GOOD Guide: R. Buckminster Fuller (5 of 6)

What the Buck Was He Talking About?: If some of Fuller's concepts seem obscure, it may have more to do with the terminology than the ideas themselves.

If some of Fuller's concepts seem obscure, it may have more to do with the terminology he used to express them than the ideas themselves. Fuller wrote and spoke in a playful, evocative language-welding poetic fancy to the unwieldy engineering jargon-that can be as off-putting as it is nerdily cool.

Some of his more useful coinages include:

4D Design

Considering not only the three spatial dimensions, but also time (the fourth dimension) when making design decisions, Fuller inspired us to think less about personal gain now, and more about the consequences a design has for humanity over time.


A design strategy for doing more with less. Fuller believed that "we are now able to do so much with so little that we can provide for the basic needs of 100 percent of humanity without disadvantaging anyone."

Spaceship Earth

A widely adopted term, coined by Fuller to encourage us to think of our planet as a machine, powered by the sun, and requiring constant maintenance to keep it functioning well.


Fuller articulated a mathematical and engineering discipline derived from the design principles of nature (primarily the superior stability of tetrahedral forms) and aimed at devising systems whose output in terms of strength and stability was greater than the individual contributions of each component.


Structures with tensegrity (a contraction of "tensional integrity") are more efficient than typical man-made structures, employing "tension primarily and compression secondarily," like those found in nature. This increases strength while using less material, as in the geodesic dome.