Bruce Hamilton and Kenneth Snelson: a short conversation.

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While R. Buckminister Fuller gets props for his impact on tent design, it is important to recognize the inspiration provided by Kenneth Snelson. His 'floating compression' structures are marvelous to look at and opened a lot of conceptual space for new kinds of architecture. Further, imho, his visual exploration of tension, compression, and strength lead in a direct line to some of the key conceptual tools for high performance tent design.

Bruce Hamilton's Pens Sculpture

Bucky, I think, had a more immediate impact on tent design since he talked in architectural and design terms in a context that involved other applicable concepts, eg geodesics...although no tents could be made with any of these concepts without signficant design and engineering work. (It's worth noting that Bucky told Bruce and Mark Erickson they were doing it wrong when they figured out a way to make the Oval Intention actually pitchable by mere mortals.)

Pensegrity above Al Tabor's deskSince OutInUnder devotes a few stories to Bucky Fuller's impact on the industry, I wanted to make sure Mr. Snelson gets featured as well. The exchange below (provided by Bruce Hamilton) between he and Bruce below gave an excellent opportunity to do so. For more, I urge folks to check out Mr. Snelson's website. Note he has a free ebook available there with more photos of his work. I particularly like the Rainbow Arch on page 31.

From: kenneth snelson
Sent: Sunday, July 03, 2011 8:17 AM
To: Bruce Hamilton
Subject: your website


I compliment you on your excellent work as an artist. Your website claims that you were influenced by Buckminster Fuller. Bucky never showed nor claimed any tower structures of the kind you have at your website. The thee-way column structure is my original discovery and it first appears in my 1965 patent, its original source. There are no references to such a structure anywhere before that time. Below is the patent page, also a photo of my 1974 sculpture published in many places:

Core Tower, 1974
aluminum and stainless steel
63 x 20 x 36 in.
160 x 51 x 91 cm

Can you please improve the truthfulness of your work by admitting that your strongest influence was Kenneth Snelson, not Buckminster Fuller?


Kenneth Snelson


From: Bruce Hamilton
To: kenneth snelson


First, yes, without hesitation and without qualification, I will improve my reference to the influences on my work to specifically credit you with a strong influence.

If fact, I called and discussed modification to the copy with our local web site professional service this morning.

You are the artist.  You created a body of work that made Tension structures something grand and wonderful.

I would like to correspond a bit with you to try to qualify my statement that “[I] was deeply influenced by the philosophy and geometry of R. Buckminister ‘Bucky’ Fuller . . . .”
That is a completely true statement.  I read Education Automation in the summer of ’69.  Attended a World Game Workshop in Philadelphia in 1971 and a second one in Carbondale in 1973 and proceeded to read everything I could find, which as you well know is voluminous, written by or about Fuller.  I made my first masts based on his Nov 13, 1962 Patent from  figures 18 & 19 in 1970.

Anyway, I have your Portrait Of An Atom and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery Kenneth Snelson books on my workshop bookshelf.  I worked with Great Circles and wood and plain cord for a while.
And I built a mast using the Fuller patent tetrahedron centered method,  what a difficulty.  I built a 30 strut sphere using his patent disclosed double “B” type harness, also a huge difficulty.

Just a few pictures from the past and two of pens that are  current and that I hope you appreciate.  The pen arrays that I make need a push type point extruder and retractor, but there are no fasteners at all.  Just two different sized washers to hold either the pusher or the point end of the pen.

Best Regards,
Bruce Hamilton

And thank you for the kind words, it means a lot to me.


From: kenneth snelson
To: Bruce Hamilton

Dear Bruce,

Thanks for your thoughtful message telling of your long history of studying Fuller. And thank you too for crediting me on your website.

As I said, I believe your work is splendid and I especially admire your pen pieces which are quite inventive.

Good luck with your future work and very best wishes,

Ken S.


Photo credits:
Kenneth Snelson Needle Tower" by Onderwijsgek - Own work. Licensed under CC-BY-SA-2.5-nl via Wikimedia Commons 
Pens from Bruce Hamilton's website Tension Designs
Bruce's Pens in the version hanging over my desk.

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