March 21, 2009

Jenny Sabin: Katie Smither

The research.  I was assigned Buckminster Fuller and as it was a large amount of material, I have only gotten through the first 9 pages, but will post what I've read so far.  

The majority of his writing was on synergetics, what they are, how they are relative, and why they are important.  He provides a fixed definition for synergy: the behavior of a whole system unpredicted by the behavior of its separate parts.  For example, a stone wall is synergetic as each individual stone does not purposefully contribute its mass to the stone next to it.  The individual stone does not exert its mass upon other stones, nor is attracted to the neighboring massive stones in order to create the greater entity of a combination of stones.  It is merely a single stone being a single stone, therefore, the whole system is unpredicted by the individual parts.

The issue of the triangle came up when talking about the integration of parts to make a whole system.  A triangle is apparently a single open system as a line cannot close upon itself.  In reality, the line meets three points but when returning to its generation point, the line does not return to its exact starting point in space by melding with the origin line point, rather it sits on top of the the origin, creating a kind of triangular helix.  See the illustration to completely understand.  With this open-endedness in mind, the combination of two triangles does not have to result in two triangles, but rather can form a different system.  By exaggerating the triangle helix condition, a tetrahedron can be formed from the combination of the z-shaped helixes that are still completely triangles, one negatively rotated one positively rotated.  This provides an example of positive and negative versions of a system resulting in a stable form, the tetrahedron, which consists of four triangles.  Thereby proving that two triangles can be four triangles.  See illustration on page f5 of the provided text.

The article speaks often of synergy's importance in understanding nature, or the "Universe".  That if one does not completely understand synergy, one does not understand nature.  This is discussed in the condition of objects in space, metals and their alloys, and microbiological structures.  In all of these instances, the idea of synergy allows a greater, superior system to arise out of the unpredicted interaction of individual parts.  When looking at this idea geometrically, it is easy to see how this open-endedness lends itself to architecture, building, creating a limitless structural system.

He also mentions the validity of synergy by stating that it contradicts nothing in mathematics, physics, calculus, or testable experience.  I will try and remember to post anything else important as I continue reading.

????- Well, questions for Jenny.  Why do you think this is so important?  To understand this I mean.  Yes, it gives us the ability to understand structure and therefore emulate such systems in building them virtually or physically, but why do you think that is significant?  What does that give us as people?

????- Along the same lines, do you think this can lend itself to other fields other than those dealing with structure?  So, outside of the mathematic, scientific, physics based way of thinking....what does this offer?

????- Finally, your opinion please.  Metaphysics was mentioned.  If synergy is the unpredicted integration of parts to make a system, what based on this idea, gives the individual parts their characteristics.  The Universe is spoken of as an entity, greater than a creator, above creation, or above non-existing.  If to understand nature or the Universe, you must understand the synergy of systems; that means either everything revolves around the individual parts that do not predict the systems they create.....which means order is created out of chaos and chance......or that the individual parts have tricked us into believing there is not order within the combination to make the whole, when order does indeed come from order or a method of predetermination.  I'm not sure if that made sense, and I know this is kind of a big one, but the article brought it up.  I just want to know what synergy is saying about metaphysics and the existence of the things it speaks of.  

Thanks and talk to you later!


1 comment:

  1. Katie,

    Thank you for your thorough summary of only the first nine pages of Fuller's text and for your questions. Your questions are difficult to answer definitively and they certainly point to many discussions, symposia, texts and exhibitions on Fuller that have attempted to explain his work in full. The fact that you are asking them is precisely my point for assigning the text. Why is Fuller important and what does he offer people? Fuller's work and his frequently utopian ideas have influenced many great thinkers, industry, the arts, science and certainly architecture. He worked quite closely with the artist, Kenneth Snelson, ( to develop tensegrity. He had close friendships with Josef Albers, Isamu Noguchi, John Cage and Merce Cunningham, and was an influential teacher and thinker at the legendary Black Mountain College in North Carolina. He was also ahead of his time in his work on sustainable design and ecological thinking. Here, his notion of synergy places responsibility upon the role of design and the designer as important agents of change and environmental stewardship w/in the world. His Minimum Dymaxion Home of 1931 is one example. His Dymaxion Car addressed issues of energy efficiency in cars in the year 1931! (
    Fuller's direction of thinking was from the inside out or from the local event to the overall system. Yes, he was controversial and frequently very difficult to pin down and present, but his concepts for understanding basic parameters governed by part to whole relationships within a systems-based mode of thinking are worth studying. He presents a visionary model for studying patterns, geometry, performance, feedback and intensities within systems. He also invented the geodesic dome. The Whitney Museum in NYC hosted a retrospective of his work titled 'Starting with the Universe'. The exhibition catalogue is worth checking out.


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