Floating cities, flying cars, and Spaceship Earth-Buckminster Fuller figured out how to save the planet 50 years ago. Stephanie Smith tells us why his legacy is more relevant than ever.
"How can we make the world work for 100 percent of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological damage or disadvantage to anyone?" -R. Buckminster FullerIf you've ever scrambled up and down on an aluminum geodesic playground dome, then you're already intimately familiar with the legacy of R. Buckminster "Bucky" Fuller-designer, architect, engineer, and mathematician. A charismatic genius who coined the term "Spaceship Earth," Fuller was a global thinker and futurist before we knew we needed global thinking and future visions.To educator and philosopher Marshall McLuhan, Fuller was "the Leonardo da Vinci of our time." Time called him "the first poet of technology," and the Nobel committee short-listed him for its Peace Prize. Fuller was the godfather of today's sustainability movement. As far back as the 1950s, well before modern "environmentalism," he identified a global crisis of planetary magnitude.And he took action. Fuller designed one of the first environmentally friendly cars, a dwelling to house the world's poor, and a game to inspire cooperation among nations. In 1964, Time reported that "in 10 years the famed domes of Bucky Fuller have covered more square feet of the earth than any other single kind of shelter." His own peers were in awe of his talent: the architect Minoru Yamasaki called him "an intense, devoted genius, whose mind, which is better than an IBM machine, has influenced all of us."And yet today, outside the playground, it is hard to find his traces in our built realm.What happened? The 1980s and 1990s left behind Fuller's vision of collective solutions to humanity's pressing problems in favor of "starchitects" whose social agendas (when they had them) were subordinated to form. Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid design aesthetically thrilling, heroic yet disappointingly self-contained buildings, with little consideration for the surrounding community, environmental impact, or long-term consequences.Buckminster Fuller didn't want to be a hero. But in 1927, at age 32, he found himself at a crossroads. Contemplating suicide after the death of his daughter, instead he committed "egocide," deciding to make his life an experiment to test the possibilities for living in a way as beneficial to humanity as possible.This kind of idealism may sound sentimental, or hopelessly naïve, but increasingly, trends in art, architecture, and design have begun to elaborate on ideas he first developed. Whether he wished it or not, this may be the moment to declare Buckminster Fuller a contemporary hero."I live on Earth at present, and I don't know what I am, I know I am not a category. I am not a thing-a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process-an integral function of the universe."ABRIDGED CHRONOFILE1895: Born in Milton, Massachusetts1933: Dymaxion car working prototype1942:
Dymaxion house working prototype (including a "Dymaxion bathroom")
1948: Geodesic dome prototype developed while Fuller was a summer professor at Black Mountain College in North Carolina1950: Full-size geodesic structure built in Montreal1954: Designed Dymaxion World Map1964:
Fuller was featured on the cover of Time1967:
Geodesic dome 250 feet in diameter and 20-stories high featured at Expo 67 in Montreal1968: Awarded the World Medal of Architecture1969:
Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth published1969: Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize1975: Fuller's "Everything I Know" lecture is recorded (running time: 42 hours)1983: Dies in Los Angeles, California1985:
Carbon molecule (C60) discovered and named "buckminsterfullerene"