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How did Chicago influence cult-figure Buckminster Fuller? His daughter gives us a tour of the spots that helped shape his avant-garde vision.
FULLER SAIL AHEAD Snyder relaxes lakeside with her parents, Anne and Bucky.
By Web Behrens |

Inventor R. Buckminster Fuller Jr.—often simply called “Bucky” by his legions of fans—launched his innovative career in Chicago in the late 1920s. An artist and engineer, philosopher and mathematician—most well known as the geodesic-dome inventor—Bucky is the focus of a new exhibition, “Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe,” opening at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Saturday 14. To give us an inside look into the legend’s life, the late visionary’s daughter, 82-year-old Allegra Fuller Synder, takes us on a tour of Fuller’s Chicago.

1. In 1929, Fuller debuted a scale model of his hexagonal Dymaxion house—a structure designed to increase efficiency while using the fewest possible resources—at Marshall Field’s (now Macy’s, 111 N State St, 312-781-1000), as part of an exhibit on modern furniture. The shopping hub now permanently features exhibits on historic Chicago. “How State Became Great,” runs through June 30. Curated by the Chicago History Museum, it provides a peek at Bucky’s architectural forerunners.

2. Fuller and his wife, Anne, lived in Lakeview near Belmont Harbor (3600 N Recreation Dr, 773-742-7673). “He walked from Belmont Harbor down to Michigan Avenue, along the coast, many, many times,” Allegra Fuller Snyder recalls. “My first memories are of looking at boats in the harbor.” The lakefront was very important to her father, whose childhood, partly spent on an island off the Maine coast, imbued him with a love for boats—not surprising considering Fuller built houses, cars and geodesic domes influenced by the sea.

3. Fuller moved away in 1927 but kept traveling to Chicago. Snyder remembers that he brought the Dymaxion car, a three-wheeled vehicle, out to the Century of Progress International Exposition in 1933–34. The famous event occupied Burnham Park (425 E McFetridge Dr, 773-256-0949), and the expo’s science and design focus can still be noted in the architecture of the Adler Planetarium’s 12-sided building, which opened at the expo (1300 S Lake Shore Dr, 312-922-7827).

4. In the late ’40s, Snyder returned with her father to Chicago as he began his teaching career. He divided his time between Chicago’s Institute of Design (now Illinois Institute of Technology) and the historic progressive liberal-arts college Black Mountain in Asheville, North Carolina. “He actually brought some students from the I.D. down to Black Mountain,” where they developed the iconic geodesic dome, she says. See Fuller’s effect on the IIT’s design community at “Buckminster Fuller: The Design Science Exhibit,” a primer to the geometric and natural forms underlying Fuller’s work (Illinois Institute of Technology, 350 N LaSalle St, fourth floor; 312-595-4900. Through May 15).

BUY TIX NOW! Allegra Fuller Synder reminisces about her dad and Chicago in her talk, “Growing Up: Buckminster Fuller,” 2pm, Sat 14 at the MCA, 220 E Michigan Ave (312-397-4010); $10, students $6.

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