floating breakwater design

Though Buckminster Fuller is well known for his accomplishments in architecture and design, he explored quite a few inventions that never made waves… pun intended. This January 30th marks the anniversary of Bucky Fuller’s patent for the floating breakwater, a device that improved on a traditional design and offered a more efficient and environment-friendly option. Bucky’s patent may have never “splashed,” but that doesn’t mean we can’t admire its unique design.

breakwater and harbor in plymouth

Those long, rocky belts that stretch across large bodies of water — that always get in the way of a good scenic photo — are called breakwaters. They’re built to protect the shoreline from erosion, and though they do their job of absorbing wave impacts, their fixed construction causes a lot of problems. Here are four reasons why the floating breakwater — in all its Bucky Fuller glory — beats the traditional breakwater:

1. Eco-Friendly: One of the biggest issues with the tethered breakwater is that it interferes with the natural cycles of the water. However, because the floating breakwater rests on the surface rather than go all the way down, it doesn’t interfere with fish migration or water circulation.
2. Permanence: Because floating breakwaters aren’t tethered with concrete, they can be removed during icy conditions to minimize potential damage. And, if necessary, they can be rearranged to best serve the changing surroundings.
3. Cost: The floating breakwater requires less materials, and therefore less funding. Floating breakwaters that exist now — not the Bucky Fuller version, but floating nonetheless — are often approached as a less costly option.
4. Energy Use: As with Buckminster’s famous “do less with more” mantra, he added an incredible feature that takes the design and pushes it to another level. As the breakwater absorbs the impacts of incoming waves, it converts the power to usable energy. This is the key feature of his patent that is rarely found in other designs, and it’s by far the coolest part!

No one’s really sure why this patent didn’t take off. Some say that others had already developed a similar concept, and though most didn’t have awesome energy-capturing capabilities, the cost efficiency was more important to investors. Nonetheless, we admire Buckminster Fuller’s beautiful brain, cost or no cost… If you’re new to the Bucky Fuller bandwagon, here are five fun facts about the man and his work, but if you’re interested in his compelling life and impressive body of work (including hundreds of inventions), check out Buckminster Fuller: Poet of Geometry by Cole Gerst.

Happy January, and think Bucky thoughts!

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