If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times, I’m never disappointed in a trip to the Whitney. There’s always something there surprising, interesting or just wonderful. Saturday we travelled in to Manhattan to see the current exhibit, “Buckminster Fuller: Starting With The Universe.”
I only wish we’d budgeted about twice the time we did; there’s a lot of reading involved, including excerpts from his journals, magazine articles and rich explanations of the work displayed. I was particularly captivated by the Tetrascroll, a long essay on, well, everything, written for his daughter. Some of his work is like reading the Dr. Bronner’s soap bottle, only filled with genius instead of weirdness. But I digress.
But only a few pages into it the guard announced the museum was closing in ten minutes, so that was that. I’ll have to ask Santa for it for Christmas.
I didn’t get it at first, but staring at it for a minute trying to figure out why this wasn’t just another antenna I saw it.
It’s all about materials that support weight under compression, vs. those that support weight by tension. Standing on top of a column vs. hanging from a rope. Usually to build something tall you need a compressive material; you can’t just stack pieces of string on top of each other. Or can you? Look at the diagram: The solid pieces never touch, they’re just there as armatures to support the wires, which do the work. It looks like a magic trick to me!
Fun fact: when you’re riding a bike, you’re hanging from the spokes. Your weight is transferred through the frame to the hubs of the front and back wheels. How does it get to the road? The spokes are just flimsy wires, they don’t support your weight from the hub downward to the ground. Instead, you’re hanging from the spokes that descend from the top of the wheel’s rim down to the hub. The rest of the spokes on the sides merely stabilize the circular wheel, and the spokes at the bottom do absolutely nothing but wait their turn at the top.
Anyway, here’s a picture of a mast in action as a work of art. Lightweight and airy, Fuller simply stands a cable on its end up to the sky.