Encounters: Buckminster Fuller

12 Nov

Steven Ounanian was born in Redlands, California, he studied design at UCLA and the Royal College of Arts. In the first of two posts for the JVA Blog, Ounanian writes about the twentieth-century American inventor and theorist Buckminster Fuller, famous for engineering the geodesic dome and how his ideas inspired Ounanian’s project for ‘NOW I GOTTA REASON’.


I started thinking again about Buckminster Fuller in June this year after attending the SFMOMA show ‘Utopian Impulse’. The diagram below is a photo that I took at the exhibition. He interests me because he had an ability to think about the possibilities of the future without ignoring the problems of the present day. His texts are inspirational, and these days I need a bit of that.

“On first priority

in design consideration

is the full realization

of individual potential

in order to reach the second derivative — full realization for all individuals”

No More Secondhand God (1963)

Buckminster Fuller

This is a diagram of Fuller’s life entitled the ‘Grand Strategy of World Problem Solving.’ One of the subject’s graphed in the diagram is ‘the total number of humans directly informed by Buckminster Fuller in his lifetime.’ On the diagram you also see Fuller’s prolific output, which includes books, designs, and architecture. These are placed alongside the problems of history, in particular world wars.

I’ve always had a problem by what I saw as Fuller’s dream of perpetual progress: the promise of a world made perfect by technology, innovation, and human labour.

“For the first time in history it is now possible to take care of everybody at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. Only ten years ago the ‘more with less’ technology reached the point where this could be done. All humanity now has the option of becoming enduringly successful.”  Buckminster Fuller, 1980.

But, on second look, the above diagram doesn’t outline progress at all. It just shows Fuller’s productivity alongside a series of wars that seem to continue into the future. Fuller’s ‘Grand Strategy for World Problem Solving’ is impossible to achieve, the problems on the diagram can’t be solved in a life-time (or ever?) and I’m sure he was well aware of this point. Perhaps Fuller’s legacy is the message that we shouldn’t stop trying…regardless of whether our problem solving abilities ever become suited to the task. The problem of war cannot be solved by innovations in technology alone. In spite of our best efforts we haven’t found an adequate design solution for the psychological, spiritual, nonsensical, human problem of not knowing how to account for our desires (desires which often trump our reason.) We want more than our share and then we aren’t happy when we get it and we become violent. I’m sure it is more complex than this, but it is a good place to start.

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