US architect, engineer, and inventor of the geodesic dome.
Born in Milton, Massachusetts, Fuller had a limited formal education, although it did include two years at Harvard. His early interest in boats led him into the US navy in World War I. After the war he spent several years in industry before announcing the prototype Dymaxion house in 1927. This mast-and-wire construction, reflecting Fuller's nautical experience, was intended as a technological solution to the American housing shortage of the Depression. Designed on the basis of vehicle and aircraft production lines as a ‘machine for living’, the Dymaxion house and its contents absorbed Fuller's energy for the next twenty years. Indeed, he only abandoned it in 1947, after he had failed to secure support for his idea of converting World War II factories into Dymaxion production lines. In some ways the failure of Dymaxion led to the success of his postwar invention, the geodesic dome. Envisaged as a solution to a variety of unlikely problems, the dome in practice turned out to be both expensive and of limited application. Nevertheless, the 76-metre geodesic dome at the US pavilion at the 1967 Montreal International Exhibition attracted considerable international attention and some 10 000 of these domes have been constructed throughout the world, from the arctic to the tropics.
However, it is perhaps as a highly stimulating talker, extemporary lecturer, and educator that Buckminster Fuller will best be remembered by generations of students. He was professor of architecture at Southern Illinois University (1959–75) and, as the ‘first poet of technology’ (as he was called), professor of poetry at Harvard. He was awarded the Gold Medal of the RIBA in 1983.