Buckminster Fuller was a Renaissance man with a soul of a Yankee tinkerer. He once described himself as an ''engineer, inventor, mathe an, architect, cartographer, philosopher, poet, cosmologist, comprehensive designer, and choreographer.''
He was an inventor out of sheer pleasure. He invented, most famously, the geodesic dome. He invented a three-wheeled automobile. He invented phrases like ''Spaceship Earth.'' He invented questions, like: ''Why not roof over our cities?''
And always one question led to another. For ''Bucky,'' everything was a work-in-progress. He could barely keep up with himself in the 25 books he scribbled, the more than 2,PC0 pat%nts he registered. Everything was part of the whole, everything led to something better something even more exciting, something even more curious: the future.
Buckminster Fuller ran toward the future with his arms outstretched. His flamboyant genius suited the '60s, and he became simplified into a celebrity. To some, his can-do enthusiasm has sounded a little out of key in the '80s. But in one of his last interviews he denied the charge of oblivious optimism. The survival of ''Spaceship Earth,'' he warned, depended upon men and women recognizing what their ''most important capabilities are.''
This challenge to human identity may be as valuable as anything in the rich grab bag of legacies Buckminster Fuller left the future.