Black Mountain: birthplace of the ‘flopahedron’

“By 1948, [Buckminster] Fuller’s geometric investigations had led him to the idea of the geodesic dome — essentially, a series of struts that could support a covering skin. That summer, he was invited to teach at Black Mountain College….  Toward the end of his stay, Fuller and a team of students assembled a trial dome out of Venetian-blind slats. Immediately upon being completed, the dome sagged and fell in on itself. (Some of the observers referred to it as a “flopahedron.”) Fuller insisted that this outcome had been intentional — he was, he said, trying to determine the critical point at which the dome would collapse — but no one seems to have believed this….

“The first commercial use of Fuller’s design came in 1953, when the Ford Motor Co. decided to cover the central courtyard of its Rotunda building, in Dearborn….  The structure spanned 93 feet [and]  received a tremendous amount of press, almost all of it positive, with the result that geodesic domes soon became popular for all sorts of purposes. …

“Few of Fuller’s ideas were ever realized…. Even his most successful creation, the geodesic dome, proved to be a dud. In 1994, Stewart Brand, editor of the ‘Whole Earth Catalog’ and an early, self-described dome ‘propagandist,’ called geodesics a ‘massive, total failure’:

” ‘Domes leaked, always. The angles between the facets could never be sealed successfully. If you gave up and tried to shingle the whole damn thing — dangerous process, ugly result — the nearly horizontal shingles on top still took in water….’

“Among the domes that leaked were Fuller’s own home, in Carbondale, [Ill.] and the structure atop the Ford Rotunda. (When workmen were sent to try to reseal the Rotunda’s dome, they ended up burning down the entire building.)”

— From “Dymaxion Man” by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker, June 9, 2008

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