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Photo of Buckminster Fuller

Buckminster Fuller

Inventor + Architect
Birthday: July 12, 1895 Deceased: July 1, 1983

Biography

Fuller was born on July 12, 1895, in Milton, Massachusetts, the son of Richard Buckminster Fuller and Caroline Wolcott Andrews, and also the grand-nephew of the American Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller. He attended Froebelian Kindergarten. Spending much of his youth on Bear Island, in Penobscot Bay off the coast of Maine, he had trouble with geometry, being unable to understand the abstraction necessary to imagine that a chalk dot on the blackboard represented a mathematical point, or that an imperfectly drawn line with an arrow on the end was meant to stretch off to infinity. He often made items from materials he brought home from the woods, and sometimes made his own tools. He experimented with designing a new apparatus for human propulsion of small boats. By the age of 12 he had “invented” a ‘push pull’ system for propelling a row boat through the use of an inverted umbrella connected to the transom with a simple oar lock which allowed the user to face forward to point the boat toward its destination. Later in life Fuller took exception to the term “invention”.

Years later, he decided that this sort of experience had provided him with not only an interest in design, but also a habit of being familiar with and knowledgeable about the materials that his later projects would require. Fuller earned a machinist’s certification, and knew how to use the press brake, stretch press, and other tools and equipment used in the sheet metal trade.

Fuller said that he had experienced a profound incident which would provide direction and purpose for his life. He felt as though he was suspended several feet above the ground enclosed in a white sphere of light. A voice spoke directly to Fuller, and declared:

“From now on you need never await temporal attestation to your thought. You think the truth. You do not have the right to eliminate yourself. You do not belong to you. You belong to Universe. Your significance will remain forever obscure to you, but you may assume that you are fulfilling your role if you apply yourself to converting your experiences to the highest advantage of others.”

Fuller taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina during the summers of 1948 and 1949, serving as its Summer Institute director in 1949. There, with the support of a group of professors and students, he began reinventing a project that would make him famous: the geodesic dome. Although the geodesic dome had been created some 30 years earlier by Dr. Walther Bauersfeld, Fuller was awarded United States patents. He is credited for popularizing this type of structure.

One of his early models was first constructed in 1945 at Bennington College in Vermont, where he frequently lectured. In 1949, he erected his first geodesic dome building that could sustain its own weight with no practical limits. It was 4.3 meters (14 feet) in diameter and constructed of aluminium aircraft tubing and a vinyl-plastic skin, in the form of an icosahedron. To prove his design, Fuller suspended from the structure’s framework several students who had helped him build it. The U.S. government recognized the importance of his work, and employed his firm Geodesics, Inc. in Raleigh, North Carolina to make small domes for the Marines. Within a few years there were thousands of these domes around the world.

Fuller’s first “continuous tension – discontinuous compression” geodesic dome (full sphere in this case) was constructed at the University of Oregon Architecture School in 1959 with the help of students. These continuous tension – discontinuous compression structures featured single force compression members (no flexure or bending moments) that did not touch each other and were ‘suspended’ by the tensional members.

Taken from the Wikipedia page on Buckminster Fuller