Page 15 - Shared Vision

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Bucky Comes to Carbondale
In 1956, a fire in Bucky Fuller’s New York apartment
destroyed his models, drawings, and slides. Needing an
income and assistance in restoring his lost materials,
Fuller called Harold Cohen for help. Ever the problem-
solver, within weeks Cohen brought Fuller to Carbondale
for a six-week summer session. The response was good,
and he was invited back the following summer.
Delyte Morris recognized that Fuller, although still
relatively unknown, had the charisma to bring attention to
SIU. And Fuller knew that a university appointment would
provide both prestige and the assistance from students
to rebuild his models. In 1959, Morris included Fuller in
SIU’s group of research professors. It was to be Fuller’s
first—and only—permanent academic appointment. Fuller
would have his best years in the decade that followed,
bringing world attention to SIU, at times eclipsing the
programs and innovations coming from Harold Cohen and
his faculty and students.
The Carbondale Chronicles
Each of these ambitious men arrived in Carbondale with
a vision. Cohen envisioned young designers as problem-
solvers whose education would flourish in an environment
that he wanted to create. Morris envisioned a great
university that would serve southern Illinois and reach out
to the world. Buckminster Fuller, who was far-sighted from
birth, envisioned a universe whose principles, applied
with daring, could provide for everyone.
When these large and complementary visions converged
at SIU, the second American Bauhaus took root and
flourished. The story told here covers its evolution from
1955, when Harold Cohen arrived at SIU, to 1983, when
Davis Pratt, the last of the faculty members that Cohen
hired, retired.
Cohen, Morris, and Fuller had resources and
circumstances in their favor. From 1955 to 1963, while
Cohen was chair of SIU Design, his vision was supported
by increasing university and industrial resources during a
relatively peaceful period in local and American history.
From 1964 to 1968, Davis Pratt and Harold Grosowsky
continued Cohen’s initiatives, but the department’s
honeymoon was over. Although local projects included
the redevelopment of downtown Carbondale and designs
for correctional libraries, the emphasis seemed to shift to
design for the third world, with missions to Mexico, Haiti,
and Thailand.
Bucky Fuller, who had independent funding, advised a
new direction—a design science curriculum that would
challenge all previous ideas. When he was appointed
chair in 1968, Bill Perk, whose background was a think
tank in California, initiated this design science program.
His attempt to convert the traditional hands-on curriculum
to a digital curriculum prompted him to throw out the old
tools. But he did not have the resources to immediately
replace those tools with the programming skills and
computers that the new curriculum required. At the same
time, Harold Grosowsky’s popular sophomore class, GSC
205: Innovation for the Contemporary Environment, was
bringing hordes of design converts into the department.
SIU President Delyte Morris and Bucky Fuller (Photo by Rip Stokes)