50 Foot Fly’s Eye Dome, Richard Buckminster Fulle(1980) Photo Nicolas Brasseur, Toulouse International Art Festival, 2013 ©Le Printemps de septembre
50 Foot Fly’s Eye Dome, Richard Buckminster Fuller(1980) © Nicolas Brasseur, Toulouse International Art Festival, 2013©Le Printemps de septembre
50 Foot Fly’s Eye Dome, Richard Buckminster Fuller (1980) © Nicolas Brasseur, Toulouse International Art Festival, 2013 ©Le Printemps de septembre
50 Foot Fly’s Eye Dome, Richard Buckminster Fuller (1980) Photo Nicolas Brasseur, Toulouse International Art Festival, 2013©Le Printemps de septembre
50 Foot Fly’s Eye Dome, Richard Buckminster Fuller (1980) Photo Nicolas Brasseur, Toulouse International Art Festival, 2013 ©Le Printemps de septembre
The Fly’s Eye Dome, a monumental work by Richard Buckminster Fuller, is being exhibited at Port-Viguerie, the geographical heart of the Toulouse International
Festival of Art, right by the River Garonne. This original prototype, a geodesic dome 15 metres in diameter recently restored by the collector Robert Rubin, has been publicly exhibited only once before, in 1981 , during celebrations of the 150 th anniversary of the foundation of Los Angeles. This presentation of The Fly’s Eye Dome is planned for two successive editions. A special lighting design has been conceived for the dome with the support of Philips.
Is Buckminster Fuller le cousin americain de Jean Prouvé? Born six years before the constructeur of the Maison tropicale, Fuller, like Prouvé, was an autodidact.
A Harvard dropout, he was not an architect, not an engineer, not an urban planner, and not a maximizing capitalist. Like Prouvé, he recycled his profits into utopian projects. Like Prouvé he was ostracized, even reviled, by the construction industry. Finally, like Prouvé, he is revered today by architects and artists as a designer of great integrity who anticipated the social and ecological concerns of our new century with prescient design concepts.
The Fly’s Eye Dome represents the culmination for Fuller of a half century of deep involvement with “the issue of making high performance shelter available to all humanity.” (compare Prouvé’s famous dictum: “Il faut des maisons usinées.” “we need machinetooled housing”) The dome here in Toulouse is the larger of the two sizes imagined by Fuller. The smaller one was smaller than a house but bigger than a van. This one is for “Garden of Eden” living: three or more stories, a garden, trees, and a pool.
Everything was about lightness, efficiency, flexibility, and industrial scale.
Three quarters of its fiberglass surface is constituted by the “fly’s eye” openings, to be used as doors, windows, vents, and solar energy cell mounts, as needed: “As with the ports and pores of all organic systems, the size and shape of these openings sort, sieve and classify the inbound and outbound physical component traffic of metabolic rengeneration which the domes embody.” (cite CRITICAL PATH) BF anticipated double skinning by conceiving of two concentric domes with twelve inches diametric difference for insulation and air ducting. BF simultaneously imagined a whole city under one massive dome, but these domes were meant for “remote deployment” by air for “skiers, geologists, artists, and others.” He called them Autonomous Dwelling Machines. Today we would call this living off the grid. Fuller even provided for the excrement of its occupants to be converted to methane gas and fertilizer powder.
Like the Maison Tropicale, the dome is best understood as a prototype for an industrialized building system that never got off the ground because it was too far ahead of its time (or, as tech entrepeneurs today say, “too early.”) Coincidentally, there were three tropical house prototypes (one deployed to Niamey, two to Brazzaville) and three fly’s eye dome prototypes, of which this one, at a diameter of 50’, is the largest. They were preceded by Fuller’s Dymaxion House, another exercise in aluminum, which today may be seen at the Ford Museum in Dearborn. My fascination with both Fuller and Prouvé derives from the artisanal nature of these industrial prototypes. Each has intriguing evidence of human fallibility embedded in its futuristic beauty. For example, certain panels had to be “modified” after the fact because one of the fiberglass molds was built without converting degrees to inches. In the restoration process, we left clear evidence of this. One is reminded that, in the industrial age but before the age of computers men built things that looked like they imagined they ought to look like, and used their head and their hands. Not to mention whatever was easily at hand at the last minute. (Futurists seem always to be working to tight deadlines.) For example, Fuller’s specs called for thin gauge aluminum or poly coated sheet steel to reinforce the fiberglass, but they settled for plywood for the prototype. Amazingly, we have not needed to replace this material yet. And although the dome has spent three decades disassembled in a California field, we needed only replace a few of the fiberglass panels. The rest were just fine. Fuller died in 1981, having spent much of his last decade working with Norman Foster to further develop the domes. (Prouvé died in 1984). Fuller died in 1981, having spent much of his last decade working with Norman Foster to further develop the domes. (Prouvé died in 1984). Lord Foster and others have certainly taken Fuller’s new geometries of architecture and run with them. Bucky was just a little early.
Robert Rubin is a curator and architectural historian who restores outstanding buildings such as Jean Prouvé's Maison Tropicale (now installed in tne gardens of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nancy) and the Glass House by Pierre Chareau, modernist masterpiece in central Paris.
Écologue avant la lettre by Robert Rubin, March 2013.
Richard Buckminster Fuller was born in 1895 at Milton, Massachusetts, and died on 1 July 1983 in Los Angeles.