News
03.05.2013
Reviving a Visionary
Robert Rubin restoring a monumental Buckminster Fuller dome.
The restored dome will be placed along the waterfront in Toulouse, France.
Explorations Architecture / Courtesy Toulouse Arts Festival

The architectural historian and modern architecture preservationist Robert Rubin has purchased the largest of Buckminster Fuller’s “Fly’s Eye” domes from the Buckminster Fuller Institute. The dome is currently being restored and will be displayed, for the first time in more than 30 years, at the Festival International d’art in Toulouse, France, from May 24 to June 23.

Fuller designed three of the so-called Fly’s Eye domes of different sizes: a 12-foot version, a 24-foot version, and, the largest, the monumental 50-foot version. All three have found prominent homes through the Institute: Norman Foster owns the 12-foot structure; Miami collector and real estate developer Craig Robbins owns the 24-footer; and now Rubin has acquired the 50.

 
John Warren; Courtesy explorations-architecture / Toulouse Arts Festival
 

“It was the last, monumental prototype that Bucky was working on when he died,” said Elizabeth Thompson, executive director of the institute. The Fly’s Eye domes have cylindrical openings that help to stiffen the structure. The dome was developed to serve as what Fuller called an “autonomous dwelling.” Given its size, “it really feels like a building,” Thompson said.

Rubin has a sterling track record in the area of modernist preservation. He lives in one of the world’s most important modern houses, the Maison de Verre in Paris, designed by Pierre Chareau. He also purchased and restored one of Jean Prouvé’s prefabricated Maison Tropicales. Operating in different periods and contexts, Chareau, Prové, and Fuller might at first seem and unlikely trio, but Rubin sees a similarity in all their approaches. “They were all entrepreneurs, not architects,” he said. “I’m interested in people who don’t fit neatly into categories.” All three used new technologies and industrial processes to reshape architecture.

John Warren
 

Rubin has also made the study of these structures a priority. He is writing a book on the Maison de Verre and the Maison Tropicale traveled to several locations including Yale, where it was available to architecture students. “The idea is to make the dome a pedagogical event, to involve architecture students in Toulouse,” Rubin said. “It’s important to see this stuff trickle down and out.”

Restoration work, led by Daniel Reiser of DR Design with consultant John Warren and Carlson Arts, is underway in Sun Valley, California. A modest ramp will be added, designed by explorations-architecture, to make the dome accessible to visitors. In Toulouse, the restored dome will sit along the riverfront, providing a contrast to the historic city. “I think it will be spectacular,” Thompson said. “You can really see the genius of his ideas, and the way he was inspired by natural forms.”

Alan G. Brake