Design at Southern Illinois University
that in 1927 he had taken a year off just for that. There were, he pointed out, three levels of thinking. Brain merely registered sensations, hunger, cold, procreation. I could identify with that. Mind, he said, enables us to make useful generalizations. The log that ancient man dragged home because he had accidentally stood on one end and seen it lift a heavy boulder was not magic. The man's wife had observed, "Darling, I think any log will do." Intellect enabled man to intuit scientific principles and Fuller mentioned that he had once met Einstein. He suggested that the ocean was not a barrier to cross, but a trillion cubic yards of saline solution that contains all the chemical elements to be mined. This peppy, stocky fellow wondered how much New York's recently completed Seagram Building weighed. A thing does not have to be heavy to be strong, he said. He waited a while for that to sink in. The bicycle wheel, he told us, is a perfect balance of compression and tension and will support 300 times its weight. Fuller told us cold warriors, some of us veterans, that we should not worry about the Soviet nuclear threat nor the recent launching of Sputnik. Contrary to Malthus and the Bible, he bubbled, there were enough world resources for everybody. The poor would not always be poor and there need not be wars and rumors of wars. The earth could support its growing populations if we would use mind and intellect and begin to design, he said, beginning right here in Carbondale. We were mesmerized. Six hours after he began, Fuller had neither sipped from his Dixie cup nor gone to the bathroom once. We had shot all our film and our stomachs were growling for pizza. But nobody had left the room. I was inspired by this good news, this gospel of synergy, Fuller's term for design greater than the sum of its parts. But listening to him that day was like drinking from a fire hose. My thirst was slaked, but much of what he had to offer shot past me. He used the word ecology, the first time I had heard it, and peppered his talk with tensegrity and dymaxion. Then he told us to call him "Bucky." He said he had to go to India. We went back to our drawing boards. I was delighted some weeks later when our teachers told us the SIU had just given R. Buckminster Fuller an honorary doctorate and made him university research professor. Great, I thought, I'd have "Bucky" as a real teacher, giving me assignments, grading my work! But no such luck. His first professorship gave Bucky overdue prestige but accelerated demands on his time. This week, he was off to California to build a dome for Kaiser Aluminum. Excitedly, I followed his adventures through rumors in the classroom and in the newspapers and magazines. Our very own Bucky was a global force. And here we students, back in Carbondale, ran our squeaking Magic Markers across brown paper, setting esthetics aside, redesigning the world. Because Bucky was doing it, we knew we could do it, too. I still believe that. Of course, some criticized him. Some students complained that they would not get jobs with the conceptual work we were doing. They wanted more design, so that they could build slick portfolios and get positions with IBM. Our teachers, Elsa Kula and Davis Pratt, explained that if a school sets out to make Indians, it produces nothing but Indians. But when it tries to produce chiefs, it still produces
A Baptist Meets Bucky - continued By Al Gowan
photo by Dale Carlson