Buckminster Fuller’s Ultra-Micro Computer

Published on 12 July 2014, Fuller’s 119th birthday.
See also: Buckminster Fuller and the Twelfth of July.

“Never show half-finished work.” So said R. Buckminster Fuller in the March 1960 issue of Architectural Design. By the time the phrase “never show half-finished work” appeared in his book Critical Path (1981), “Universal Requirements Checklist” had been renamed “Comprehensively Anticipatory Design Science’s Universal Requirements for Realizing Omnihumanity Advantaging Local Environmental Controls, Which are Omniconsiderate of Both Cosmic Evolution Potentials and Terrestrial Ecological Integrities.”

The evolution of the simple “Universal Requirements Checklist” to “Comprehensively Anticipatory Design Science’s Universal Requirements… ” is representative of Fuller’s process. Fuller’s ideas grow more complex each time they are presented, sometimes obscuring the original idea. But if you can find your way to that central early idea, there is often something of great value.

Everything is equally connected to everything in Fuller’s writing. Fuller was unable to speak of mathematics, ethics, his individual life, global distribution of goods and services – everything – without speaking of all of it. You’d recognize it as the way crazy men talked, if crazy men were courted by publishers and universities all over the planet, and if crazy men earned dozens of ground-breaking patents, and most of all if crazy men and their crazy ideas didn’t turn out to be merely decades ahead of their time. I have some half-finished work by Fuller in which he clearly states an idea decades ahead of when he said it. I also have the finished work, still ahead of its time but nearly impenetrable in how it is presented.

The clearly stated work is a transcription of a recording Fuller made in the late 1960s. The transcriptions reside in Box 9, Folder 3 of the Stanford University Special Collection of R. Buckminster Fuller. The transcriptions document a series of discussions between Fuller and his patent attorney, D. Verner Smythe. The patent was not pursued and does not appear in Inventions, Fuller’s book of patents. The subject of the patent does, however, appear in Fuller’s magnum opus, Synergetics (1975 and 1979). To understand a node of Fuller’s thought requires tracing an idea across many other nodes of Fuller’s thought. But by tracing a line from diary entries through transcribed monologues through published books, Fuller is shown to predict atomic-scale computers nearly forty years before today’s discussion of graphine semi-conductor computers.

The nucleus of Fuller’s story is a simple diary entry from 1 February 1928: “after much philosophical thought while walking about worked out theory of spheres.” By 1939, in a letter intended for publication to Joe Bryant, the walking about had been expanded upon. Now there were thoughts of suicide and murder, a mugging that broke Fuller’s cheek bone (never otherwise confirmed), and a disembodied voice that told him: “You think truthfully. From now on, you need never await temporal attestation to your thoughts.” By the 1970s the story included Fuller floating in the air, surrounded by a sphere of light. Fuller’s story pulses, from an amateur consideration of geometry to a blessing from the hand of God and back again.

Fuller’s theory of spheres is a synthesis of established mathematics, personal insights and numerology. His theory of spheres is a thought experiment that can be reproduced with physical models. Imagine a single sphere floating in space. Add another to it, and a third so that all three are touching each other. Add another sphere that touch only the first two so that the center of each sphere is on a plane. Add a fifth and a sixth sphere, both touching the initial sphere and its neighbor, and the result is six spheres around one. Three more spheres can be nested in the six spaces above and below the plane such that they touch the initial sphere and two of their neighbors.

illustrations Copyright (c) 1975 the Estate of Buckminster Fuller.

IF three spheres nested below are staggered so that they alternately nest above and below the plane, the center of every sphere is an equal distance from all of its nearest neighbors, all spheres are an equal distance from the central sphere, and lines drawn from the center of all external spheres to their external neighbor form a cuboctahedron. A cuboctahedron is a polyhedron made up of eight triangular faces and six square faces. It can also be viewed as three interlocking hexagons, or a faceted globe with triangular poles and a hexagon equator.

Sphere-packing is an idea as old as the first stack of cannonballs or oranges. But Fuller’s theory of spheres led to a discovery that is unique. A tetrahedron made with ridged struts and flexible joints will hold its shape even when pressure is applied to a strut or a joint. Most other similarly constructed polyhedron will collapse under pressure. The cuboctahedron will also collapse, but in an interesting way. If pressure is applied to opposing triangular sets of struts, the hexagon between them will ripple. The struts double and form an octahedron (eight triangular faces). Between the cuboctahedron and octahedron, an implied icosahedron polyhedra (twenty sides) can be seen. And with a little hand work, the octahedron can be twisted into a triple-strutted tetrahedron. Fuller called this the “jitterbug transformation” and it is a mathematical insight that is his alone.

Having discovered the jitterbug transformation, Fuller considered it signficant and needed to find a use for it. He made a cuboctahedron cage of curved wire and rotated it on a globe until the wire least overlapped land masses. The cuboctahedron was the basis of his first Dymaxion Projection Map. The cuboctahedron was also the basis for Fuller’s earlier geodesic domes. In Fuller’s earlier geodesic domes a cuboctahedron was puffed up into a sphere, with the triangular and square faces faceted into smaller triangles and squares. Some of the lines that make up the faces run nearly all the way around such a sphere, and these Fuller called great circuits. The great circuits are the struts on Fuller’s earlier geodesic domes. Later he switched to “type two geodesic domes” based on the icosohedra, and an icosohedron based Dymaxion Projection Map. But he never abandoned his attraction to the cuboctahedron. He used it as a symbol for his mail order business in Philadelpha in the early 1980s.

Sphere packing (or as Fuller called it, the closest packing of spheres) twelve around one creates an implied cuboctahedron. If more spheres are placed around cuboctahedron, a larger cuboctahedron is formed. Every new layer of spheres makes a more sharply angled cuboctahedron, never a sphere. With one sphere in the center, the first layer has 12 spheres. The second layer will hold 42 spheres, the third layer 92, the fourth layer 162 and the fifth layer 252. All of these layers and every layer following ends in the number two. Round the number of spheres in a layer (10, 40, 90, 160, 250) and divide the numbers by ten and a progression by the second power is revealed (1, 4, 9, 16, 25). This is also an original discovery by Fuller.

The discovery could not be left as it was found. Fuller’s style of closest packing of spheres could not just be, it had to be meaningful. Adding the number of spheres in the first, second and third layer of spheres around a nucleus sphere (12 + 42 + 92) yields 146 spheres. This is the number of neutrons in the element uranium. Add 92 to 146 to yield 238, the number of neutrons and protons in the element uranium. From this numerological correspondence Fuller concluded that his style of sphere packing was descriptive of the structure of atoms, and thus all matter.

The cuboctahedron as a model for all matter, even this was not inclusive enough for Fuller. He imagined ideas were spheres. Not that spheres are a model for ideas, but that ideas were physical spheres. Some ideas are too specific to be of importance and some ideas are too general to be of importance. Ideas that are too specific are small spheres and ideas that are too general are large spheres. Small idea spheres will cluster around a center, large idea spheres will be pushed further from a central point. One idea is a free-floating nothing, two connected ideas might suggest something worth pursuing, three connected ideas point to a pattern, and four connected ideas form a tetrahedron. A tetrahedron of ideas will include ideas relevant to each thought and exclude irrelevant ideas, because a tetrahedron is the most simple polyhedron that has an inside and an outside (after spheres, I might add). Thus it takes four ideas to make a thought, and the shape of a thought is thus a tetrahedron. Fuller’s theory of spheres was a description of all matter and all consciousness.

These are examples of how Fuller’s thoughts breathed in and out, pulsed and jumped, danced a jitterbug. There was no clear demarkation line between established mathematics, numerology, personal biography, original insights, physical models and cosmic truths. There are good reasons to try and tease out what was original to Fuller and what he took from others, what is actionable and what is ornamentation. One of those good reasons is to speak plainly of when Fuller was decades ahead of his time, because sometimes Fuller was his own worst promoter.

In 1968 and 1969 Fuller met with his attourney Dale D. Klaus. The meeting was a monologue in which Fuller initiated a patent tentatively titled “Energy Systems for Computer Memory.” The trancribed meeting was combined with pages from the 1955 manuscript of what would later be published as Synergetics and Synergetics II. Fuller said his new kind of computer memory would differ from all existing computer memory:

Instead of having linear arrangements which is the way they tend to do things – linear and matrix array, I could do it omnidirectional phenomenon.

Fuller’s computer is a layered cuboctahedrons, each layer made of spheres. Fuller describes the spheres as glass coated with gold, silver, copper or aluminum depending on their location in the array. But Fuller also speaks of individual atoms of these materials, predicting by decades the nanocomputers under development today.

These layers of cuboctahedrons would have arrays of hexagons on their equators, and the nanocomputers of today are made of layers of hexagons. The fifth layer of a layered cuboctahedron of spheres would have the potential for a new nucleus sphere.

Conventional ciruits are described by Fuller as computing in a flat, ninety-degree, x/y array. Fulller’s computer would function in three dimensions at both sixty-degree and ninety-degree angles. The Fuller computer would begin a process with an electric impulse to the central, nucleus sphere. That signal would radiate out in all directions to the surrounding spheres. The radiating signal would terminate based on the strength of the signal, the material of the surrounding spheres, and the distance of a sphere from the nucleus sphere. The pattern of where the signal terminated constitutes stored information. Fuller speaks of his computer as made up of coated glass spheres, but also as single atoms of different elements.

I can lead a wire into one of the spheres at the center of the system and give that a load – and it would have to go out through it’s 12 contact points and by the frequency I give it I am sure I could round a special layer. […] I am planning to have a conductor to the center of the mass of atoms. There would be one atom that makes contact, we wouldn’t even have to see it. Well, the balls, the atoms by the time we get thorugh all the electrons actually have the same… we find with the electron microscope they look just like the same spheres. So by giving the right frequency and going out the right radial distance from there and pick up that information from millions and millions out there at that particular layer.

Three great circles could be done in gold, the four great circles could have been done in silver, the six great circles could have been done in copper and the twelve great circles could be done in aluminum. Now they are all conducting but they are all quite different.

Now about layers. If I were making this myself, say in ping-pong ball size, I couldn’t have very many layers. I figure in this room here I could have 100 layers or so. But if I were to use it… once I made this model then we would know this is exactly the same model as the closest packed spheres, as atoms. So then I would be able to assume millions of layers around a given atom.

Not all atoms but most atoms are packed that way […] So now we would be able for a given frequency… we would know how many special case informations we have stored there and how many relationships there are. […] There is no absolute continuum anyway so even those gold atoms… they happen to be closest and they will simply go from one to the other. But their resistances come in here, too. You will find there is a jump, there is a little jump from atom to atoms. A quantum jump.

There is a resistance difference due to the vertexes they go through. There is a resistance differential. Information can be stored in layer after layer and I think this is a storage system if you talk about compactness, there is nothing to compare it to.

I have re-arranged some of the above quotes to join like ideas, but I have not otherwise edited what Fuller said. His thinking-out-loud is not made up of complete and actionable ideas, but it does clearly point to an atom-sized hex-based system of computer memory. This is identical to the graphine memory systems now under development.

Compare the above rough take on Fuller’s computer with the following description as found in Synergetics:

I am confident that I have discovered and developed the conceptual insights governing the complete family of variables involved in realization by humanity of usable access to the ultimate computer… ultimate meaning here: the most comprehensive, incisive and swiftest possible information-storing, retrieving, and variably processing facility with the least possible physical involvement and the least possible investment of human initiative and cosmic energization. […] We have here the disclosure of a new phase of geometry employing the invisible circuitry of nature. The computer based on such a design could be no bigger than the subvisibly dimensioned domain of a pinhead’s glitter, with closures and pulsations which interconnect at the vector equilibrium stage and disconnect at the icosahedron stage in Milky-Way-like remoteness from one another of individual energy stars. […] The atomically furnished isotropic vector matrix can be described as an omnidirectional matrix of “lights,” as the four-dimensional counterpart of the two-dimensional light-bulb-matrix of the Broadway-and-Forty-second Street, New York City billboards with their fields of powerful little light bulbs at each vertex which are controlled remotely off-and-on in intensity as well as in color. Our four-dimensional, isotropic vector matrix will display all the atom “stars” concentrically matrixed around each isotropic vector equilibrium’s nuclear vertex. By “lighting” the atoms of which they consist, humans’ innermost guts could be illustrated and illuminated. Automatically turning on all the right lights at the right time, atomically constituted, center-of-being light, “you,” with all its organically arranged “body” of lights omnisurrounding “you,” could move through space in a multidimensional way just by synchronously activating the same number of lights in the same you-surrounding pattern, with all the four-dimensional optical effect (as with two-dimensional, planar movies), by successively activating each of the lights from one isotropic vector vertex to the next, with small, local “movement” variations of “you” accomplished by special local matrix sequence programmings. We could progressively and discretely activate each of the atoms of such a four-dimensional isotropic vector matrix to become “lights,” and could move a multidimensional control “form” through the isotropic multidimensional circuitry activating field. The control form could be a “sphere,” a “vector equilibrium,” or any other system including complex you-and-me, et al. This multidimensional scanning group of points can be programmed multidimensionally on a computer in such a manner that a concentric spherical cluster of four-dimensional “light” points can be progressively “turned on” to comprise a “substance” which seemingly moves from here to there. […] The ultra micro computer (UMC) employs step-up, step-down, transforming visible controls between the invisible circuitry of the atomic computer complex pinhead- size programmer and the popular outdoor, high-inthe-sky, “billboard” size, human readability.

The above quotes are from “Nuclear Computer Design,” section 427.00 of Synergetics. This is the same section in which Fuller suggest in antiquity humans were scanned atom by atom at a distant location and teleported to Earth by radio frequencies.

Teleportation aside, compare Fuller’s description of hexagon-based layered computer systems described in 1968 with these recent press releases…

It would sound like so much crazy talk, were he not also talking (in a byzantine way) of technologies the world is discovering to be true decades after Fuller described them.

SOURCES (Chronological)
Fuller, R. Buckminster: “Unviersal Requirements Check List.” Architectural Design March 1960.
Fuller, R. Buckminster: “Energy Systems for Computer Memory.” Unpublished manuscript 1968–1969.
Fuller, R. Buckminster: Synergetics. Macmillan Publishing Co. 1975.
Fuller, R. Buckminster: Synergetics II. Macmillan Publishing Co. 1979.
Fuller, R. Buckminster: Critical Path. New York: St. Martin’s Press 1981.
Lorance, Loretta: Becoming Bucky Fuller. Cambridge: MIT Press 2009.

Trevor Blake is the the author of The Buckminster Fuller Bibliography and The Lost Inventions of Buckminster Fuller.

Saturday, July 12th, 2014 geodesic, maps, rbf, synergetics

The Lost Inventions of Buckminster Fuller – Kindle Edition

Buckminster Fuller is widely known as the inventor of the geodesic dome, tensegrity, the Dymaxion Dwelling Unit and more. The Lost Inventions of Buckminster Fuller brings Fuller’s role in all of these discoveries into question, while presenting hard evidence that he is under-credited for many other remarkable inventions.

Trevor Blake (author of The Buckminster Fuller Bibliography) is a leading independent scholar on Fuller. Also found in this book are an analysis of geodesic dome integrity when subject to earthquakes, the influence on Fuller by Technocracy Incorporated, the influence of Fuller on the television program Lost, and much more.

US$ 1.99.

Buckminster Fuller Bibliography – Kindle Edition

The Buckminster Fuller Bibliography is the most complete and accurate bibliography of “Bucky” Fuller to date. Excellent tool for tracking Fuller’s trajectory, and for finding rare titles in the field for your own collection. Authored by Trevor Blake of, an independent resource on Fuller consulted around the world. Updated for this Kindle edition.  US$ 1.99.

Fuller in Fashion

Fashion is design you wear, mobile and kinetic, including both tension and compression components.  Fashion is the valve between the environment (everything except you) and the universe (everything including you).  R. Buckminster Fuller’s influence on fashion is an undocumented parallel to his investigation into design.

☂ Fuller was attentive to his appearance. In Your Private Sky (Baden: Lars Muller Publishers 1999), Fuller is quoted as saying:

I decided to make a complete experiment of peeling off from society in general, and started wearing T-shirts which nobody was doing then, went about without a hat and in sneakers – absolutely comfortable clothes. Then when people started getting interested in my Dymaxion House, very nice people with influence, and they’d say, “l’d like to give a dinner party for you” and so forth, I would show up in khaki pants and they’d be very shocked. And when Mrs. John Alden Carpenter, head of the Arts Council in Chicago, gave a beautiful dinner party, I showed up and rudely announced, “I don’t eat that kind of food,” and was in every way obnoxious. l was putting self and comfort ahead of my Dymaxion House, and I said, “You’re not allowed to do that. You must get over that. You must stop that looking eccentric, with everybody pointing at this guy.” So I decided the way to do that was to become the invisible man, and that means a bank clerk – so I put on a black suit, bank clerk’s clothing; then they would focus on what I was saying instead of my eccentricities. I said, “I must get rid of continually making too much of myself.”

Fuller also knew of the attraction of the nude. When he exhibited the Dymaxion House in the 1920s, he placed a nude doll in its bedroom.

Continuum Fashion is the source for this graphic showing one of a pair of irregular geodesic hemispheres…

The graphic is a glimpse into the mathematics of the N12, a bikini designed with a 3-D scanner and printed with a 3-D printer. Continuum writes:

The N12 bikini is the world’s first ready-to-wear, completely 3D-printed article of clothing. All of the pieces, closures included, are made directly by 3D printing and snap together without any sewing. N12 represents the beginning of what is possible for the near future. N12 is named for the material it’s made out of: Nylon 12. This solid nylon is created by the SLS 3D printing process. Shapeways calls this material “white, strong, and flexible”, because its strength allows it to bend without breaking when printed very thin. With a minimum wall thickness of .7 mm, it is possible to make working springs and almost thread-like connections. For a bikini, the nylon is beautifully functional because it is waterproof and remarkably comfortable when wet.

☂ “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” This quote is attributed to R. Buckminster Fuller but I cannot find the source. More significantly, the greatest online biographer of Fuller – Joe S. Moore at his incredible – also cannot place this quote. Can you?

☂ Photographer Moria Simmons and a friend went as “Buckminster Fuller and the Geodesic Dame” on Halloween 2008.  See Moria’s photograph here, and more of her photography (including a sneaky shot of the Dymaxion Car and the Fuller postage stamp) here. Could this be the same Moria who knitted a geodesic hat?

Laura Dawson is a fashion designer. She used a geodesic dome to exhibit her Fall 2009 collection. (Thanks to

☂ The Buckminster Fuller Institute sells handbags and if memory serves they have sold pins and t-shirts in the past.

☂ Colleen Coghlan designed an inflatable type-two two-frequency geodesic pillow dome garment. She writes: “The inflatable dress (or ‘Wearable Space’) is, as the name describes, a garment that inflates into a personal space to sleep, rest or play within.”

Read more about the Wearable Space at The Cool Hunter.

☂ Connie Chang Chinchio sells a pattern for a geodesic cardigan.

Life Magazine could have published a photograph of anyone assembling a Dymaxion Map in March 1943. They chose a contortionist in her circus uniform.

Fuller Houses by Federico Neder (Baden: Lars Muller Publishers 2008) includes several items of Fuller fashion. The color plates section in the rear of the book shows a lapel pin of the Dymaxion House, presumably sold in the Henry Ford Museum where the Dymaxion House is on display. Fuller Houses also includes a sketch of a Dymaxion Hat designed by Irene Sharaff.

☂ The umbrella is a favored icon at synchronofile because it is a portable relatively inexpensive dome shelter produced on the industrial level. There are endless variations to the umbrella, from a banker’s basic black to the LED umbrellas of the film Blade RunnerThe Bucky Bar was raised in February 2010.  It was a geodesic dome made up of umbrellas designed by DUS Architects as a spontaneous (and unauthorized) dance bar in Rotterdam.

☂ Hair stylists Andreas and Markus contributed a two-frequency type two geodesic sphere hair weave to a fashion shoot by Purebred Productions.

☂ Florida-based Emilie produces beaded jewelry informed by energetic-synergetic mathematics.

☂ My first tattoo, which I gave myself around 1989, is a geometric shape referencing the work of Buckminster Fuller. No photographs of my tattoos have ever been published.

☂This essay first published on the twelfth of July 2011, a day of great significance to Buckminster Fuller.

- Trevor Blake

Trevor Blake is the author of the Buckminster Fuller Bibliography, available at

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011 domes, dymaxion, geodesic, maps, rbf, shelter, synchronofile

R. Buckminster Fuller’s Influence on Science Fiction Films and Television

Valley Forge Dome

The Valley Forge dome.  Photograph by Trevor Blake

R. Buckminster Fuller’s influence on science fiction films and television during his lifetime (12 July 1895 – 1 July 1983).

First Spaceship on Venus
[Wikipedia] [IMDB] [youtube]
1960. Film. Directed by Kurt Maetzig. Based on the novel The Astronauts by Stanisław Lem. An international rocket crew finds geodesic domes on the planet Venus.

Earth II
1971. Television. Directed by Tom Gries.  A space station makes a claim for independence from the Earth it orbits.  R. Buckminster Fuller is credited as the “Technical Advisor for Earth” in Earth II. Fuller’s Dymaxion Map is used to track orbiting satellites in an Earth-bound control room.

Slaughterhouse 5
[Wikipedia] [IMDB] [youtube]
1972. Film. Directed by George Roy Hill. Based on the novel Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Billy Pilgrim is kept in a geodesic dome in a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore.

Silent Running
[Wikipedia] [IMDB] [youtube]
1972. Film. Directed by Douglas Trumbull.  The spaceship Valley Forge includes several geodesic domes.

The Starlost
[Wikipedia] [IMDB] [youtube] [The Starlost: The Word]
22 September 1973 – 5 January 1974. Television. Directed by Leo Orenstein. Created by Harlan Ellison. Executive Producer was Douglas Trumbull of Silent Running.  A geodesic dome from the spaceship Valley Forge from Silent Running is re-used on the spaceship The Ark.

Battlestar Galactica
[Wikipedia] [IMDB] [Battlestar Wiki: Agro Ship]
September 17, 1978 – April 29, 1979. Television. Created by Glen A. Larson.
The geodesic dome from the spaceship Valley Forge from Silent Running which had been re-used on the spaceship The Ark in The Starlost is re-used once more on an Argo Ship. This dome is on exhibit at the EMP Science Fiction Museum between 23 October 2010 – 4 March 2012.

See also LOST Domes.

- Trevor Blake

Trevor Blake is the author of the Buckminster Fuller Bibliography, available at

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011 art, books, domes, dymaxion, geodesic, maps, rbf, shelter, synchronofile, video, world game

Synergetics Stew January 2009

The Buckminster Fuller Institute published the book Synergetic Stew: Explorations in Dymaxion Dining in 1982.  Under this name, publishes an irregular collection of brief notes relating to Buckminster Fuller.

BLDGBLOG writes about the myriahedral projection map of computer scientist Jack van Wijk (Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands).  “Making truly accurate maps of the world is difficult because it is mathematically impossible to flatten a sphere’s surface without distorting or cracking it. The new technique [...] uses algorithms to ‘unfold’ and cut into the Earth’s surface in a way that minimizes distortion, and keeps the distracting effect of cutting into the map to a minimum.”  Compare van Wijk’s work with Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Map and with Butteryfly Map of Bernard Joseph Stanislaus Cahill.

☂ Speaking of Cahill, Gene Keyes has published a comparison of Cahill’s Butterfly Map and Fuller’s Dymaxion Map.  Gene was a student of Fuller’s at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. Nearly 40 years ago Gene wrote Bucky and Pick: Two Grand Designers of a World Without War. An Essay-Review of Robert Pickus (To End War) and R. Buckminster Fuller (Utopia or Oblivion).  Fuller sent a handwritten letter to Norman Cousins (editor of Saturday Review) urging Cousins publish the essay.  The essay has never been published – until now.

The Imaginary Foundation is selling an “All-Star Pattern Seeker Trading Cards pay tribute to 23 giants of pattern recognition – pathfinders and ideanauts whose shadows loom large across three millennia of discovery. This set of 23 cards comes in a collectible embossed box.” Buckminster Fuller is one of the all-star pattern seekers so honored.

Playboy Magazine mentions Fuller in the profile of Susan Miller (Miss September 1972) and an interview with Allen Ginsberg but some other Fuller information hasn’t made it online yet.  This includes the Playboy article “Cities of the Future” from January 1968 and an interview from February 1972.  Buckminster Fuller: Anthology for a New Millennium edited by Thomas Zung incorrectly cites Fuller’s Playboy interview in the year 1970.  Fuller makes some remarkable claims in his Playboy interview… “I’m not surprised to see women getting naked, because the more naked they are, the more they tend to discourage the sex urge.  If a woman is covered up with skirts, man is driven by curiosity.  Take away the skirts and he says to hell with it.  And I find us getting an enormous amount of homosexuality, which I see as nature supplying us a negative urge that diminishes our capacity to make babies.”  “Man probably came to this planet as whole man, a creature very much like what we see today.  He might have been sent by electromagnetic waves.”  “You could take human beings and inbreed them until you came up with a monkey.  You can see that happening every day.  Lots of people are halfway to monkey.”  See also Buckminster Fuller, Creationist.

Science Daily writes that Salvatore Torquato (Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials) and Yang Jiao (Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering) have bested the world record set last year by Elizabeth Chen (University of Michigan) for tetrahedra packing.  “Torquato and Jiao were able to fill a volume to 78.2 percent of capacity with tetrahedra.”  Buckminster Fuller made no specific claims about the closest packing of tetrahedra but would likely have found this discovery of interest. had the honor of announcing the restoration of the Dymaxion Car in September 2009.  This resulted in a spike of interest in the car both on and off the Internet (see below).  Crosthwaite and Gardiner, the company trusted with the restoration, have published some remarkable photographs of their work in progress here and hereYour help is still needed in identifying the source components used in the original Dymaxion Car.

☂ Noel Murphy is filming a documentary titled The Last Dymaxion. “One of the greatest minds of our time designed the very first green car. Certain corporations destroyed the possibility of that car ever being produced, but now, in the 21st century, the last Dymaxion is being restored, and along with it Buckminster Fuller’s Dream.”  Noel is also the author/lead in the play Buckminster Fuller LiveThe Last Dymaxion is scheduled for release Christmas 2010.

☂ The 1929 automobile of Engelbert Zaschka exhibited features that were important to Fuller.  It was a three-wheeled car, like his Dymaxion.  But it could also easily be folded, disassembled and re-assembled as could Fuller’s Dymaxion House and many geodesic domes.  Zaschka was an advocate and pioneer inventor for the personal helicopter, achieving Fuller’s goal of a personal omnidirectional transportation vehicle.  More information at Wikipedia (English, German) German-language excerpt from a television documentary on Zaschka here and a short film of the Zaschka being disassembled here.

☂ Hillary Louise Johnson wrote Super Vixens’ Dymaxion Lounge in 1997. Chapters one through six of Super Vixens’ Dymaxion Lounge are now online.  Salon described the book as “a slim but wickedly brutal take on existential life in modern L.A., and one woman’s quest for depth amidst the neon-drenched chaos and urban (not to mention urbane) sprawl. With a toddler in tow all the while. [...] Much of the book focuses on Johnson’s search for a way past such hackneyed responses, but she’s also aware of how difficult that is in a town where, a friend tells her, ‘style is substance.’ L.A. is a ‘dymaxion’ town, a term used by Buckminster Fuller to describe a world unto itself, where everything intermeshes and everything is available. So she’s wise enough to know that the idea of breaking through clichés is a cliché itself. Is she really going to be gratified by seducing the Little Caesar’s delivery boy, dating a couple, hanging out with drag queens? Nothing’s ironic in a town built on irony; a teacher at a Montessori school placidly tells Johnson that ‘the playground’s in the backyard, very safe from drive-by shootings.’”

☂ D. W. Jacob’s play R. BUCKMINSTER FULLER: THE HISTORY (and mystery) OF THE UNIVERSE will be performed May 28 – July 4, 2010 at the Arena Stage Crystal City in Washington, DC.  Doug tells me: “Crystal City has put out an international call for artists to create outdoor works of art around Bucky themes and concepts, etc.”  More information available from the Arena Stage.

☂ Kirby Urner was the first webmaster for the Buckminster Fuller Institute ( circa 1996 via  His sites 4D Solutions and were some of the first and best online for Fuller mathematics.  He was a consultant for textbook publisher McGraw Hill and continues to serve as an educator.  Kirby is involved in the Thunderbird Early College Charter School, IEEE, Leadership & Entrepreneurial Public Charter High School,  python and linux development and much more.  Sometimes Kirby openly promotes Fuller in his educational work, sometimes he works in stealth mode.  See a little of both in action at the Oregon Curriculum Network.  Kirby’s style is that of a river: as deep as it flows, it also flows swift.  He’s on to the next problem before you dry off from the first.  Try to catch up with Kirby via Grain of Sand, Control Room , Coffee Shops Network, and the BizMo Diaries.  Each of these is generously illustrated with his flickr photo stream.

- Trevor Blake

Trevor Blake is the author of the Buckminster Fuller Bibliography, available at

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010 books, dymaxion, maps, rbf, synchronofile

Who Am I?

He was born in the 1800s.  He conducted an extensive survey of world resources although he was not formally trained to conduct such a task.  This survey of world resources demonstrated to him that the profit motive was getting in the way of the efficient and humanitarian distribution of goods and services.  He advocated fully-automated factories, and wrote about energy consumption as the most accurate measure economic value.  He was Howard Scott.

He was born in the 1800s. He crossed paths with Technocracy Inc. He wrote about the closest packing of circles.  His mathematical work was not in essay form but in poetry. His work was ignored while alive but has influenced many (with and without credit) since his death. He was Frederick Soddy.

He was born in the 1800s.  He was an inventor not only of a particular artifact for which he is well known for one, but more importantly of a new method of manufacturing and distribution.  He wrote books on creating buildings so large entire cities could be housed inside, and the use of round houses laid out on hex-grid streets.  He supported global economic reform based on technological competence rather than profit so that all human needs could be met at no cost to the recipient.  He was King Gillette.

He was born in the 1800s.  He invented a map of the world that received a United States patent.  This map displays all continents in an uninterrupted way.  The map can be folded into a globe.  He designed a domed building.  He was Bernard Cahill.

He was born in the 1800s. He became an inventor from an early age, a practice that never left him. An early death in his family also never left him. He investigated alternative fuel sources, innovative new toilets and octahedron-tetrahedron truss structures as an architectural form.  Scientific discoveries have been named after him long after his death.  He was Alexander Graham Bell.

- Trevor Blake

Trevor Blake is the author of the Buckminster Fuller Bibliography, available at

Friday, October 9th, 2009 books, domes, maps, rbf, shelter, world game

The Lost Inventions of Buckminster Fuller (Part 1 of 3)

US Patent 2,881,717

[An expanded, corrected and illustrated update of this article appears in The Lost Inventions of Buckminster Fuller.]

The author of this essay is not a legal expert, and this essay is not legal advice.  Consult a legal professional before acting on any of the information found in this essay.

Buckminster Fuller sought patents for his works to document in an enduring form what an individual could invent for the betterment of humanity.  A primary resource for Fuller’s patents is the book Inventions, the Patented Works of R. Buckminster FullerInventions serves as the framework for this three-part essay.  Comparing the description of Fuller’s work found in that book with this essay will be most instructive.  Otherwise uncredited page numbers are from this book.  Dates following patent numbers are the date of the patent being granted.  Supplementary material comes from The Dymaxion World of Buckminster Fuller and many other sources.  Part one of this essay will feature patents found in Inventions that were made by and assigned to Fuller.

All of Fuller’s patents are lost in some way.  At minimum, all of Fuller’s patents are lost in that they have expired.  Many of Fuller’s patents fail to mention earlier patents by other inventors. Some of Fuller’s patents are lost because they have never gone into production for their intended purpose.  The patent for the geodesic dome is to be found under the title “Building Construction,” which has likely caused some researchers difficulty in finding it.  Other patents are lost because they are under documented.

Many of the illustrations in Inventions are not described in the book itself.  The photograph on the front cover is a 36′ geodesic dome made by students at the University of Minnesota and assembled in Aspen, Colorado in 1952.  Additional photographs of this dome can be found in Dymaxion World illustrations 334-339.  The end papers show the Quantico paperboard dome of 1954 (see A Study of Shelter Logistics for Marine Corps Aviation).  Page vi shows Fuller with a partially-assembled model of the 4D House in New York City in 1929.  Page xi shows Fuller at Black Mountain College in 1948.  Pages xvii and xviii appear to be Fuller at the Montreal World’s Fair dome.  It is unknown where the photographs on pages xiv, xxvi-xxvii, xxxi and xxxii were taken.

The Dymaxion Map is titled Cartography in patent 2,393,676 (29 January 1946).  Although Fuller wanted to employ an undistorted map in his efforts to coordinate people’s needs with existing resources, and although the Dymaxion Map is a worthy addition to the history of cartography, it is not a map free of distortion.  All flat maps of curved surfaces are distorted.  The Dymaxion Map distorts in a novel way, but it still distorts.  Fuller claims that after the Dymaxion Map appeared in Life magazine it was described as “pure invention” by “several great experts.”  This description was used by Fuller’s patent attorney to convince the Patent Office Fuller’s work deserved a patent.  Fuller’s patent attorney , Donald W. Robertson, wrote a book on his 25-year association with Fuller titled The Mind’s Eye of Buckminster Fuller.  Fuller’s “pure invention” claim does not appear in The Mind’s Eye.  Robertson quotes Fuller saying “The problem of the navigator is how to sail or fly the shortest course, which on a conventional chart will be a curved line.  I simply design an unconventional chart which is so constructed tha tall future navigators can find their courses as straight lines.  This means that I will need a new kind of map projection in which all great circles of a sphere will be seen as straight lines.”  Fuller claimed that his 1947 world map patent was the first to be granted since 1900, when the U. S. Patent office ruled all possible methods had been considered.  But Allan C. Clark had been granted patent 2,369,103 in February 1945 for “flat map sections which may be detachably assembled upon a support to form globe maps.”  And on 12 December 1924 Samuel W. Balch had been grated patent 1,610,413 for a map with the following features…

For the purposes of navigation it is important to have maps or charts on flat or plane sheets which fulfill three mathematical conditions. First, the construction should be such that it will be convenient to draw on the map the course of the shortest sea-level line between any two points, and to ascertain the latitude and longitude at any intermediate point of the course. Such a line is commonly known as the arc of a great circle and would be if the earth were a true sphere but is in, fact a line to be otherwise defined since the earth approximates closely to a spheroid or ellipsoid of revolution, and will be termed a geodesic line. Second, it should be convenient to ascertain the angle at which any geodesic line crosses any intermediate meridian.

The patent specifies that the Dymaxion Map is “resolved into six equilateral square sections and eight equilateral triangular sections.”  This does not describe the icosohedral Dymaxion Map (known as the Raleigh projection) that is often associated with patent 2,393,676.  Inventions mentions the Dymaxion Map in Life magazine, but not one of the ways in which this “flat map shows [the] world in many perspectives.”  Such as the “Jap Empire.”  “The ruthless logic of the Jap imperialism is exposed by this layout of the Dymaxion World map.”

The Geodesic Dome is called Building Construction in patent 2,682,235 (29 June 1954).  The photograph on page 128 was taken inside the Climatron in St. Louis, Missouri USA.  The photograph on page 138-139 was taken outside the U. S. Pavilion at the Montreal World’s Fair.  It is unknown where the photographs on pages 132, 1134-135 were taken.  This U. S. patent was granted on 29 June 1954.  The first patent for a geodesic dome was awarded to Walter Bauersfeld (1879-1959) in 1925.  Bauersfeld’s patent is Reichspatentamt Patentschrift Nr. 415395 Klasse 37a Gruppe 2.  A patent for Insulation for Spherical Tank Shells and Methods for Making the Same (2,470,986) was granted to J. O. Jackson on 24 May 1947.  Jackson’s patent describes the faces of an icosahedron divided into any number of triangles, the projection of the vertices of these triangles outward until they intersect with the surface of a sphere, then connecting the points of intersection with radial lines forming the chords of great circles.  The resulting “dome-like” structure is described as “less troublesome, costly, and wasteful” as conventional structures.  Jackson’s patent, in turn, makes reference to patent 2,424,601 – Icosahedral Map by J. E. Crouch, granted on 29 July 1947.

The Paperboard Dome is called Building Construction in patent 2,881,717 (14 April 1959).  The photograph on page 146 features the 1954 Quantico / Milan dome, which can be seen in illustrations 426-433 of Dymaxion World.  The twenty-foot paperboard dome and the Lower East Side gang that built it mentioned by Fuller is described at lenght in CHARAS by Syeus Mottel.

The Plydome is called Self-Strutted Geodesic Plydome in patent 2,905,113 (22 September 1959).  Dymaxion World illustrations 435-442 show other plydomes.  The Geodesic Plydome chapel of Colombian Fathers in illustration 447 was built in 1957.

The Catenary (Geodesic Tent) is called Geodesic Tent in patent 2,914,074 (24 November 1959).  The Alaskan dome mentioned by Fuller was built by Synergetics Inc. of Raleigh NC USA in 1956.  The 100-foot diameter dome was erected, disassembled, shipped and re-assembled in Afghanistan, Algeria, El Salvador (twice), France, Osaka (Japan), Peru, Syria, Thailand, Tokyo (Japan) and Uruguay before its use in the 1967 Alaskan Centennial.  This was one of the most field-tested domes ever made and there is no record of it having given sub-standard performance at any time.  One wonders what the town of Fairbanks did with the dome after it was disassembled.  The second Dymaxion Car vanished for decades.  Perhaps the Alaska dome will likewise make a dramatic reappearance.

The Octet Truss is called Synergetic Building Construction in patent 2,986,241 (30 May 1961).  Fuller claims that he owned a trademark, copyright and patent on the octet truss and that this was granted in part because he had shipped the structure across state lines.  Shipping an invention across state lines is not generally a prerequisite for being granted a patent.  In Genius At Work: Images of Alexander Graham Bell by Dorothy Harley Eber, Fuller claims to have been unaware of Bell’s octahedron-tetrahedron towers and kites.  Bell was granted patent 856,838 for Connecting Device for the Frames of Aeriel Vehicles and Other Structures on 11 June 1907. This patent shows an modular octahedral-tetrahedral system “adaptable to a great variety of structural uses.”  The octet truss is in use in the International Space Station, as Fuller claimed it would be.  Closer to home, lighting rigs in theaters often use an octet-truss structure.

Tensegrity is called Tensile-Integrity Structures in 3,063,521 (13 November 1962).  Non-Symetrical Tensegrity is called Non-Symetrical Tension-Integrity Structures in 3,866,366 (18 February 1975).  Buckminster Fuller invented the word tensegrity, but the structure described as a tensegrity was invented by Kenneth Snelson.  Both of these patents cite Dymaxion World, and illustration 265 in Dymaxion World mentions Snelson.  The sculpture on page 179 was made by students at the University of Oregon in 1959.  The sculpture on pages 184-185 was made by students at North Carolina State College in 1950.  The sculpture on page 190 is claimed to have been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1959 but perhaps instead it was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in that same year, along with a geodesic dome and octet trus sculpture.  At no time has either of these patents been used in architecture, be it a home, a bridge, a garden shed, a dog house or any other sort of shelter.  Tensegrities are fascinating sculptures but so far have no use in architecture.

The Submarisle (Undersea Island) is called an Undersea Island in patent 3,080,583 (12 March 1963).  The world has yet to see giant cargo submarines in need of submarisle docks.  But drug runners are using very small submarines to transport their goods in the early 21st Century.  Jacques Cousteau’s Conshelf Two housed ten researchers and had an underwater submarine dock in 1963.

The Aspension (Suspension Building) is called a Suspension Building in patent 3,139,957 (7 July 1964).  This is another invention by Fuller that has never been utilized commercially, although aspension structures exist as models.

The Monohex (Geodesic Structures) is called Geodesic Structures in patent 3,197,927 (3 August 1965).  The photograph on pages 216-217 show the 50′ Fly’s Eye dome built by John Warren.  Additional photograph of this dome can be found on pages 210-211 of Buckyworks by J. Baldwin.  It is unknown where the photographs on pages 222-223 were taken.

The Laminar Dome is called a Laminar Geodesic Dome in patent 3,203,144 (31 August 1965).  The photograph on page 229 shows the same radome in illustration 415 of Dymaxion World, built by Western Electric.

The Star Tensegrity (Octahedral Truss) is called an Octahedral Building Truss in patent 3,354,591 (28 November 1967).  The photograph on page 248 shows the Union Carbide Tank Car Company Dome in Baton Rouge, LA USA.  This dome was constructed in 1958 and demolished in 2007.

The Rowing Needles (Watercraft) is called a Watercraft in patent 3,524,422 (18 August 1970).  Inventions does not give the filing date, which was 28 March 1968.  In Dymaxion World illustration 298 this is called a minor invention of 1947.  In Grunch of Giants, Fuller claims the rowing needles were invented in 1938 and prototyped in 1954.  Catamarans and outrigger canoes have existed since before recorded history.

The Floating Breakwater is patent 4,136,994 (4 February 1975) and the Floatable Breakwater is patent 3,863,455 (30 January 1979).  Fuller claims that he produced Floatable Breakwaters but there are no photographs of them in InventionsInventions does not give the filing date for either of these patents, which were 19 September 1977 and 10 December 1973 respectively.    Dozens of floating breakwater patents, some generating power like Fuller’s Floatable Breakwater, predate Fuller’s patents.  Lancelot Kirkup was granted patent 226,663 for his breakwater “loaded so to float that its greatest diameter will be about at the water line” on 20 April 1880.

The Hanging Storage Shelf Unit is patent 4,377,114 (22 March 1983).  Inventions does not give the filing date, which was 5 October 1981.  Fuller claims the hanging storage shelf unit was built and used in a bookstore, perhaps the unit shown in the photograph on page 295.  The book on the shelf in that photograph is The Dymaxion World of Buckminster Fuller, thus the photograph could have been taken no earlier than 1973.  The hanging storage shelf unit is not unlike the 1944 criss-cross tensionally supported table found in illustration 300 in Dymaxion World.

Part two of this essay will feature patents found in Inventions that were shared.  Some shared patents were invented by Fuller and assigned to others, some were not made by Fuller but appear in Inventions nonetheless, some were not made by Fuller but should have appeared in Inventions.  Part three of this essay will feature inventions by Fuller that were not patented or which do not appear in Inventions, the most lost of all of the lost inventions of Buckminster Fuller.

- Trevor Blake

Trevor Blake is the author of the Buckminster Fuller Bibliography, available at

Friday, February 27th, 2009 domes, maps, rbf