BUCKMINSTER FULLER

Martin Pawley

Trefoil, London, 1990.


Lovely photographs, but an inept text pocked with blunders and empty speculations. Typical of the confusions he makes is this discussion of the stability of the Dymaxion Car:

"... the weight distribution of the car was 75 per cent front axle: 25 per cent rear wheel..."

followed by:

"The concentration of weight at the rear of the car..." (p.74)

This is excelled in an account of the tetrahedron:

"... the resultant three-dimensional model, a three-sided pyramid, or tetrahedron, Fuller came to believe, was the true geometrical model of a thought. It consisted of four points, or experiences, which in turn generated six sides, or relationships." (p.122)

Pawley does not provide a picture of his three-sided, six-sided, yet four-sided structure.

Trying to figure out Fuller's Cloud Structures (p.155), he thinks that doubling the diameter of the sphere would double the surface area, whereas, of course, area is a function of the square of the length. This was a missed opportunity to clear up a series of confusing calculations in other books by and about Fuller.

Perhaps the oddest part of the book is the chapter on Fuller's concept of ephemeralization, which turns out to be about Pawley's concept of ephemeralization, a rather different matter. Fuller used this term to denote the technological trend of achieving more and more mechanical advantage from devices requiring less and less material. He did this despite the Greek root, ephemoros, which Pawley cites as meaning "lasting only a day". Construing the term this way, Pawley spouts on about "shelf-life", "timelessness" and the vagaries of art history.

Finally, let us ponder his description of Fuller's substantial works, Synergetics and Critical Path. He complains that Synergetics "is virtually unreadable as narrative", without saying why, then contrasts it with Critical Path, which is "narrative rather than mathematical" (p.188). Is Synergetics "virtually unreadable as narrative" because it is not narrative, perhaps?



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Paul Taylor 2001