“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 to become enduringly successful.”
– R. Buckminster Fuller, 1980
This confident assertion was made in 1980 by the late R. Buckminster Fuller–inventor, architect, engineer, mathematician, poet and cosmologist. As early as 1959, Newsweek reported that Fuller predicted the conquest of poverty by the year 2000.
In 1977, almost twenty years later, the National Academy of Sciences confirmed Fuller’s prediction. Their World Food and Nutrition Study, prepared by 1,500 scientists, concluded, “If there is the political will in this country and abroad... it should be possible to overcome the worst aspects of widespread hunger and malnutrition within one generation.”
Even with tragedies like Ethiopia and Somalia, it is becoming clear that, as Fuller predicted, we have arrived at the possibility of eliminating hunger and poverty in all the world within our lifetime.
Buckminster Fuller was truly a man ahead of his time. His lifelong goal was the development of what he called “Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science” – the attempt to anticipate and solve humanity’s major problems through the highest technology by providing “more and more life support for everybody, with less and less resources.”
Fuller was a practical philosopher who demonstrated his ideas as inventions that he called “artifacts.” Some were built as prototypes; others exist only on paper; all he felt were technically viable. He was a dogged individualist whose genius was felt throughout the world for nearly half a century. Even Albert Einstein was prompted to say to him, “Young man, you amaze me!”
Fuller's 56 – year Experiment
In 1927, at the age of 32, Buckminster Fuller stood on the shores of Lake Michigan, prepared to throw himself into the freezing waters. His first child had died. He was bankrupt, discredited and jobless, and he had a wife and new-born daughter. On the verge of suicide, it suddenly struck him that his life belonged, not to himself, but to the universe. He chose at that moment to embark on what he called “an experiment to discover what the little, penniless, unknown individual might be able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity.”
Over the next fifty-four years, he proved, time and again, that his most controversial ideas were practical and workable.
During the course of his remarkable experiment he:
- was awarded 28 U.S patents
- authored 28 books
- received 47 honorary doctorates in the arts, science, engineering and the humanities
- received dozens of major architectural and design awards including, among many others, the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects and the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects
- created work which found itself into the permanent collections of museums around the world
- circled the globe 57 times, reaching millions through his public lectures and interviews
Buckminster Fuller is best known for the invention of the geodesic dome – the lightest, strongest, and most cost-effective structure ever devised. The geodesic dome is able to cover more space without internal supports than any other enclosure.
It becomes proportionally lighter and stronger the larger it is. The geodesic dome is a breakthrough in shelter, not only in cost-effectiveness, but in ease of construction. In 1957, a geodesic dome auditorium in Honolulu was put up so quickly that 22 hours after the parts were delivered, a full house was comfortably seated inside enjoying a concert.
Today over 300,000 domes dot the globe. Plastic and fiberglass "radomes" house delicate radar equipment along the Arctic perimeter, and “radome” weather stations withstand winds up to 180 mph. Corrugated metal domes have given shelter to families in Africa, at a cost of $350 per dome. The U.S. Marine Corps hailed the geodesic dome as "the first basic improvement in mobile military shelter in 2,600 years." The world’s largest aluminum clear – span structure is a geodesic dome which used to house the ‘Spruce Goose’ at Long Beach Harbor. Fuller is most famous for his 20-story dome housing the U.S. Pavilion at Montreal’s Expo ’67. Later, he documented the feasibility of a dome two miles in diameter that would enclose mid-town Manhattan in a temperature-controlled environment, and pay for itself within ten years from the savings of snow-removal costs alone.
Fuller was one of the earliest proponents of renewable energy sources–solar (including wind and wave)–which he incorporated into his designs. He claimed, "there is no energy crisis, only a crisis of ignorance." His research demonstrated that humanity could satisfy 100% of its energy needs while phasing out fossil fuels and atomic energy. For example, he showed that a wind generator fitted to every high-voltage transmission tower in the U.S. would generate three-and-a-half times the country’s total recent power output.
Fuller originated the term “Spaceship Earth.” His DymaxionTM Map was awarded the first patent for a cartographic system and was the first to show continents on a flat surface without visible distortion, appearing as a one-world island in a one-world ocean. His World Game ® utilizes a large-scale Dymaxion Map for displaying world resources, and allows players to strategize solutions to global problems, matching human needs with resources. His Inventory of World Resources, Human Trends and Needs was created to serve as an information bank for the World Game.
In some ways, Fuller’s most significant artifact is the extensive personal archives that he maintained throughout his life. Buckminster Fuller died in July, 1983, leaving behind him a thoroughly documented 56-year experiment – a testament to the effectiveness of individual initiative.
Buckminster Fuller Institute - assessed on October 20, 2009