The Supine Dome
Buckminster Fuller
Summer 1948
Black Mountain College

Photographs: Beaumont Newhall. Courtesy of the Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate, Scheinbaum and Russek Ltd., Santa Fe, New Mexico. © Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate.
 

              

The Dome Model with Si Sillman (bending), Buckminster Fuller, Elaine de Kooning, Roger Lovelace, and Josef Albers (left);  Albert Lanier laying the strips (center); Unidentified person and Paul Williams connecting the points.
 

Photographs: Beaumont Newhall. Courtesy of the Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate, Scheinbaum and Russek Ltd., Santa Fe, New Mexico. © Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate.

 
 
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Willie Joseph, Elaine de Kooning, Si Sillman, Buckminster Fuller, and unidentifed woman survey the project (left); a valiant effort to raise the dome (right.Photographs: Beaumont Newhall. Photograph:

Photographs: Beaumont Newhall. Courtesy of the Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate, Scheinbaum and Russek Ltd., Santa Fe, New Mexico. © Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Estate.


Buckminster Fuller's project for the 1948 summer was construction of his first dome, a 31-great-circle structure with a forty-eight foot diameter, a height of twenty-three feet, and an area of fifteen hundred square feet. It was to weigh less than 270 pounds. The students measured the strips and computed the tensile strength of each unit. Each strip was coded and the points marked where they would meet.

On a rainy day Fuller and his students gathered in a grassy area. The rest of the community watched from the Studies Building or the nearby FHA units as the class began to connect the points on the strips. When the dome did not rise, it was named the Supine Dome by – as the story is told – Elaine de Kooning, a member of the class.

Robert W. Marks in The Dymaxion World of Buckminster Fuller (1960) wrote that Fuller, who was concerned with critical capacities of structures and wished to avoid overbuilding, “intentionally designed this structure so that its delicate system gently collapsed as it neared completion.” Fuller then, according to Marks, added additional strips until it assumed a dome form. In fact, this did not happen. Fuller did, however, reassure his class that “failure” is a part of the process of inventing, and success is achieved when one stops failing, a valuable lesson for the young students. Some recall that Fuller realized the dome would not rise but decided nevertheless to go ahead and complete the class project.