R Buckminster Fuller, Pattern-Thinking
Pattern-Thinking documents Buckminster Fuller’s process of translation, in between lines, models, words and patents, as a foil from which to rethink contemporary models of design-research, practice and pedagogy.
Pattern-Thinking reassesses the work of Buckminster Fuller – designer, educator, inventor and author – as advancing contemporary models of design-research, practice and pedagogy. Drawing extensively on Fuller’s archive, the book follows his unique process of translation between the physical and conceptual dimensions of design, to redefine our understanding of the relationships between geometry, structure, language and intellectual property. Rather than organized around a chronology of distinct narratives, Pattern-Thinking follows these parallel explorations as the basis for Fuller's artifacts and inventions. In the space between lines, models, words and patents, it traces his ambition to measure physical experience into an ever-expanding pattern of relationships, while coordinating these into a conceptual network of words and concepts that shape the basis for his thinking. Advocating a multidisciplinary and political perspective, Fuller’s transversal logic expands the knowledge base of contemporary models of design as these seek to find broader participation and address new publics.
Throughout Fuller’s life, close collaborators wrote biographical narratives structured chronologically around larger themes: Timelock, Dymaxion, Geodesic, Tensegrity and Comprehensive Design (McHale, Marks). These aimed to bridge the schism between Fuller’s intricate drawings and artifacts, and his idiosyncratic concepts and writing. The assumption was that the formal embodied the conceptual and vice-versa. Alternatively, Pattern-Thinking begins by raising this correspondence as a productive question. The book argues that it is precisely in the ways that Fuller challenged himself and others to translate and reinterpret the space between forms and concepts, where the basis for some of his most original thinking can be found.
In addition to biographical narratives, Fuller’s prolific production prompted numerous in-depth studies. Some focused on deciphering the mathematical principles behind his geodesic patterns and forms (Stuart, Clinton, Kenner, Popko and Edmondson). Others sought to find the ways in which this newfound geometry could become an almost endless array of physical models and artifacts (Baer, Khan and Brand). While others focused on the discursive dimension of his thinking, studying the manner in which words become an instrument for conceptual exploration and key to creating new knowledge as intellectual property (Applewhite). Across these, new mathematical models, assembly manuals, physical artifacts, words, dictionaries and patents emerged. Pattern-Thinking joins these studies by examining the ways in which Fuller created new knowledge through translation. Bridging across different disciplinary sources while advocating for their interrelatedness.
Today, Pattern-Thinking contributes to a growing field of scholarship that continues to study the historiographical legacy of Fuller as a foil from which to expand our understanding of design and research in the present. Several monumental editions based on the publication of archival documentation reintroduce Fuller’s work to newer audiences (Krausse, Lichtenstein and Hays). Similarly, Pattern-Thinking publishes new documents from Fuller’s archive, as primary sources from which to analyze their material, conceptual and temporal dimensions. It also adds to recent intellectual biographies, and other explorations into Fuller’s contributions to the realms of design-education, aesthetics, media and politics (Diaz, Chu, Trujillo, and Wigley), by illustrating the organicist legacy of his thinking.
Pattern-Thinking brings together different discourses based on Fuller’s experiments on geometry, structure, language and intellectual property, speculating upon their open-ended potentials. Rather than an affirmation of these different mediums as a function of one another, this parallel study seeks to explore their open-ended correspondence, challenging the received assumptions that shape our understanding of their relationships. As open questions, Pattern-Thinking follows Fuller’s intuitive process revealing the material and political questions driving these explorations. Within Fuller’s scholarship, Pattern-Thinking focuses on his life-long commitment to design education. An original survey documenting his design-research practice developed alongside students. One that sought to grow architecture’s role in responding to environmental and political challenges while addressing the concerns of new publics. If Fuller defined “design” as the “conscious employment of discovered principles governing pattern[s] […] through scientific generalization;” Pattern-Thinking expands our understanding of architecture by tracing the ways in which these design-research pedagogies served to challenge existing disciplinary conventions while aiming to conceive of new generalized principles systematically. Geometrical studies translated into structural systems that seek to find new concepts and generalized principles in the form of patents that aim to extend the basis of disciplinary knowledge today and into the future.
Starting with “Noah's Ark II,” a “confidential” and understudied treatise on geodesic geometry, the first chapter – "Lines" – focuses on making legible the mathematical ordering behind the intricacy of Fuller’s geodesic forms as explorations into natural form. From a collection of original manuscripts, design studio briefs, manuals and pamphlets, the second chapter – "Models" – traces the ways in which Fuller translated these mathematical patterns into material systems, revolutionizing pedagogies of design-research and education. With the Synergetics Scroll and Dictionary projects as the focus, the third chapter – "Words" – traces Fuller's translation of formal and physical models into a discursive system based on existing and invented words. The fourth chapter – "Patents" – brings the formal, structural and discursive dimensions of the previous chapters together into an examination of Fuller's many patents. His life-long commitment to intellectual property was originally born out of variations of patents that preceded his, and whose legacy continues to produce patent variations today and into the future.