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Bucky by the Bay

If it weren’t for Buckminster Fuller, campers would probably still be sleeping in pup tents, not unlike the ones you made with sheets as a kid in your backyard. And the new show at SFMOMA, “The Utopian Impulse: Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area,” details the Bay Area’s role in Fuller’s bold idea.

Yes, it was this nonconformist, progressive dreamer- designer whose theories about tensegrity—his word for tension combined with integrity—and promotion of the geodesic dome helped create the North Face’s breakthrough Oval Intention in 1976. With its domed roof and interior pole system, this structure changed the look and technique of tent-making forever—and it was the result of efforts by several Bay Area players who were Fuller disciples, including mathematician Bruce Hamilton of the North Face and Bob Gillis, whose own tent company, Shelter Systems, is in Menlo Park. 

But tent-making is only one of the ways that Fuller influenced Bay Area designers and thinkers. Fuller’s notion of social betterment through greater access to information was cited by Stewart Brand when he started the Whole Earth Catalog, which offered wide-ranging commentary interspersed with product descriptions. Even recent projects like San Francisco’s Federal Building by Morphosis claim a relationship, albeit distant, to Fuller. The way the building responds to the environment reflects his notion that design should be informed by real-time information.

The show also includes three short documentaries by San Francisco-–based filmmaker Sam Green highlighting Fuller’s work on the domed Pacific High School in the Santa Cruz Mountains, in 1969; his address to hippies in Golden Gate Park; and his self-curated archive, the Dymaxion Chronofile.  “He was a charismatic outsider who really wasn’t accepted by the architectural establishment at the time,” says Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, SFMOMA’s assistant curator of architecture and design. “Yet his view has emerged as an emblem for ‘thinking differently,’ which is a starting point for many Bay Area initiatives.”

March 31 - July 29, 2012, SFMOMA, 151 Third St., S.F., 415-357-4000, sfmoma.org