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Stanford Report, January 9, 2002

Green Library exhibition documents collaboration between Fuller, architect Shoji Sadao


Shoji Sadao first met R. Buckminster Fuller while studying architecture at Cornell University, where the self-styled "comprehensive designer" was one of his instructors.

The two began to collaborate in 1954, forming Geodesics Inc. in Raleigh, N.C., and, most famously, designing the 20-story geodesic dome for the U.S. Pavilion at Expo '67 in Montreal. But the two also worked together on many more projects, such as the Student Religious Center at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.

Fuller/Sadao: Partners in Design, a traveling exhibition on view at the Peterson Gallery in Green Library, documents the two men's creative collaboration. The exhibit of materials on loan from private collections, which also includes items from Stanford's Fuller collection, features three-dimensional models, maps, globes, prints, photographs and posters illustrating projects ranging from the geodesic dome to the Dymaxion car.

A conversation with Sadao is scheduled for 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16, in the Bender Room of Green Library. A reception will follow from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the exhibition space. Both events are free and open to the public, but seating for the conversation series is limited. To reserve a seat, e-mail or call (650) 723-6130 at least two days before the conversation you want to attend.

Subsequent conversations are scheduled for:

  • 3-5 p.m. Jan. 30 in the Bender Room of Green Library, with E. J. Applewhite, former deputy inspector general of the CIA, who co-authored Synergetics (1975) with Fuller;
  • 3-5 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Cantor Center for Visual Arts, with Thomas T. K. Zung, a former student and colleague of Fuller who is now president of Buckminster Fuller, Sadao and Zung, Architects, and who edited Buckminster Fuller: Anthology for the New Millennium (2001);
  • 3-5 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Cantor Center for Visual Arts, with Stewart Brand, director of the Global Business Network and founder of the Whole Earth Catalog (1965-85), dedicated to the work and thought of Fuller;
  • 3-5 p.m. March 13 at the Cantor Center for Visual Arts, with Arthur Loeb, a Harvard professor in visual and environmental studies who wrote the preface to Synergetics.

The exhibition in the Peterson Gallery features a poster-sized photograph of Sadao standing next to Fuller in front of a geodesic dome. Both sport horn-rimmed glasses and satisfied expressions of high-school eggheads who have just won a science fair.

Indeed, what stands out in the exhibition is a kind of fresh-faced exuberance about the possibility of scientific design. A number of metallic-wire models of conceptual projects rest under the glass of the exhibit tables; they resemble miniature outdoor sculptures. (Had Calder ever done anything symmetrical, these are what they would have looked like.)

Becky Fischbach, exhibits designer and preparer for Stanford University Libraries, used as the exhibit's signature image a silhouette derived from a photograph of construction workers on the skeleton of one of Fuller's first geodesic domes. It captures something of the spirited invention of the two designers: Under the guise of work, Fuller and Sadao were kids playing on a jungle gym of the future.

In December 1950, the Montreal dome was the first geodesic dome construction realized by Fuller.