A Three-Minute Introduction to Buckminster Fuller, One of the 20th Century’s Most Productive Design Visionaries

Archi­tect, inven­tor, the­o­rist, and all-around fount of ideas Buck­min­ster Fuller came up with many new things, though most of us asso­ciate him with one above all: geo­des­ic domes. Those dis­tinc­tive hemi­spher­ic struc­tures built out of strong tri­an­gu­lar parts, hav­ing gone in and out of vogue over the decades, most recent­ly reap­peared in the zeit­geist as the type of lodg­ing promised to the atten­dees of the ill-con­ceived Fyre Fes­ti­val — an ultra-lux­u­ry mar­ket-tar­get­ed dis­as­ter not rep­re­sen­ta­tive, safe to say, of the world Fuller spent his entire career try­ing to real­ize. His vision of a future for “Space­ship Earth,” as he called it, drove him to cre­ate all he cre­at­ed, from new maps to new hous­es to new cars to new sleep­ing meth­ods. But what did he base that vision on?

“Fuller’s phi­los­o­phy could be best sum­ma­rized as being a social thinker, believ­ing that human­i­ty’s sur­vival is con­tin­gent upon how it man­ages Space­ship Earth and the resources it con­tains,” says the nar­ra­tor of the three-minute Proso­cial Progress Foun­da­tion primer above, “and that cre­at­ing abun­dance whilst doing lit­tle to no harm to the envi­ron­ment would help to alle­vi­ate a lot of the prob­lems in the world today.”

With every project he empha­sized “sys­tems think­ing,” or think­ing premised on “the idea that the world is an inter­con­nect­ed sys­tem with inter­con­nect­ed prob­lems, and that a way to solve these prob­lems would be to call upon col­lec­tive action.” We’d all have to work togeth­er, in his view, to solve the prob­lems we suf­fer togeth­er.

That notion may strike us as utopi­an even today, and indeed, most of Fuller’s inven­tions only saw lim­it­ed appli­ca­tion dur­ing his life­time. But the label of utopi­an, which sug­gests a dis­re­gard for the rig­ors of real­i­ty, does­n’t quite fit the man him­self, so much con­cern did he have for prac­ti­cal­i­ties like the effi­cient allo­ca­tion of resources, quick con­struc­tion and deploy­ment, and ease of use. But giv­en the dystopi­an terms we’ve increas­ing­ly come to use to describe events here on Space­ship Earth, maybe we need a Fuller-style prac­ti­cal utopi­anism now more than ever. If these three min­utes have giv­en you a taste for more of the details, have a look at Fuller’s video lec­ture series Every­thing I Know — but make sure to clear 42 hours of your cal­en­dar first. The future of human­i­ty may depend on it!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

The Life & Times of Buck­min­ster Fuller’s Geo­des­ic Dome: A Doc­u­men­tary

Watch an Ani­mat­ed Buck­min­ster Fuller Tell Studs Terkel All About “the Geo­des­ic Life”

Bet­ter Liv­ing Through Buck­min­ster Fuller’s Utopi­an Designs: Revis­it the Dymax­ion Car, House, and Map

A Har­row­ing Test Dri­ve of Buck­min­ster Fuller’s 1933 Dymax­ion Car: Art That Is Scary to Ride

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

Buck­min­ster Fuller’s Dymax­ion Sleep Plan: He Slept Two Hours a Day for Two Years & Felt “Vig­or­ous” and “Alert”

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

Mar­shall McLuhan, W.H. Auden & Buck­min­ster Fuller Debate the Virtues of Mod­ern Tech­nol­o­gy & Media (1971)

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

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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