Message - Buckminster Did No Come up With the Idea of the Geodesic Dome – An art Student Did

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Posted by  Barry on April 08, 2003 at 10:33:14:

To all architects, students & Fuller (Bucky) fans…. Read this article that appeared in a copy of Designfax magazine. BTW, this is a free subscription.

The Rest of the Story
By Kenneth Snelson

Few design engineers would miss recognizing the name R. Buckminster Fuller. His phenomenal charisma and ability to coin terminology made him a brand name in engineering, scientific and artistic fields-and perhaps thereby overshadowing the work of many intellectual colleagues.

In the simmer of 1948, Fuller agreed to be a substitute architectural professor for art students attending summer session at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. There he came in contact with a young painter from Oregon who assisted him setting up models for an evening lecture.

This student became intrigued by three-dimensional art and switched his focus to sculpture. That fall, he experimented with many small structures built from materials such as bits of wore, clay, tin cans and cardboard. One such structure, an X-Piece had plywood X-modules held in suspension by tension lines. The “floating” sculpture holds itself stable through pre-stressed members.

The following summer he showed his sculpture to Fuller who later asked to keep it. Later, Fuller would use ideas of floating compression, as demonstrated by the sculpture, within the coined term “tensegrity.” Tensegrity structures can be divided into two categories: geodesic domes, constructed from struts forming a rigid framework of triangles, pentagons or hexagons that evenly distribute compressive and tensional forces. And the floating sculptures of artist Kenneth Snelson, where the structural members are divided into either compressional or tensional members that counteract to form a stable, pre-stressed structure. In the immortal words of Paul Harvey, “And now you know the rest of the story…”

Tensegrity applications vary widely. An article in the January 1998 issue of the Scientific American ( uses tensegrity principles to explain the design of fundamental organic structures. Snelson also explored the structure of atoms from his artistic viewpoint (see link below). Aesthetics combined with tensegrity engineering can be seen at in the Suspend line of tables (at left).

For more information on Kenneth Snelson’s structural engineering sculptures, go to

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