To celebrate the publication of Daniel López-Pérez’s R. Buckminster Fuller: Pattern-Thinking, and to commemorate the 125th birthday of R. Buckminster Fuller, a visionary in architecture and design, author López-Pérez and the School of Architecture at Princeton University sought to create an exhibition to celebrate Fuller’s explorations of geometry, models, language and intellectual property in their relation to design principles and pedagogy, organizing a survey of Fuller’s work through parallel conceptual threads rather than in a linear chronology.
The Princeton School of Architecture and curator Daniel López-Pérez teamed up with RUR Architects Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto, who were inspired to recreate a contemporary iteration of Buckminster Fuller’s Geoscope as an interactive, inflatable, multimedia experience. The large geometric spherical design would serve as a venue for encountering the content of the exhibition through numerous exterior-to-interior projections, only visible once visitors step inside the structure. The team grew to include multiple partners for executing this vision, including Pablo Kobayashi, designer and director of Mexican design practice Unidad de Protocolos, who developed and fabricated the inflatable geodesic sphere, and Jan Pistor through the Swiss multimedia design firm iArt, who designed the multimedia experience. The team at the School of Architecture was responsible for various fabrication elements such as the welded steel base, and installation.
To project multimedia content into the inflatable structure, the installation called for forty small, short-throw projectors that would hang at different lengths from a ceiling truss, surrounding the sphere corresponding with each cell. The projectors needed to have a high-lumen count to perform well in ambient room lighting during the day, as well as digital signage mode capabilities for continuous play. After researching the best projector for the installation, Pistor turned to the Optoma ML750ST, a short throw, 700-lumen, pocket LED projector that fit the installation’s criteria. The projector was small enough to securely attach 40 units to the truss, and its short throw design allowed for easy setup outside the inflatable sphere.
After selecting the ML750ST model for the installation, RUR Architects and the School of Architecture team developed and produced a “yoke” design to securely hold each suspended projector in the installation, while López-Pérez and Pistor developed the multimedia experience of Fuller archival materials that would be projected onto each cell. Pattern-Thinking follows three different archives of information regarding Buckminster Fuller’s influence in the design world and his applications of geometry and other intellectual property: Fuller and his time at Princeton University during the 1950s and 60s, Fuller’s design pedagogy, and how Fuller’s concepts and designs are applied throughout the world today.
With only three days to set up before the opening of the exhibition, the team was faced with a complex installation sequence of setting up all forty projectors around the inflatable sphere.
Once the exhibit opened in February 2020, visitors were able to enter the sphere and immerse themselves in the projected multimedia representations of the patterns and concepts that influenced Fuller and his teachings. Kira McDonald, Exhibition Manager of the School of Architecture, spoke of the reactions from visitors as “always overwhelmingly positive – the installation was playful and joyous, and an imaginatively beautiful way to present a scholarly research project. People hadn’t seen anything like it.”
The team was satisfied with the projectors’ ideal size and performance, noting how the visuals looked picture-perfect when inside the sphere. The contrast levels were strong, and the quality of the images made it look as though they’ve been printed onto the fabric cells.
Through the installation, visitors were able to appreciate Buckminster Fuller’s architectural vision of using patterns to expand human perspective and understanding.