Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bucky Fuller Lecture

By Micah Jacobson

The other day I had the opportunity to attend a couple lectures about Buckminster Fuller. I was interesting to learn about the ideas of Bucky and the projects he constructed. We learned about his dymaxian car and house and of course his famous dome.

Let architects sing of aesthetics that bring
Rich clients in hordes to their knees
Just give me a home is a great circle dome
Where the stresses and strains are at ease.

This is a line from ‘Rome Home to a Dome’ by Buckminster Fuller. While setting in the lecture something caught my attention. Bucky said the future of building was in the separation of the tension and compression elements. This is the idea in his dome, where the ‘stresses and strains are at ease.’ This is also the idea in modern day trusses and cable stay bridges, but for the most part building are comprised of members that carry both compression and tension, as well as shear and bearing stresses in them.

The reason this caught my attention was the uncanny resemblance this has to the philosophy of one of today’s greatest architects/engineers, Santiago Calatrava. Calatrava was educated as an artist and architect, and then went on to receive a PhD in civil engineering. He said he wanted to start over from zero and learn how engineers draw and think. That is what I am trying to do right now, but in reverse. Calatrava has had a very successful career, starting of with some very interesting bridges and structures, and continuing on to design some of the world’s finest museums, terminals, auditoriums and sky scrapers.

One of the ideas that shape Calatravas architecture is the idea of tension and compression. You will see in his structure very often a large massive member, usually concrete, that is being pulled by cables in different directions, holding up the structure. The is how he separates the tension and compression members. The large concrete member is right at home with almost total compression, and the cables have to problem coping with the pure tension. This is an example of a structure ‘where the stresses and strains are at ease.’

Calatrava also uses a technique he calls profiling. This is where the cross section geometry and area are constantly changing throughout the length of the member to react to the forces at that point. As we learn in structure class from shear and moment diagrams the forces in a member are constantly changing. This creates beautiful forms that make his architecture great.


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