A Fuller appreciation: Inventor and visionary ‘Bucky’ to be honored at International House

Amy Smith is a dancer and choreographer with the Headlong Dance Company. In 2004, when she proposed to her husband that they build a geodesic dome, it was a joke.

“I really associate domes with hippies,” said the mother of two. “I think of it as something that really crunchy, granola people in California would consider doing.

“But we really tried to work against that aesthetic by using midcentury modern furniture — you know, a cleaner aesthetic than what you traditionally see in a dome,” said Smith who lives near Woodstown, N.J.

The geodesic dome — a half-sphere built from interlocking triangles — is the most physical manifestation of Buckminster Fuller’s ideas. He also invented Synergistics, a system of holistic problem-solving; the logistical challenge World Peace Game; and the Dymaxion Car, which was never produced.

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He was born in Milton, Mass., in 1895 and spent much of the last 10 years of his life in Philadelphia. He died in Los Angeles in 1983.

Artists, businesses, and policymakers have adopted his ideas. Composer Gene Coleman will premiere two musical works inspired by Fuller’s ideas at the International House in University City this weekend.

To Smith, her two-story, 2,700-square-foot home was easy to build, is efficient to maintain, and manifests joy.

“It’s the really tall, open, beautiful space with triangular skylight windows,” said Smith. “The living space is flooded with light. It feels very open and inspiring, and it’s a lovely space. It’s hard to describe.”

A remodeling contractor in Northern Liberties, Kenny Grono, named his business Buckminster Green in Fuller’s honor.

“He was a little kooky. I think any visionary is,” said Grono, who specialized in “green” construction. “He tried to do so many things, and explain so many things, solve so many problems, that a lot of his ideas did not turn into anything tangible. But as an inspiration point, you can see his influence in a lot of places.”

‘Call Me Trimtab’

Many of Fuller’s devotees are attracted to his ideas because “Bucky” — as he is still affectionately known — infused invention with a strong moral responsibility. He believed the world could be changed if it were designed better.

“Fuller was adamant that the option exists to take care of everybody, and to take care of everybody at standards of living higher than anybody currently living enjoys,” said Medard Gabel, a former assistant to Fuller who now runs a consulting business called Big Picture Small World. “It could be affordable and sustainable, and could be done in a relatively quick period of time.”

Many of Fuller’s ideas were dismissed at the time as too radical and impractical. His defenders say those ideas have not yet had their day.

Outside his remodeling business, Grono painted a mural for Fuller, complete with the epitaph etched into his gravestone: “Call Me Trimtab.”

“A trimtab is a small part at the back end of a rudder of a boat or an airplane wing,” explained Grono. “That little piece moving back and forth can alter the direction of that boat or plane. In proportion to the rest of the object, it’s very small. But the effect it has is very large.”

The tribute to Buckminster Fuller at International House, featuring new music by Gene Coleman, will take place Saturday at 8 p.m.

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