The Universe First
Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe is an exhibit now on display in the Whitney Museum of American Art. Often described as a global humanist, he was an early advocate for efficiency, environmental sustainability, and affordable housing. Yet, much of his inspiration seems connected to the early American desire for technological advancement at any cost, even environmental through the expanding presence of American development, and later the cold war ethos that pervaded America in the mid-century. The military was the largest adopter of many of his creation. The Dymaxion house was used as troop housing. Geodesic domes housed radar installations. And the the Fuller designed pavilion at the 1967 World’s Expo in Montreal, a 250 foot diameter 3/4 geodesic sphere, housed an odd collection of American technological know-how, futurist fascination, and popular art; satellites and spaceships, including the original Gemini capsules, were displayed alongside massive prints by Andy Warhol and James Rosenquist.
As the question of Fuller’s legacy comes up it seems too that we are confused by the apparent contradictions in his work. Like the Montreal Exhibit his work is an apparent mash-up of the times dominated by the two extremes of competing ideologies. Fuller’s personal ideology, whatever it may or may not have been, is present though in the innovations happening now as global concern over resources and the environment increases. An example is the Dymaxion car, which despite its size and time period, was comparatively fuel efficient. Much of its fuel efficiency came from its aircraft inspired design. Compare the Dymaxion Car to more a recent design, the Aptera, to see the progression over time of this idea. Fuller was always interested in building like nature built and working like nature worked, he advocated the study of “how nature builds” and so was an early predecessor to the ideas of Biomimicry. Recently the institute founded in his honor, the Buckminster Fuller Institute, awarded its first “Challenge Prize” to living machine inventor Dr. John Todd. And the historic 1967 Expo pavilion, though it once held artifacts of a confused America, is now being converted to a museum of environmental awareness: a biosphere.
A slideshow and reviews of the exhibit can be viewed at the New York Time’s website both here and here. A podcast and video of Buckminster Fuller can be downloaded at the New York Academy of Science Website.