July 8, 2008
by Lisa Delgado

Events: Dialogue 1: Fuller’s architectural partners; Dialogue 2: Fuller’s associates
Location: Center for Architecture, 06.25.08
Speakers: Dialogue 1: Shoji Sadao, AIA — President, Fuller and Sadao; Thomas Zung — Author & Editor, Buckminster Fuller: Anthology for a New Millennium; Amy C. Edmondson — Author, A Fuller Explanation. Dialogue 2: Edwin Schlossberg — Principal Designer, ESI Design; Michael Ben-Eli — Founder, Sustainability Laboratory
Moderators: Dialogue 1: Branden Joseph — Associate Professor, Modern and Contemporary Art, Columbia University; Tony Schirripa, AIA — Vice President, Public Outreach, AIANY (introduction), Dialogue 2: Paola Antonelli — Curator, Department of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art; Jonathan Marvel, AIA — Principal, Rogers Marvel Architects (introduction)
Organizers: The Buckminster Fuller Institute; Center for Architecture
Sponsors: Underwriters: Center for Architecture Foundation; Friends of LaGuardia Place; NYC Department of Transportation’s Temporary Art Program; Lead Sponsor: Spring Scaffolding; Sponsor: Richter+Ratner; Supporters: New York University; Purchase College, State University of New York; Media Sponsor: Metropolis

U.S. Pavilion for the 1967 International and Universal Exposition in Montreal, 1967.

Image courtesy the Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller, courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art

Because of Buckminster Fuller’s self-taught, interdisciplinary approach, the architecture community has been slow to give him his due, said Jonathan Marvel, AIA, of Rogers Marvel Architects. But Fuller’s prescient concerns with environmental issues means that now, 25 years after his death, architects are embracing him. “He’s always been a hero to many of us, but it’s only really been when sustainability came to the forefront of our architectural discussions — for economic and environmental purposes — that Bucky has found a placehold in our framework,” Marvel said as he introduced one of two recent panels.

Speakers included prominent associates of the architect-engineer-mathematician-inventor. Edwin Schlossberg discussed his work in running the Fuller-designed World Game in the 1960s. Designed as an alternative to war games, the World Game engaged players in optimizing the distribution of the world’s resources. Long before Google Earth, it was “a paper-and-pencil version of how to do a full-scale modeling environment,” he said. In a pre-Internet era, the research involved in compiling the data was an enormous undertaking, but “one of the qualities about Bucky was this absolute convinced optimism that problems could be solved,” Schlossberg said.

Shoji Sadao, AIA, discussed his collaboration on a 250-foot-diameter geodesic dome that served as the U.S. Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal. Made of small identical parts, the immense structure embodied Fuller’s ideal of using minimal materials for maximum results. “I think the lasting significance of the dome is that after Expo 67, it seemed to become an iconic image for all the rest of the fair,” Sadao said, adding that in the wider cultural realm, spherical structures also became popular in images of future cities.

Fuller’s former engineer, Amy Edmondson, best captured Fuller’s charisma and enthusiasm. She recalled one day when she completed a new miniature dome model. She was incredulous when he excitedly announced plans to change his next day’s lecture to a communal building session to create a full-size, 25-foot version. But next day, as she saw the attendees come together to build it, it was “as if people had been waiting their whole lives to put down their felt-tipped pens, stand outside in the sun, their backs aching, for hours, holding things up, instructions flying back and forth,” she recalled. Twenty-four hours later, a 25-foot dome stood before them. “It was a lesson for all of us… not just in geometry and structure and design, but in motivation and teamwork and empowerment.”

As to Fuller’s current significance, Edmondson said that while it’s “splendid” to have events such as the current Whitney Museum exhibition (See On View: About Town), his work truly carries on in each of us. “It’s in our own minds and our own talents to do integrative work in support of life, or ‘livingry’ — his term.”

Lisa Delgado is a freelance journalist who has written for The Architect’s Newspaper, Blueprint, and Wired, among other publications.