At 8:00 p.m. last Friday, Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome, began speaking to a crowded gym. nasium at Mira Costa College in Oceanside. At 9:50, when we finally left, he was still talking, adding fact after fact in random order just as one adds spherical triangle to spherical triangle to build one of his domes. But this analogy, I'm afraid is much too generous to his speech and not at all fair to his domes.
He began by announcing that he had no thought as to what he would talk about, and the audience laughed, believing this to be a charming ploy. Unfortunately it was not. He opened his mouth and an elementary COurse in fourth grade science tumbled out. It takes "x" number of people standing on each others heads to stretch from the "highest mountain to the deepest earth." The universe has no "up" or "down", only "in", which always has a specific direction, and "out", which has any direction. Change is accelerating exponentially: when he was seven the car was invented, when he was fourteen the North Pole was discovered.
But in the midst of all this Brownian movement, he did glide across his basic attitudes and major concepts about man and the universe. The one word which kept recurring in his two-hour ramble over his Life and Times was ·"extraordinary". Man is an "extraordinary organism" and the universe has an "extraordinary balance." Humorously he put man in his place: I'm quite confident, he said, with a wry touch, that Wall Street isn't running the universe. At the age of 77 he still has the wonder and optimism of a child. Yes, we do have enough to go around, and no, the revolution, if it comes, will not be political, but technological. Here he joins the company of Alvin Tomer (Future Shock) and Charles Reich (The Greening o[ America): real change (Change) will come about through an alteration of one's life style, not one's government.
According to Fuller, all political ideologies from communism to capitalism and Marx to Malthus are based on the mistaken assumption that there is a fixed amount of resources and that therefore, if we are to survive, we must scramble for a part of the pie and, in fact, fight each other viciously for possession of all the mincemeat. But with the aid of technology, through a revolution in "design science", we can provide enough telephones and food and shelter for everyone. We can for example, build 30 geodesic domes for the price of one average square building. And, as he points out, such a revolution in building would also have the virtue of bringing us closer to natural structures. The building blocks of the universe 'are spheres and tetrahedrons. Have you ever, he asks, seen a planet in the shape of a cube? There are now, by the way, over 50,000 geodesic domes. I wonder why there aren't more.
Fuller is an American genius in the tradition of Dewey. He is a pragmatist who bases his judgments on how things work. He is concerned exclusively with outer space - the building we live in, the spaceship earth in which we are traveling through the universe - not inner, psychological space. His real gift is that he has invented himself and his work apart from existing institutions and outside of square buildings. He flunked out of Harvard more than once, joined the Navy, worked for Armour, and then in 1927 decided with wonderful American naivete that he would devote himself solely to thinking, to research and development, and not concern himself with the petty details of making a living. And, amazingly, this strategy worked.
But, although a genius, it would be better if he didn't speak for his own work just as some poets should never read their own poetry. If you are interested in Fuller, begin with two of his books: Utopia or Oblivion (Bantam, $1.25) and the shorter operating manual [or spaceship EARTH. Don't expect much in terms of style. Fuller is a plain man and "rites in plain, drab, and repetitive prose. Never mind. It is his ideas which are Important. I came away from reading his books excited by the freshness of his optimism and ready to live in a geodesic dome for the rest of my life, for political as well as economic reasons.
Seeing Fuller, not listening to him, was the one interesting aspect of Friday evening. He looks as though he were 60, not 77, and retains the clean-cut outdoor air of the American Navy. He was dressed in a dark grey tweed jacket and khaki pants about three inches too short and wore black glasses which he continually adjusted with both hands, elbows coming up at sharp right angles to his body. What white hair he has around the sides of his head is crew cut. He spoke with a Boston, slightly watery accent, and as he warmed to the audience, his speech accelerated and his gestures increased. His fingers wriggled, he stood on tiptoe, raised his arms above his head like a Baptist preacher, and imitated a growing tree. His .gestures, not his words, conveyed his essential vitality and youthfulness and the energy of his life and work. Movement, growth, and change - portable cities which float on the ocean or in the air and mobile living units which can be rented for $18 per month - this is what Fuller envisages for our future.