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Letter to R. Motro

Letter to R. Motro

2022-08-17 09:39:37

R. Motro Worldwide Journal of House Constructions
House Constructions Analysis Centre
Division of Civil Engineering
College of Surrey, Guildford
Surrey GU2 5XH

Expensive Mr. Motro:

I remorse it has taken me so lengthy to reply to your letter in regards to the

particular subject of House Construction devoted to tensegrity.

As you most likely know, I’m not an engineer however an artist so I do not

actually really feel certified to write down for an engineering journal. Nonetheless

I do know one thing about this specific type of construction from making

so many sculptures over time which use the precept which I desire

to name floating compression.

I’ve lengthy been troubled that most individuals who’ve heard of “tensegrity”

have been led to imagine that the construction was a Bucky Fuller invention,

which it was not. In fact, we are actually within the 12 months 1990 and never 1948

so all of this fades into the dim footnotes of historical past. There’s a line

someplace in a theater piece which works, “However that was way back in one other

land — and apart from, the wench is useless.”

Every time an inventor defends his authorship the problem invariably turns

out to be vital solely to the creator himself, to others it’s trivia.

Perhaps you are acquainted with the story of Buckminster Fuller and me,

however I would like, one way or the other, to set the document straight, particularly as a result of

Mr. Fuller, throughout his lengthy and spectacular profession, was sturdy on publicity

and, for his personal functions, efficiently led the general public to imagine tensegrity

was his discovery. He spoke and wrote about it in such a approach as to confuse

the problem regardless that he by no means, in so many phrases, claimed to have been

its inventor. He talked about it publicly as “my tensegrity” as he additionally

spoke of “my octet truss”. However since he hardly ever accredited anybody else

for something, none of that is all that shocking. What Bucky did, nevertheless,

was to coin the phrase tensegrity as he did octet truss and geodesic dome,

dymaxion, and many others., a strong technique for appropriating an thought. If it is

his identify, is not it his thought?

As many new concepts do, the “tensegrity” discovery resulted in a approach

from play; on this case, play geared toward making cell sculptures. A second-year

artwork pupil on the College of Oregon in 1948, I took a summer time off

to attend a session in North Carolina at Black Mountain Faculty as a result of

I had been excited by what I had learn in regards to the Bauhaus. The attraction

at Black Mountain was the Bauhaus grasp himself, the painter Josef

Albers who had taught on the German faculty and immigrated to the U.S.

in 1933 to affix the school of that tiny liberal arts school (fifty

college students that summer time) within the Blue Mountains of North Carolina, fifteen

miles from Asheville.

Buckminster Fuller, unknown to most of us in these early days, turned

up two weeks into the session, an alternative choice to a professor of structure

who canceled per week earlier than the summer time started. Josef Albers requested me to

help the brand new school member in assembling his assortment of geometric

fashions for his night lecture to the faculty. There was no such factor

as a tensegrity or discontinuous compression construction in his assortment,

solely an early, nice circle, model of his geodesic dome. Albers picked

me to assist as a result of I had proven particular means in his three-dimensional

design class.

Throughout his lecture that night Professor Fuller mesmerized us all

along with his ranging futurist concepts. Because the summer time shortly glided by with

a lot of the small faculty monitoring Fuller’s lessons I started to suppose

I ought to attempt one thing three-dimensional fairly than portray. Albers

recommended me that I demonstrated expertise for sculpture. However, extra importantly,

I had already develop into the primary in a path of scholars from faculties

and universities who, over time, have been to develop into electrified “Fullerites”.

He had that cult-master’s sort of charisma. I blush for it now, however

it was true. We have been younger and on the lookout for nice points and he claimed

to embody all of them.


On the finish of the summer time session, I returned house to Pendleton, Oregon.

In my Fullerian trance the descent into the actual world was drastically complicated.

I spent the autumn at house, making my dad and mom depressing by moping and

spending hours within the basement, constructing issues; small cell sculptures

principally, utilizing thread, wire, clay, metallic from tin cans, cardboard, and many others.

I had realized a lot about geometry from Fuller in addition to artwork and design

from the Bauhaus. Whereas Albers’ teachings have been imparted as useable concepts

in public-domain, Bucky’s classes have been laden one way or the other with the sense that

the concepts have been proprietary — “his” geometry. I believed, actually, as a result of

he claimed so, that earlier than Buckminster Fuller got here alongside, no human had

ever observed, for instance, that to inscribe the diagonals of the sq.

faces of a dice was to outline two interlocking tetrahedra inside. College students

joked that, in spite of everything, hadn’t Bucky invented the triangle? None of us

knew, for instance, of Alexander Graham Bell’s early area frames, nor

something in any respect about crystallography.


Within the autumn of 1948, as I mentioned, I made numbers of small research. Have been

they buildings or sculptures? They included the attitudes of each

Fuller and Albers. The three small works that are of curiosity right here have been

involved each with stability of successive modular parts hinged one-to-another

and stacked vertically as seen in picture #1; and, later, suspended one-to-the-next

by way of thread-slings as proven in {photograph} #2. They have been, in fact,

however amplifications of the acquainted balancing toys seen usually in novelty

outlets. My small discoveries in these two items have been logical sufficient, although

one might think about that they may simply as effectively result in one thing different

than to the primary tensegrity construction; maybe to variations on Calder


It was the trouble to make the items transfer which resulted of their

spinal-column, modular, property. If I pushed on them frivolously or blew

on them, they swayed gently in a snake-like vogue. In picture #2 one

can see module-to-module sling rigidity members changing the wire hinges

connecting the modules proven in picture #1. I considered these threads

as including a word of thriller, inflicting the connections to be kind of

invisible, at the very least as invisible as marionette strings; an Indian rope


One step resulting in the following, I noticed that I might make the construction

much more mysterious by tying off the motion altogether, changing

the clay weights with further rigidity strains to stabilize the modules

one to a different, which I did, making “X”, kite-like modules out of plywood.

Thus, whereas forfeiting mobility, I managed to realize one thing much more

unique, strong parts fastened in area, one-to-another, held collectively

solely by rigidity members. I used to be fairly amazed at what I had achieved. Picture


Nonetheless confused about my functions and course at school, I enrolled

for engineering that winter (’48-’49) at Oregon State Faculty. The lessons

depressed me even additional. I hated it and did very poorly. I corresponded

with Bucky and I advised about my dilemma and in addition despatched pictures of the sequence

of small sculptures. He will need to have understood from the letter how confused

and depressed I used to be at college for he instructed I return for one more

Black Mountain Summer time Session.

wooden X piece

Once we obtained collectively once more in June I introduced with me the plywood X-Piece

(#3). Once I confirmed him the sculpture, it was clear from his response

that he hadn’t understood it from the pictures I had despatched. He was fairly

struck with it, holding it in his palms, turning it over, learning it

for a really lengthy second. He then requested if I would enable him to maintain it.

It hadn’t been my intention to half with it, however I gave it to him, partly

as a result of I felt relieved that he wasn’t indignant that I had employed geometry

(Buckminster Fuller’s geometry) in making artwork. That unique small sculpture

disappeared from his residence, so he advised me on the finish of the summer time.

Subsequent day he mentioned he had given a variety of thought to my “X-column” construction

and had decided that the configuration was improper. Relatively than the

X-module for compression members, they need to be formed just like the central

angles of a tetrahedron, that’s like spokes radiating from the gravitational

middle, to the vertices of a tetrahedron. In fact the irony was that

I had already used that tetrahedral kind in my transferring sculpture #2,

and rejected it in favor of the kite-like X modules as a result of they permitted

development alongside all three axes, a real space-filling system, fairly than

solely alongside a single linear axis. These weren’t but the years when college students

simply contradicted their elders, not to mention their professors.

Subsequent day I went into city and bought metallic telescoping curtain

rods with the intention to construct the “appropriate” construction for Bucky. I felt a little bit

wistful however under no circumstances suspicious of his motive as he had his image

taken, triumphantly holding the brand new construction I had constructed.

The remainder of the story is one among quite a few images and statements

in print, grand claims in journal articles and public shows.

In Time journal he declared that, with “his” tensegrity, he might now

span the Grand Canyon. He additionally described it as a construction which grows

stronger the taller you construct it — no matter which will have meant.

The absorption course of started early, regardless that Bucky penned the next

in a letter to me dated December 22, 1949:

“In all my public lectures I inform of your unique demonstration

of discontinuous – strain – (com-pressure) and steady rigidity

structural benefit; – by which proper makes mild in a prototype

construction, the prepared copy of which, correctly included

in elementary buildings, could advance the spontaneous good will and

understanding of mankind by many centuries. The occasion was a type of

See Also

‘It occurred’ occasions, however demonstrates how the vital occasions occur

the place the environment is most favorable. If you happen to had demonstrated this

construction to an artwork viewers it could not have rung the bell that

it rang in me, who had been looking for this construction in Energetic Geometry.

That you just have been excited by the latter, E.G., into spontaneous articulation

of the answer, additionally demonstrates the significance of fine religion of

colleagues of this frontier. The identify of Ken Snelson [his underline]

will come to be referred to as a real pioneer of the realized good life

and good will.”

Bucky’s heat and uplifting letter arrived about six months after I

first confirmed him my small sculpture. In that it was dated three days

earlier than Christmas, I suppose he was in a festive, beneficiant, temper. A 12 months

later, January 1951 he revealed an image of the construction in Architectural

Discussion board journal and, surprisingly, I used to be not talked about. Once I posed

the query some years later why he accredited me, as he mentioned, in his

public lectures and by no means in print, he replied, “Ken, outdated man, you

can afford to stay nameless for some time.”

Lastly, in 1959 I realized that Fuller was to have a present on the Museum

of Trendy Artwork in New York and included in it was to be a thirty-feet

excessive tensegrity “mast”. Calling it a mast appeared particularly obtuse,

however he regarded himself as a person of the ocean. With some persistence and

with the fortunate help of Bucky’s assistant I used to be in a position to get phrase to Arthur

Drexler, curator on the Museum, about my half in tensegrity. This pressured

Bucky’s hand. Eventually, my credit score for tensegrity discovered its approach into the

public document.

One of many ironies of this not-too-unusual story within the historical past of

teacher-student relationships, is that by Bucky’s transposing my unique

“X” module into the central-angles-of-the-tetrahedron form to rationalize

calling it his personal, he managed efficiently to place beneath wraps my unique

kind, the extremely adaptable X kind. He couldn’t have lived with himself

with the blatant theft of my unique system, in fact, and apart from,

he had denounced it because the “improper” kind. Consequently, not one of the many

college students in faculties the place he lectured ever obtained to see it. In these years,

any variety of college students labored to constructed their very own “masts”, however

all have been constructed utilizing the tetrahedral kind. That second of recognition

on the Museum of Trendy Artwork in November 1959, transitory because it was,

was fairly fortifying and enabled me to as soon as once more decide up my absorbing

curiosity in this type of construction with the sensation that now I used to be free

and alone. Particularly I picked up the place I had left off with the

uncared for X-module which was left unnoticed for a complete decade. I

not felt nameless.

As I mentioned earlier, that is however a footnote to a storm in a teapot.

I’ve continued to make sculptures which now stand in public websites

in lots of locations. Sorry there are none in England or France. The ghost

of Bucky Fuller continues to muddy the water in regard to “tensegrity”.

I inform myself usually that, since I do know the place the concepts got here from, that

should be sufficient.

As I see it, one of these construction, at the very least in its purest kind is

not more likely to show extremely environment friendly or utilitarian. Because the engineer

Mario Salvadori put it to me a few years in the past, “The second you inform me

that the compression members reside inside of the strain system,

I can inform you I can construct a greater beam than you possibly can.” He was talking

metaphorically about one of these construction normally, in fact. Over

the years I’ve seen numbers of fanciful plans proposed by architects

which have but to persuade me there’s any benefit to utilizing tensegrity

over different strategies of design. Often the philosophy is akin to turning

an vintage coffee-grinder into the bottom for a lamp: it is there, so why

not discover a method to put it to some use. No, I see the richness of the

floating compression precept to lie in the best way I’ve used it from the

starting, for no different goal than to unveil the beautiful magnificence

of construction itself. Consciously or unconsciously we reply to the

many facets of order in nature. For me, these research in forces are

a wealthy supply for an artwork which celebrates the aesthetic of construction,

of bodily forces at work; force-diagrams in three-dimensional area,

as I describe them.

Whether or not or not you’ll be able to use this narrative in regards to the beginnings

of tensegrity, I want you the perfect along with your particular subject on the



Kenneth Snelson
140 Sullivan Road
New York, New York 10012

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