Monday, 22 October 2012

Plucky Bucky

October's Material Knowledge session continued exploring modular structures and was inspired by one of the most famous modular structure designs - the Geodesic Dome

A geodesic dome is usually made up of a number of triangle shaped modules that are not all the same. These triangles can be a frame with a membrane placed over the top or solid. An example is the Epcot (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) Centre housed within the Walt Disney theme park complex, Florida USA

This invention is usually accredited to the design legend Buckminster Fuller (Bucky) as it was his modified design on an earlier version that was granted a US patent and popularised.

After several personal disaster's Buckminster abandoned the mantra of his upbringing "Never mind what you think. Listen. We are trying to teach you!" (1) and committed his life's work to the benefit of all humanity through a process of personal observation and experimentation. Learning most from his mistakes and funding his work through spontaneous offers from interested parties, he never promoted or sold his ideas or allowed others to do so. He believed that if a genuine need for his inventions existed they would be integrated into human affairs by evolution. If no need existed, he would conclude that what he had invented must be the wrong thing and try again. 

With the awareness that not all of the triangles should be the same for a geodesic dome, we cut and started to attach triangle modules made out of cardboard to observe what happens if they are. Making and attaching our modules was quite a labour intensive process, with only two of us working on this project in a 2hr time limit.

However in this time we learned that the structure had more flexibility with the joints on the outside and is more rigid with the joints on the inside. This observation could be applied to suit the need of a particular project. As the structure grew, it became obvious that the double sided tape being used was not strong enough to hold it, so wanting to carry on building with these modules next month,  I recommend using split pins on both ends of the edge for a stronger bond. The advantage of these is that you can dismantle the structure afterwards and use the modules and pins to build another shape. 

Different shapes start to suggest themselves and a chair like structure appeared, however this would need more design work in order to make it function better as well as be aesthetically pleasing. A challenge for November! With good design, form (or aesthetics) should always follow function. This is because for something to really work for us style, however important or desirable, is not enough.

So we may not have built a geodesic dome but we did learn through observation and experimentation, or reflection in action, basic principles that could inform more complex and longer projects in the future. This wasn't our intended outcome but still a very positive one that embraces both Buckminster Fuller's and the Material Knowledge ethos.

There are many geodesic dome projects shown on youtube including a posting by Playground Science that shows how to make a geodesic dome from newspaper.

The next Material Knowledge session will be on Monday 5th November 6-8pm in the Art Studio, Level 2, St Luke's Community Centre, London, EC1V 8AJ

1. R. Buckminster Fuller, Critical Path, Hutchinson, 1981, page 123.

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