1976 World GAmes Workshop - Transcript of Presentation: Oval Intention Tent
WORLD GAME WORKSHOP SUMMER 1976
June 27 -July 16, 1976
The following transcript is from a tape made by the World Game Workshop staff. This workshop was
attended by Jim Shirley and I. We drove his 2002tii BMW from Berkeley to Philadelphia more or less
non-stop to get there in 3 days. The WGWS modus operandi was to throw out what is and sketch,
dream, about what could be. It was a very academic, intellectual event. Among the goals of the
preferred state was: by 1980 — No fossil fuels used for automobiles or electricity generation. And: By
1990 — V.T.O.L. replaces all fixed wing aircraft. And: Elimination of use of fossil fuels.
Well maybe those goals were a little ambitious. This was the apogee of the "Limits to Growth" theory
that the Earth was rapidly running out of resources. Now, 40 years later, the world is awash in oil, coal
and natural gas, we have 'Global Warming" aka. "Climate Change" to keep the faithful in the
congregation, singing with the choir, the latest verses of "The Sky is Falling,"
Jim and I were offered the stage to '"show and tell" about an artifact that The North Face had realized.
The Oval Intention had burst on the scene and gave an example of using the principals of Synergetic
Geometry and Bucky's philosophy to do something in the sensorially depitcable world that was available
to everybody, even if they didn't read books.
1 want to take, a very short, about 5 minutes, to give you some idea of design process, how did it
come about. Because we are guilty, making these antique, these "double A" frame tents. And I am
chiefly responsible for designing the factory and for the setting up of the sewing machines to decide
how to make them [A frame tent and all the other products of TNF].
My history, graduated, trained to be pre-med got out of college in '68 with a general background in
science. But we had this war on our hands so I ran away and ended up in Berkeley. Worked for a while.
Ran into Bucky Fuller. Read his book Education Automation.
By' 71 World Game —l learned a lot there. I don't believe I contributed a thing in in '71, but I learned a
lot. I went back on the road for a couple years.
The thing that stuck in my mind more than anything was Buckminister Fuller said that in retrospect we
are going to recognize Henry Ford as the greatest artist of our century.
Now, I had some Art History courses ... Henry Ford as an artist ... that's tough.
And then Bucky, "'I define Industrialization as the extra corporeal metabolic regeneration of mankind."
Well, internal metabolics, that I understand, external metabolics, that makes sense.
So I thought that my particular contribution would be to go out and try to understand industry — what is
industry - this huge organization that it takes to produce the artifacts?
You've got to have the workers. You've got to have the people bringing you the goods. The goods come
from the world. They've got to be there at the right time. They have to be there a very short period of
time. This is a flow process that Henry Ford did for us.
So I happen to be at The North Face. There I am. I work there, I'm not the designer, we have a designer,
Mark Erickson, who is responsible for everything else in the company that [is] designed: all the parkas,
the clothing, to keep the body warm; the bags that keep you warm when you're sleeping; the packs to
carry the stuff around in a very light way, the weather breaks, the structures.
So along about two years ago, I think our tent line was a little sluggish and the President of the
Company, Hap Klopp, who is a very good man and a friend of mine; they were looking for a new tent.
[He} knew I was a Bucky freak, I have tensegrities hanging all around the factory that I made. So they
said O.K. this is your chance, go to it. We need this for a new tent.
So I muddled around and I could show you a quick sketch ...the problem trying to make a very small
geodesic, the problem was right here at this hub, that's a problem. How can you make it dynamic
enough to pop up to be a tent and yet keep the whole thing together?
Well, I was working late one night and a knock came on the door. I go answer the door and here comes
this guy carrying a bundle of tent poles about this big. Now, anybody who has worked with tensegrity
and sees a bundle of tent poles this big, knows that this man knows tensegrities.
This man is Bob Gillis who studied under Tony Pugh at Carbondale, I believe. And he has a very good
background in structure. And he had a 20 footer.
Incidentally, my passion is to make the tensegrity tent. There is a real ring to that. It still is and has been
for three years. I haven't done it, but it is coming,
So we hit it off right away. Started talking, shared ideas and the one he had, he had tried to sell to all of
the backpacking companies and nobody bought it. And we couldn't buy it either. It was unmarketable.
It just wasn't there.
So we worked together a little bit and he went back to Santa Cruz where he was living in the woods, in a
tent. About 2 months later he came back.
I'm still muddling around with B-Booms & tensegrities trying to take a 2 Meter, 4 frequency tensegrity
and cut off only 9 strut of it and pull down and make a little tent...And not making it.
He [Bob] comes back and he's got this very simple idea, the simplest idea, no hub. He just had a ring
and we'll run these wands and we'll pull in with the skin.
O.K. that's a good idea.
So I discuss with the guys who are responsible for writing the contract and we entered into an
agreement with Bob, where we basically bought that particular idea from him.
Then it came time for shape, size, weight, the details, the million details ...How, in fact, do you sew the
That's where Mark Erickson and I got together and the two of us did all that detail design work.
It is just something that Ian McHarg was saying last night. This creativity is not some guy who is special
that nature has picked out to be an artist. It's like these forces, the fact that these three people worked
together and we came up with something that not one of the three of us would have done by ourselves.
Bob had this idea, the break-through idea, but he does not make the detail design.
My role is catalyst. Really, I link the mathematics, because I studied the math thoroughly, at home. I'm
very familiar with Bucky's work. I did a lot of experiments.
Mark Erickson is the guy who knows the fabrics and exactly how to set a zipper and so on.
And Jim Shirley. Jim ... if you think about industry, organization and how big is this company.
Jim is going to pitch the tent as I'm talking, so we don't take up too much time. You can watch it.
Really, it's a handful of guys [and gals], just ten guys who as Jay was saying, you live it. You don't go to
work 8 to 5.
There are about ten of us, Jim is one of them, who live with it. This thing, and now we are up to one
million a month wholesale or something like that.
The other thing I wanted to briefly say. The World Game, as it is being played here, and as it was played
when I was in Carbondale, it is a very intellectual event. You look around this room, these are very
bright people. The problem is what to do. It is the problem. You walk out of here and you are very
inspired, but you don't want to read books. At least I didn't. I wanted to use my hands, I wanted to
The reason I have a passion for a tensegrity tent is, you know it's not easy to read SYNERGETICS. I don't
know how many of us have waded through it. But Bucky said "Science writes in ways that demands
dedication of effort to comprehend." That dedication of effort is not popular ...
What I wanted to do and still want to do and what this is an expression of is getting the geometry into a
child's head by going camping. Kid goes camping and he sees, hey, these aren't right angles. Might even
create a thought in his mind.
Also, I struggled with the name of the tent, because it was my privilege to name it. Because of my
catalyst role, they had to let me do something. I struggled with the name for about a month. I have a
motorcycle, driving one day, just cruising and it hit me like a hammer. One of those intuition things.
It's Oval, and why is it oval, because to make it this low and to make it a back packable tent, and all that,
I couldn't make a round floor plan, and it would have to be a 5/8ths dome and it just gets too
I made it oval intentionally and it's a tent and it is in tension.
So the only thing I've outputted with words since I started with Bucky Fuller back in 1970 is those two
word. And the only other things, other thing I output is vests, backpacks, and tents.
Now one thing, if you pitch a tent, you can move it around.
Audience: "Can you float down the river in it?"
JIm Shirley: It's not waterproof yet.
B.H.: There's all these special designs you can do. It is the first of the new. It is just to show that you
can make these things any size and shape. We're talking about an eggshell kind of system and a
remarkable stability in the wind. Much better in the wind. Every triangle has a hypercat ...
J.S.: Bucky did this in 1954 at Baffin Island with the Arctic Institute. He found that the hypercat skin is
really the best way to handle the wind because when you don't have your air inside in motion, you don't
lose heat by convection or by conduction. Unlikely at it may seem, I've pitched this thing in a 20 mile
per hour wind, in minus ten degree temperature, at night. And it is really quite simple."
The fact of it is, that there is really, really an incredible environment, very, very beautiful
environment once you get out perhaps two miles from sea level, two to five miles from sea level. And it
is really quite difficult to get out there because you don't have anything or anyone who is going to bring
your house with you, except yourself.
Where this fits is the best design in the World for those conditions where you have to deal with
100 mph wind and perhaps three feet of snow. We've had these tents left at 17,000 ft, abandoned for
two weeks storm and they came back and it was tight. It was an igloo with two feet of snow on it.
The demonstration and talk ended with Jim flipping the Oval upside down and tossing it off the stage for
the audience to pass it around over their heads.
Transcribed by Bruce Hamilton, 40 years later, 10/22/16.