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Amy C. Edmondson A Fuller Explanation

Series Editor's Foreward

In a broad sense Design Science is the grammar of a language of image rather than words. Modern communication techniques enable us to transmit and reconstitute images without the need of knowing a specific verbal sequential language such as the Morse code or Hungarian. International traffic signs use international image symbols which are not specific to any particular verbal language. An image language differs from a verbal one in that the latter uses a linear string of symbols, whereas the former is multidimensional.

      Architectural renderings commonly show projections onto three mutually perpendicular planes, or consist of cross sections at different altitudes representing a stack of floor plans. Such renderings make it difficult to imagine buildings containing ramps and other features which disguise the separation between floors; consequently, they limit the creativity of the architect. Analogously, we tend to analyze natural structures as if nature had used similar stacked renderings, rather than, for instance, a system of packed spheres, with the result that we fail to perceive the system of organization determining the form of such structures.

      Perception is a complex process. Our senses record; they are analogous to audio or video devices. We cannot claim, however, that such devices perceive. Perception involves more than meets the eye: it involves processing and organization of recorded data. When we classify an object, we actually name an abstract concept: such words as octahedron, collage, tessellation, dome; each designates a wide variety of objects sharing certain characteristics. When we devise ways of transforming an octahedron, or determine whether a given shape will tesselate the plane, we make use of these characteristics, which constitute the grammar of structure.

      The Design Science Collection concerns itself with various aspects of this grammar. The basic parameters of structure, such as symmetry, connectivity, stability, shape, color, size, recur throughout these volumes. Their interactions are complex; together they generate such concepts as Fuller's and Snelson's tensegrity, Lois Swirnoff's modulation of surface through color, self-reference in the work of M. C. Escher, or the synergetic stability of ganged unstable polyhedra. All of these occupy some of the professionals concerned with the complexity of the space in which we live, and which we shape. The Design Science Collection is intended to inform a reasonably well educated but not highly specialized audience of these professional activities, and particularly to illustrate and to stimulate the interaction between the various disciplines involved in the exploration of our own three-dimensional, and in some instances more-dimensional, spaces.

      When R. Buckminster Fuller recalled his days as a schoolboy in Milton, Massachusetts, he related how his mathematics teacher would introduce two-dimensional surfaces by placing lines of zero thickness side by side; young Buckminster used to wonder how one could create a finite surface out of nothing. Similarly, he could not accept the stacking of planes of zero thickness to create volumes. Intuitively, he sensed that areas and volumes are as different from each other as are forces and velocities: one cannot mix quantities of different dimensionality. Accordingly, Fuller learned to compare three-dimensional objects with each other, and hence to add, subtract, and transform them from and into each other rather than creating them out of objects of lower dimensionality. In doing so he came to discard the conventional orthogonal system which has blinded architects as well as solid-state scientists, and followed natural structure in designing his stable light-weight structures.

      Two days before Harvard Commencement in 1983, Amy Edmondson called me from Buckminster Fuller's office in Philadelphia, saying that Fuller had decided at the last moment to attend the Commencement exercises, and wondered whether I might still be free to have dinner with them the following evening. Amy had graduated from Harvard with combined honors in Applied Science and in Visual and Environmental Studies, and had been working for Fuller since then. At dinner we planned a working session in August at Fuller's island off the Maine coast. Unfortunately that Commencement turned out to be Buckminster's last, and when I saw Amy again it was at the combined service in memory of Buckminster and Anne Fuller. We decided right then and there that the best tribute would be a volume aiming at translating Buckminster Fuller's idea and idiom into a language more accessible to the lay audience and more acceptable to the scientist.

      Amy Edmondson has succeeded admirably in conveying to us not just the idiom but also the atmosphere of Fuller's "office." There were no professional draftsmen, for the staff was minimal. We believe that the sense of a direct link to the Fuller office would be enhanced by reproducing Edmondson's own illustrations directly, just as she would have produced them there.

      With A Fuller Explanation we initiate the Design Science Collection, an exploration of three-dimensional space from the varied perspectives of the designer, artist, and scientist. Through this series we hope to extend the repertoire of the former to professions by using natural structure as an example, and to demonstrate the role of esthetic sensibility and an intuitive approach in the solution of scientific problems.


Cambridge, Massachusetts

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