How did you meet Buckminster Fuller?
He was a visiting critic at Cornell University in 1952, where I was studying. He made our class build a miniature earth where I got to lay out the landmasses on the spherical surface as I knew about cartography. Bucky then needed help for his Dymaxion Air Ocean World Map. That was the beginning of our ad-hoc association. I naturally gravitated towards him and he responded to my enthusiasm. We developed a very close working relationship.
Working with Bucky seemed like an interesting option although he received more inquiries than commissions. Shortly after he was asked to compete for the Expo 67' US Pavilion. So we quickly formed an office, Fuller & Sadao Inc, and got a team together. I thought that we would get all kinds of projects after that but only a small religious center at Southern Illinois University materialised. In the meantime Isamu contacted me because he had to turn work away.
You also helped producing Isamu Noguchi's Akari lights. Could you have imagined them to become such a classic?
For Isamu there were no boundaries between fine and applied arts. Akari manifests his exploration of materials and quest to influence how people lived. His original idea was to set up a foundation with the royalties he earned. Akari meant so much to him that he ignored friends' advise not to show them at the Venice Biennale 1968 as they were perceived too commercial. And so he missed out on the Gran Premio.
Both together were quite a sight: Bucky, this New Englander from Boston with his connections and Isamu, just being back from Paris having worked for Brancusi. They became more personal than intellectual friends. When Isamu met Bucky in 1929 he was, like myself, mesmerized by the way he presented his grand ideas. He was so thralled by Bucky talking about aluminum and light that he painted his complete studio with silver paint.
Who influenced whom more?
Bucky (nine years older) was like a mentor to Isamu, who called him Mr. Fuller for the first three years. I think Isamu influenced the artist in Bucky who in return represented America for him by constantly talking about how technology and new materials would change the world. Isamu did not see boundaries in his interpretation of art and space. In that way they made a good combination. Isamu got a lot of inspiration from Bucky but I don't think it went the other way. Bucky with his intellect was quite a commanding person.
I think Isamu influenced the artist in Bucky who in return represented America for him by constantly talking about how technology and new materials would change the world
The closest they ever got was for the Martha Graham Theatre. Although unfortunate, I was in a sense glad that a collaboration never came about as they would have certainly not agreed on some things which would have put me in a very difficult situation. The project which integrated Bucky's geometric studies with Isamu's creative re-interpretation of these is the Challenger Memorial in Miami, where I served as the architect on the project.
Isamu in particular was a very private person. We didn't get many opportunities for philosophical discussions about art and his work. Bucky on the other hand wasn't only the straight, rational person. Very early on in his life he drew a mystical interpretation of how man fits into the earth. I would have liked to explore that side of Bucky better. I am self-effacing, as you might say, and preferred to stay in the background.