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Design Icon: 8 Works by Buckminster Fuller

Bucky’s focus on innovation and efficiency willed a more enlightened, expansive future into existence.
A young Buckminster Fuller

“The Things to do are: the things that need doing, that you see need to be done, and that no one else seems to see need to be done."

Photo by Sascha Pohflepp, Creative Commons

“I seem to be a verb,” he once said. Even more than 30 years after his passing, when the magnificent machine that was Buckminster Fuller’s mind stopped minting ideas and inventions at a prodigious rate, there's still a sense that he is always in motion, moving too fast for the rest of us. You can call Richard Buckminster Fuller many things: a prophet of environmentalism and the counter-culture, decades ahead of the fringe; a Doc Brown of design thinking, whose buoyant optimism held firm to the idea humanity can innovate out of its problems; or simply a self-made genius. But most just called the inspirational thinker “Bucky.”

Fuller’s formative years offer a glimpse of the type of thinker he would become; nonconformist (he was expelled from Harvard twice) and intuitive (he created a winch to rescue downed planes while in the Navy, and developed a new method to build reinforced concrete housing with his father-in-law). But his beliefs were truly forged during the Lake Michigan incident. Jobless at 32 with a family to support, he paced around the Chicago lakefront, contemplating suicide. Then, he had an epiphany. You can’t get rid of yourself, you have a responsibility to others—“You belong to the universe.”

Fuller embarked on a long path of philosophizing and designing solutions that would turn him into a global educator and icon. Innovations such as the geodesic dome and the Dymaxion Map followed, as well as the promotion of a worldview that advanced utopian thinking and efficiency. He even preached his beliefs from his gravestone, etched forever with the phrase “call me trimtab,” a reference to a small flap on ship’s rudder that ultimately steers the boat. Bucky saw himself, and others like him, in that little flap; committed, ecstatic, and global thinkers who could, by force of will, change the direction of our spaceship Earth.

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