1970s, Fuller averaged nearly 100 speaking engagements per year,
while continuing to write, consult and design. (Some estimates placed his
yearly earnings as a lecturer at $180,000).
The 5-foot 2-inch Fuller once said of himself in this way: "I am not
a thing-a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process-an integral
function of the universe."
The Fuller process began in Milton, Mass., on July 12, 1895, when he was
born to the wife of a Boston merchant. A great aunt was transcendentalist
Margaret Fuller, the literary friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson and discoverer
of Henry David Thoreau.
He continued a five-generation family tradition by attending Harvard, but
he never made it through the first year. He felt he was a social outcast
when no one would room with him. So, he once said, he "deliberately
set out to get into trouble." Harvard officials suspended him twice
before expelling him.
Shortly after his 1917 marriage to Anne Hewlett, daughter of a prominent
New York architect, he joined the Navy. He showed such promise he was commissioned
an ensign and sent to the Naval Academy to study. After World War I, he
and his wife moved to Chicago, where he worked for a company marketing building
materials invented by his father-in-law.
In 1927, he attempted suicide (which later became one of his most moving
tales while on the lecture circuit). He was still distraught over the death
of his young daughter, 4-year old Alexandra, five years earlier, was unemployed,
drinking heavily and had just lost some of his friends' money on an abortive
At that point he couldn't t imagine earning a living because he viewed individual
survival as a function of depriving others --the antithesis of his basic
philosophy. He resolved to jump into Lake Michigan and end his sorrow and
the humiliation of his family, including a new born daughter, Allegra.
He changed his mind only when he became convinced that his original way
of thinking was right: that the human species should be a cooperative society
and that sensitivity is to be highly prized. Hence, it was not the species
but the system that was at fault.
"I decided to commit myself to an experiment," he said during
a 1979 lecture at Pasadena's Art Center School of Design. "I decided
to find out what an unknown individual might be able to do on behalf of
humanity that great nations and private enterprise cannot do. And I'm still
After inventing an apartment house built of lightweight alloys that would
be so light it could be carried by a dirigible, he next designed a lightweight
single-family home, whose rooms also hung from a central mast for easy relocation.
The house had a molded bathroom unit that was nearly waterless, using only
a quart of water for a 10-minute bath by means of Fuller's fog gun. Publicists
coined the name "dymaxion" for the house-from "dynamic, maximum
and ion"-for an exhibit in 1928 at Chicago's Marshall Field's department
In 1930, he and his family moved to New York's Greenwich Village, where
he resurrected the Greek word "ecology" and published Shelter
Magazine for two years, a forerunner of environmental concerns.
During World War II, he worked for the U.S. Board of Economic Welfare, converting
grain silos into military housing units.
In 1949, he conceived the geodesic dome that forever changed his image as
a lovable crackpot when architects called it a genuine advance. He patented
the dome in 1954, and at last count, more than 200,000 had been built throughout