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News ::
A Fuller Explanation (english)
13 Sep 2002
An image language differs from a verbal one in that the latter uses a
linear string of symbols, whereas the former is multidimensional....
An image language differs from a verbal one in that the latter uses a linear string of symbols, whereas the former is multidimensional....
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

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

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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