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Special Collections & University Archives

Fuller and Sadao: Partners in Design

Fuller is perhaps best known as the patent-holder of the geodesic dome. Yet his projects were quite varied and touched upon many principles of creative scientific inquiry. In the late 1920s Fuller experimented with the factory-assembled Dymaxion (dynamic+maximum+tension) House and three-wheeled Dymaxion Car. His Dymaxion projects grew out of desire to help the aircraft industry and its workers navigate post-WWII life and times. Fuller's model for the Yomiuri Tower, a structure that at two miles tall, would have rivaled the former World Trade Center Towers, sought to provide an observation point higher than that of Mount Fuji, and his single-cell jitterbug tensegrity (tension + integrity), named after the popular dance, is a kinetic sculpture capable of being transformed from a 8-faced to a 20-faced structure revealing the balance between radial and circumferential forces.

Shoji Sadao (b. 1927) is a principal at Buckminster Fuller, Sadao, and Zung Architects (established in the 1970s). In the early 1950s, Sadao studied architecture at Cornell University, and it is there where he met Fuller, one of his instructors. The two began to collaborate in 1954, and their first project was the massive geodesic dome for the U.S. Pavilion at Expo '67 in Montreal. Other collaborative projects included the Dymaxion World Map, the design and fabrication of the tensegrity (tension + integrity) mast, and the Student Religious Center at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. Sadao is also Executive Director of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation, Inc. in Long Island City, New York, and had worked closely with Noguchi on many public art projects, gardens, and playgrounds, blending sculpture, innovative materials, and landscape architecture and designs into functional environments. After Noguchi's death in 1988, Sadao oversaw his projects to their completion.

Fuller/Sadao: Partners in Design highlighted the nature of the creative collaborations between two visionaries. Curated by Russell Flinchum at the Century Association in New York, the exhibition traveled to Milton Academy in Milton, Massachusetts, before arriving at Stanford. The exhibition at Stanford featured objects on loan from private collections and galleries and from the R. Buckminster Fuller archive, acquired by the Department of Special Collections at the Stanford University Libraries in 2000.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Stanford University Libraries, the Stanford Humanities Laboratory, and the Cantor Center for Visual Arts hosted an informal conversation series featuring some of Fuller's most recognized collaborators. In addition to the conversation with Shoji Sadao on January 16, other special guests of the series included: E. J. Applewhite, Thomas T. K. Zung, and Stewart Brand at the Cantor Center for Visual Arts Auditorium.

For more on the Fuller Collection at Stanford, please visit our Fuller Website.

Images: top: Buckminster Fuller and Shoji Sadao at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Student Religious Center, 1971, photograph by Charles Cox, courtesy Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Bottom: Blueprint of the Dymaxion Car, courtesy The Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller.