Buckminster Fuller is rarely off our radar, yet this is a particularly high-profile time for the eccentric polymath. He’s just been the subject of a BBC Radio 4 programme, no less, and now his most famous project is being brought back to life.
The biggest version of his innovative geodesic dome is being revamped by architectural restorer extraordinaire Robert Rubin. Rubin has bought the vast 50-ft structure from the Buckminster Fuller Institute with a view to displaying it in its former glory at the Festival International d’Art in Toulouse, France, from May 24 to June 23. This is momentous stuff, as it’s the first time that this dome will be on show for more than three decades.
The domes were conceived as autonomous dwellings, with the cylindrical openings helping to make the structure stiff. Elizabeth Thompson, executive director of the institute, says “It was the last, monumental prototype that Bucky was working on when he died.”
The restoration work is going on in Sun Valley, California, where a minor intervention will a ramp, so that visitors can easily get up to and into Bucky’s building. “The idea is to make the dome a pedagogical event, to involve architecture students in Toulouse,” Rubin says. “It’s important to see this stuff trickle down and out.”
Rubin is proving to be a pretty intriguing character himself. Having made a killing on Wall Street, he changed direction by attending architecture school and becoming an architectural historian and collector.
His small but perfectly formed modernist collection is pretty impressive: Maison Tropicale - a small aluminium-panelled house built in 1951 by Jean Prouvé - was rescued from the jungle near Brazzaville and then donated to Paris’s Pompidou Centre. Then he bought the early modern Maison De Verre (or Glass House) by Pierre Chareau and moved in himself.
Rubin sees a connection between the seemingly disparate Prouvé, Chareau and Buckminster Fuller. “They were all entrepreneurs, not architects,” he says. “I’m interested in people who don’t fit neatly into categories.” Find out more at the Buckminster Fuller Institute. And for other examples of innovative, entrepreneurial and occasionally uncategorisable takes on sustainble design and architecture check out our book Vitamin Green.