Architects do more with less

A look at R. Buckminster Fuller's efficient designs

In 1978, the British architect Norman Foster was showing a distinguished visitor around the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, an innovative new art gallery he had just completed. Now, typically, such a guest might ask the architect about his inspiration, his design philosophy, or any one of a dozen more-or-less standard questions routinely fielded by architects. But this distinguished visitor was architect/inventor/visionary R. Buckminster Fuller, and the question he memorably asked Foster was this: "How much does your building weigh?"

What Fuller was driving at — something he drove at in nearly all his work — was the question of how to do the most with the least. His was a lifelong concern with energy and material efficiency, not only in the field of architecture, but also in engineering and design.