Buckminster Fuller’s Map of the World: The Innovation that Revolutionized Map Design (1943)

Last week we brought you news of a world map pur­port­ed­ly more accu­rate than any to date, designed by Japan­ese archi­tect and artist Hajime Narukawa. The map, called the Autha­Graph, updates a cen­turies-old method of turn­ing the globe into a flat sur­face by first con­vert­ing it to a cylin­der. Win­ner of Japan’s Good Design Grand Award, it serves as both a bril­liant design solu­tion and an update to our out­mod­ed con­cep­tions of world geog­ra­phy.

But as some read­ers have point­ed out, the Autha­Graph also seems to draw quite heav­i­ly on an ear­li­er map made by one of the most vision­ary of the­o­rists and design­ers, Buck­min­ster Fuller, who in 1943 applied his Dymax­ion trade­mark to the map you see above, which will like­ly remind you of his most rec­og­niz­able inven­tion, the Geo­des­ic Dome, “house of the future.”

Whether Narukawa has acknowl­edged Fuller as an inspi­ra­tion I can­not say. In any case, 73 years before the Autha­Graph, the Dymax­ion Map achieved a sim­i­lar feat, with sim­i­lar moti­va­tions. As the Buck­min­ster Fuller Insti­tute (BFI) points out, “The Fuller Pro­jec­tion Map is [or was] the only flat map of the entire sur­face of the Earth which reveals our plan­et as one island in the ocean, with­out any visu­al­ly obvi­ous dis­tor­tion of the rel­a­tive shapes and sizes of the land areas, and with­out split­ting any con­ti­nents.”

Fuller pub­lished his map in Life mag­a­zine, as a cor­rec­tive, he said, “for the lay­man, engrossed in belat­ed, war-taught lessons in geog­ra­phy…. The Dymax­ion World map is a means by which he can see the whole world fair­ly at once.” Fuller, notes Kelsey Campell-Dol­laghan at Giz­mo­do, “intend­ed the Dymax­ion World map to serve as a tool for com­mu­ni­ca­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion between nations.”

Fuller believed, writes BFI, that “giv­en a way to visu­al­ize the whole plan­et with greater accu­ra­cy, we humans will be bet­ter equipped to address chal­lenges as we face our com­mon future aboard Space­ship Earth.” Was he naïve or ahead of his time?

We may have had a good laugh at a recent repli­ca of Fuller’s near­ly undrive­able, “scary as hell,” 1930 Dymax­ion Car, one of his first inven­tions. Many of Fuller’s con­tem­po­raries also found his work bizarre and imprac­ti­cal. Eliz­a­beth Kol­bert at The New York­er sums up the recep­tion he often received for his “schemes,” which “had the hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry qual­i­ty asso­ci­at­ed with sci­ence fic­tion (or men­tal hos­pi­tals).” The com­men­tary seems unfair.

Fuller’s influ­ence on archi­tec­ture, design, and sys­tems the­o­ry has been broad and deep, though many of his designs only res­onat­ed long after their debut. He thought of him­self as an “antic­i­pa­to­ry design sci­en­tist,” rather than an inven­tor, and remarked, “if you want to teach peo­ple a new way of think­ing, don’t both­er try­ing to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of think­ing.” In this sense, we must agree that the Dymax­ion map was an unqual­i­fied suc­cess as an inspi­ra­tion for inno­v­a­tive map design.

In addi­tion to its pos­si­bly indi­rect influ­ence on the Autha­Graph, Fuller’s map has many promi­nent imi­ta­tors and sparked “a rev­o­lu­tion in map­ping,” writes Camp­bell-Dol­laghan. She points us to, among oth­ers, the Cryos­phere, fur­ther up, a Fuller map “arranged based on ice, snow, glac­i­ers, per­mafrost and ice sheets”; to Dubai-based Emi­rates airline’s map show­ing flight routes; and to the “Google­spiel,” an inter­ac­tive Dymax­ion map built by Rehab­stu­dio for Google Devel­op­er Day, 2011.

And, just above, we see the Dymax­ion Woodocean World map by Nicole San­tuc­ci, win­ner of 2013’s DYMAX REDUX, an “open call to cre­ate a new and inspir­ing inter­pre­ta­tion of Buck­min­ster Fuller’s Dymax­ion Map.” You’ll find a hand­ful of oth­er unique sub­mis­sions at BFI, includ­ing the run­ner-up, Clouds Dymax­ion Map, below, by Anne-Gaelle Amiot, an “absolute­ly beau­ti­ful hand-drawn depic­tion of a real­i­ty that is almost always edit­ed from our maps: cloud pat­terns cir­cling above Earth.”

via Giz­mo­do

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Japan­ese Design­ers May Have Cre­at­ed the Most Accu­rate Map of Our World: See the Autha­Graph

Every­thing I Know: 42 Hours of Buck­min­ster Fuller’s Vision­ary Lec­tures Free Online (1975)

Bertrand Rus­sell & Buck­min­ster Fuller on Why We Should Work Less, and Live & Learn More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Brad Bell says:

    Thanks, great post! I was­n’t aware of Fuller’s maps.

    I can’t help but think crit­i­cisms of BF as “crazy” are super­fi­cial, based on unfa­mil­iar­i­ty with his work. It seems a bit like crit­i­cis­ing DaVin­ci because his air­craft design :-) Dri­ve a 1950s car after spend­ing time dri­ving a con­tem­po­rary BMW and the com­ments that come to mind are, “it’s a boat; it’s a night­mare.” We don’t realise how much bet­ter cars have got­ten in the last 85, 60 or even 20 years.

    If your the­o­ries about the strongest struc­tures in nature using the least ener­gy and mate­ri­als leads to geo­des­ic domes — let’s just pick this enor­mous struc­ture up and move it over there — lat­er to be rein­forced by the exis­tence of Ful­ler­ines, the bar for crit­i­cism is pret­ty high.

    I see a lot of over­lap in, for exam­ple, Fuller and the equal­ly dif­fi­cult Mar­shall McLuhan: “if you want to teach peo­ple a new way of think­ing, don’t both­er try­ing to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of think­ing.” This is essen­tial­ly the McLuhan’s premise. We change our tools and then our tools change us. Also, Frank Ghehry’s use of com­put­er air­craft design soft­ware, ie. his build­ings often look like dymax­ion cars, ie. air­craft.

    For obvi­ous rea­sons, I’ve recent­ly been think­ing about these dif­fi­cult peo­ple and their stat­ed moti­va­tions. McLuhan seems to stem from the emo­tion­al­ly dis­turb­ing prob­lem that our new tools allow us to bomb mass­es of peo­ple from 3 miles up and feel noth­ing. Sim­i­lar­ly, Der­rri­da’s decon­struc­tion appears to be a tool to pre­vent peo­ple from the kind of abso­lutist think­ing that allows us to apply indus­tri­al process­es to geno­cide — and feel noth­ing — so absolute­ly cer­tain are we our sim­ple, unimag­i­na­tive, bull­shit ideas are beyond ques­tion. Yet here we are all over again. (Well *that* got a bit dark.) I think we need more imag­i­na­tive, some­what impen­e­tra­ble peo­ple. Knowl­edge is essen­tial­ly famil­iar­i­ty, so it’s not sur­pris­ing unfa­mil­iar ideas are expressed with unfa­mil­iar lan­guage and seem a bit crazy.

  • Gene Keyes says:

    Though I am a stu­dent and fan of Bucky Fuller, I have post­ed a detailed and pro­fuse­ly illus­trat­ed his­to­ry and cri­tique of Fuller’s map­work, espe­cial­ly as com­pared to B.J.S. Cahill’s 1909 octa­he­dral design. The Cahill map, in my opin­ion, is far supe­ri­or to Fuller’s.


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