The North Face and R. Buckminster Fuller Special Connection - Part 3
Pajaro Dunes Retreat
As I left off on Part 2, I was about to attend a Bucky retreat at the Pajaro Dunes resort and Bucky was about to ask me to do something for him. I was not working at TNF. After the Oval Intention I wanted to work only on tents, but between Hap and Jack, they did not see how TNF could afford another designer dedicated only to tent shapes. I resigned on October 7th, 1976.
I spent a year researching the history of housing in the U.S. in light of Fuller’s long sought for industrialization of houses. He wrote 4D Time Lock in 1928. “A wide discourse on the artistic and practical considerations surrounding the proper design of the new home. The birth of industrially reproduced housing . . .” In 1946 he designed and prototyped a Dymaxion “house” to be made in WWII’s aircraft factories which he reasoned would need something to make after the war.
I thought that I might get a chance to ask him a few questions about how he was feeling about his 50 year project to see the birth of an industrially mass produced “house”.
It was coincidental that at this time, I was allowed access to the design room. I had done the engineering study of pole sleeves for the Oval Intention in Feb and used the sleeve technique to make a purely experimental 2 meter radius, 5/8th dome for my Brother Randy to take to Ava Missouri as a shelter. Since I had it, I took it with me to the Pajaro Dunes retreat. This tent had was made with excess pack and other odd fabric, no floor and the poles were not shock corded together – something like 140 individual sections.
Here follows a short transcript of that interchange.
April 3rd 1977
The following discussion took place at a two day event held by Bucky Fuller at a Pajaro Dunes Resort on the Monterey Bay in California. There was a “Fly’s Eye Dome”, an approximately twenty four foot diameter stamped geodesic frame work, erected in the yard along with the Randy tent.
The event led directly to RBF’s first visit to TNF in October of 1977. The transcript is from a tape made by Fuller’s entourage.
This conversation is being held in a meeting of the participants of the Fuller event. Bucky is on a chair in front facing about a dozen people. I am one of them.
Bruce Hamilton: One thing, this [Fly’s Eye] is stamped out of aluminum, to make them (I am referring to houses) out of fabric . . . . This [Fly’s Eye] will take care of the house. The tent I made, I just tried that size as an experiment, 2 Meter. But should I keep them small as tents for people and don’t try to make them big . . . Because you’re going to make the house right here.
R Buckminster Fuller: No I think you should . . .
BH: Try making them big – try making them out of fabric?
RBF: I’m going to try to make the tent you just spoke about, the 2 Meter [radius] tent a tensegrity tent. I’m going to try different sizes. I’m going to try them all out. Each one has its own function. One thing I’m going to do . . . Get going all throughout all South East Asia. Get a bamboo frame, 6 frequency; whatever it may be. I’m going to make a dome and then grow the vines on it. And the vines will get to be very strong so by the time the bamboo rots out, the vine will have seeded itself along geodesic lines. And the vines will follow. You get the vine dome.
BH: You hang a tent inside?
RBF: You hang a tent inside. If it doesn’t touch it’s all to the good. Main point, they’re not in contact one sphere to the next one.
The discussion was focused on Bucky’s 50 year mission to bring the industrialized house into being. As it turned back to the Fly’s Eye....
BH: You will show this by the end of this year? By the end of this year you’re going to show this?
RBF: I’m going to the Philippines. They lost three thousand homes, by the way, and I would like to, if your brother is willing, to buy this one that you have out here. That I think is so....
BH: Or just lend it to you on your trip? Borrow it and bring it back?
RBF: Either buy it or borrow it. I want to take it with me. I want to take anything that I can that springs up in a hurry to give a little bit of a feeling.
BH: An imminent trip?
RBF: This is not going to be the solution, but gives a feeling of new ways to cope.
BH: Either that or I might be able to make you another one; different size.
RBF: Could you?
BH: I’m sure I could. How many weeks? How long?
RBF: About 2 weeks.
Laughter breaks the tension.
BH: I’ll talk to my brother. I don’t see any problem.
RBF: You didn’t use your shock cord in this case?
BH: Well, since it is for my brother and it wasn’t a marketable event. And I don’t think you really need it.
RBF: How long are the rods?
BH: Very long. The Oval has 7 rod lengths. This one has 19 around the middle and 14 for the big ones and 12 for the short ones. And it would be a lot of shock cord. Shock cord is expensive and you don’t really need it.
RBF: I don’t need it.
Bucky did not take Randy’s tent with him, but he did accept TNF’s offer to make a 3 Meter, six frequency fabric model for him to take on trips to have “something that springs up in a hurry . . . “ [that] gives a feeling of new ways to cope.
He later accepted TNF’s invitation for him to visit the company and to pick up the tent we made for him.
Visiting The North Face
And that is how the first Factory Visit on October 7, 1977 came about. One comment on the classic picture of Bucky stepping out of the door of the 3 meter, six frequency tent. We did not cut the door all the way to the floor. The bottom ring kept the bottom of the floor a couple feet high. In fact, he was stuck. He was able to step over the transom with his right leg, but the left would not cooperate. Hence the great photo-op.
The RBF-TNF connection was enhanced over the years by a series of Bucky quotes that appeared in TNF’s annual catalogues. The first of which pre-dates the Oval. Jim Shirley who wrote lots of super copy for the catalogues inserted the first Bucky quote in the 74 – 75 Catalogue. Jim also introduced Solar Energy in this catalogue.
And the following quotes were to follow:
1975 – 1976: 706.10 “Sphericity: Compound curvature, or sphericity, gives the greatest strength with the least material. It is no aesthetic accident that nature encases our brains and regenerative organs in compoundly curvilinear structures. There are no cubical heads, eggs, nuts or planets.” SYNERGETICS: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking, 1974.
This is the Catalogue in which Jim Shirley introduced the Ice Nine Award and on behalf of The North Face, he bestowed it on the Atomic Energy Commission of the United States of America. This quote accompanied the introduction of the Oval.
1976 Fall Winter: “. . . So, of necessity, the traveler invented portable, readily pitchable tents, structurally formed of pure compression members in triangular flexible-jointed stability, covered with pure tension webs. These were directly and unmistakably a manifestation not only of highest scientific mental segregation and reordering of elements, but, also of the longing urge for experience and knowledge, derivable through explorative travel.
The triangle, through the ages, has been the symbol of the architecture of motion, first in tents, then in the rigging of sailing ships, thereafter in trestles, and most recently in airplane wings and radio masts. It is found as the primary module in the decorative design of mobile people, as for instance, the American Indians.” Nine Chains to the Moon, 1938.
1978 Spring – Summer: This was the Bucky Center Catalogue Dedication “Buckminister Fuller The ‘Leonardo’ of the Twentieth Century”.
“There are many ways of rendering geodesic structures, but all represent closed systems in which compression is comprehensively encompassed by tension. In principle, this emulates the structuring of universe."
“The surprise factor in my introduction of geodesic structures is the surprise provided by Nature. We have discovered and not invented all-triangular interaction of twenty-five great circles whose relative chordal lengths make them appropriate for structures up to unlimited diameter.” Ideas and Integrities – 1963
“Isolated bubbles are systematic spheric enclosures. Bubbles are convex and spheric because spheres accommodate the most volume with the least surface, and the pressure differential between inside and outside atmosphere makes them belly out. The enclosing ‘surfaces’ of bubbles are in fact critical-proximity event that produce so-called ‘surface tension’, which is, more accurately, single-molecule-thickness, omni-triangular, mass-interattracted atoms surrounding a gas whose would-be kinetically escaping molecules are larger than the intervals between the spherical membrane’s atomic proximities.” SYNERGETICS - 1974 ">
“Love is omni-inclusive,
Understanding and tender
And compassionately attuned
To other than self”
Intuition - 1970
The Oval Intention led to the VE-24 and the VE-23. These two tents were refined offspring from the Geodesic/Fuller O.I. breakthrough. VE refers to Vector Equilibrium, Bucky’s conceptual anchor of his Synergetic Geometry. The 23 & 24 refer to the tents being made to sleep two plus their gear with either 3 poles of 4 poles. The four pole version was suitable for winter camping while the three pole was for less stressful weather. These two tents, released to the market at the same time, are Mark Erickson designs. My only contribution came in our basement apartment on Delaware Ave in Berkeley, when Mark came for a visit and I helped him rotate the “hip” poles on the 24 so that the shape had sit up head room out to the walls.
We continued the relationship with Bucky. Mark and I visited him at his Pacific Palisades home on October 11, 1982. In that meeting, we opened up the possibility of TNF making a tent designed by Bucky. The transcript of that meeting has been published in an earlier story. The offer was made official in the following letter on October 15th, 1982.
Amy Edmonson answered for Bucky and then Bucky proposes a “small working model.”
So the RBF-TNF connection was moving to a contractual one for us to develop and product one of his designs. Alas, it was not to come to fruition.
The second visit to the company on June 17th, 1983 was for the dedication of the new office building.
Bucky passed from our “sensorially depitcable” world on July 1st, 1983.
This was the last quote in the Fall – Winter 1983 – 1984 Catalogue:
And It Came to Pass—Not to Stay
“Within the order of evolution as usually drawn
Life “occurred” as a series
Of fortuitous probabilities in the primeval sea.
It could have been sent or “radiated” there.
That is, the prime code
Or angle and frequency modulated signal
Could have been transmitted
From a remote stellar location.
It seems more likely
(In view of the continuous rediscovery of humans
As fully organized beings
At ever more remote historical periods)
That the inanimate structural pattern integrity,
Which we call human being,
Was a frequency modulated code message
Beamed at Earth from remote location.
Man as prime organizing
“Principle” construct pattern integrity
Was radiated here from the stars—
Not as primal cell, but as
A fully articulated high order being,
Possibly as the synergetic totality
Of all the gravitation
And radiation effects
Of all the stars
In our galaxy
And from all the adjacent galaxies
With some weak effects
And some strong effects
And from all time.
And pattern itself being weightless,
The life integrities are apparently
You and I
Are essential functions
We are exquisite syntropy.
I’ll be seeing you!
Bucky Fuller – 1966
“From those of us at The North Face who knew and loved you, we thank you, Bucky Fuller, for being ‘exquisite syntropy’ and for all that you gave to your fellow passengers on our ‘Spaceship Earth’. We thank you for leaping out to the galaxies to give a poem like ‘How Little I Know’. Goodbye, but we ‘will be seeing you! Forever”. Bruce Hamilton - July, 1983
The final chapter of the TNF-RBF connection was personalized by Hap’s moving poem:
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