Buckminster Fuller’s Collaboration with The North Face Culminates with a New Geodesic Dome Tent, the Geodome 4

Most any­one who reg­u­lar­ly spends time in nature knows the name The North Face. For fifty years now, the com­pa­ny has fur­nished out­doors­men and out­door­swomen with not just appar­el but much else of the equal­ly rugged gear they might con­ceiv­ably need to go hik­ing, camp­ing, or per­ma­nent­ly off the grid. Some of their prod­uct designs have remained basi­cal­ly the same through the decades, while oth­ers have changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly. Even ear­ly in the com­pa­ny’s life it knew that a bet­ter tent, for instance, would get the out­doorsy world beat­ing a path to its door: hence its engage­ment of no less a design thinker than R. Buck­min­ster Fuller.

Bruce Hamil­ton, who worked for the com­pa­ny from 1970 to 1989, recent­ly wrote a few posts (part one, part two, part three) telling the sto­ry of the North Face/Buckminster Fuller con­nec­tion. It began in his first year on the job, when the com­pa­ny’s own­er Hap Klopp asked a friend whose fam­i­ly had con­nec­tions to Fuller to send the already world-famous archi­tect-sys­tems the­o­rist-inven­tor a let­ter. Describ­ing The North Face as “a small com­pa­ny that pro­duces what I believe to be the finest equip­ment present­ly avail­able,” the friend asked Fuller for ideas on how to improve the “archa­ic designs” then used to con­struct tents. “I have thought a great deal in the past about your sub­ject of the com­pact, light­weight, back-pack­able envi­ron­ment con­trol­ling device,” Fuller replied. “I am accept­ing your chal­lenge.”

Hamil­ton, a fan of Fuller’s work, had already been think­ing about how to use the prin­ci­ples of the light but stur­dy tri­an­gle-and-dome-based “tenseg­ri­ty struc­tures” Fuller so often wrote and (as in the clip above) talked about. One day Hamil­ton showed Klopp a mod­el of a Ful­ler­ian geo­des­ic sphere, and “it was at that moment that he con­nect­ed me with Bucky and with his dri­ve to bring a new tent to life.” The result, the Oval Inten­tion tent, first appeared in The North Face’s Fall 1975 cat­a­log, accom­pa­nied by a pho­to of Hamil­ton relax­ing inside one and a typ­i­cal­ly sweep­ing quote from Fuller him­self: “It is no aes­thet­ic acci­dent that nature encased our brains and regen­er­a­tive organs in com­pound­ly curvi­lin­ear struc­tures. There are no cubi­cal heads, eggs, nuts, or plan­ets.”

The North Face kept incor­po­rat­ing Fuller’s ideas into their tents, and they ham­mered out the terms of  direct col­lab­o­ra­tion on a new mod­el in 1983, a month before Fuller died. Judg­ments about oth­er tenseg­ri­ty struc­tures — geo­des­ic dome homes, for exam­ple — have var­ied over the years, but the Oval Inten­tion lives on in the form of the new Geodome 4. “Thanks to the most spa­tial­ly effi­cient shape in archi­tec­ture, it can with­stand winds of up to 60 mph as the force is spread even­ly across the struc­ture whilst even pro­vid­ing enough height for a six-foot per­son to stand com­fort­ably inside,” writes Arch­dai­ly’s Ella Thorns. “The extreme­ly effi­cient design has allowed the tent to weigh not much more than 11kg and com­prise of 5 main poles and the equa­tor for fast and easy assem­bly and stor­age.”

If this already has you excit­ed about your improved prospects for more geo­met­ri­cal­ly and struc­tural­ly effi­cient camp­ing on the sur­face of our Space­ship Earth, do be warned: at the moment The North Face has only made the Geodome 4 avail­able in Japan (see its Japan­ese page here), and with a price tag equiv­a­lent to $1,635 at that. Even so, one hopes that Bucky — as Hamil­ton and many of the oth­ers who knew him called him — looks on with pride from whichev­er space­ship he now finds him­self aboard.

via Arch Dai­ly

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Life & Times of Buck­min­ster Fuller’s Geo­des­ic Dome: A Doc­u­men­tary

Watch an Ani­mat­ed Buck­min­ster Fuller Tell Studs Terkel All About “the Geo­des­ic Life”

Bet­ter Liv­ing Through Buck­min­ster Fuller’s Utopi­an Designs: Revis­it the Dymax­ion Car, House, and Map

Design­er Cre­ates Origa­mi Card­board Tents to Shel­ter the Home­less from the Win­ter Cold

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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