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Design: The Dymaxion American

29 minute read


(See Cover) He has been called “the first poet of technology,” “the greatest living genius of industrial-technical realization in building,” “an anticipator of the world to come—which is different from being a prophet,” “a seminal thinker,” and “an inspired child.” But all these encomiums are fairly recent. For most of his life, R. Buckminster Fuller was known simply as a crackpot.

He is also something more than the mere sum of his praise and criticism. He is a throwback to the classic American individualist, a mold which produced Thomas Edison and Thoreau—men with the fresh eye that cannot be done. What Fuller sees excites him with the vision of man’s potentialities, and he has made it his mission to help man to realize them. Says he: “Man knows so much and does so little.” Last week this crackpot stepped off the plane in London, spouting words the minute his feet touched ground, and headed for a dinner in his honor at the Royal Institute of British Architects. On Sunday he went to Bristol for two days of touring and talking. His next stop: Ghana’s University of Science and Technology, which has been waiting a year for his arrival this week to conduct a four-week research and development project.

Today Richard Buckminster Fuller, 68, of Carbondale, Ill. — whose college career never got beyond his freshman midyears—is famous for houses that fly and bathrooms without water, for cars and maps and ways of living bearing the mysterious word “Dymaxion,” for things called “octet trusses,” “synergetics” and “tensegrity.” But he is best known of all for his massive mid-century breakthrough known as the “geodesic dome.”

Plastic, Cardboard & Bamboo. In ten years the famed domes of Bucky Fuller have covered more square feet of the earth than any other single kind of shelter. U.S. Marines have lived and worked in them from Antarctica to Okinawa. Beneath them, radar antennas turn tirelessly along the 4,500 miles of the DEW line, which guards the North American continent against surprise attack. For eight years, the U.S. has been using Fuller domes to house its exhibits at global trade fairs; they have represented America in Warsaw, Casablanca, Istanbul, Kabul, Tunis, Lima, New Delhi, Accra, Bangkok, Tokyo, Osaka. The Russians were so impressed by the 200-ft.-diameter dome at the 1959 U.S. exhibit in Moscow that they bought it. “Mr. J. Buckingham Fuller must come to Russia and teach our engineers,” garbled Premier Khrushchev.

They are being made of almost anything and everything—polyester fiber glass, alloy aluminum, weatherproofed cardboard, plastic, bamboo. More than 50 companies have taken out licenses to make them in the U.S. alone. The small domes are light enough to be lifted by helicopter, and they practically build themselves. Non-English-speaking Eskimos can put them together in a matter of hours out of color-coded components. The day his company began erecting a geodesic auditorium in Hawaii, Henry J. Kaiser hopped a plane from San Francisco to see the work in progress, but it was finished by the time he got there, and seated an audience of 1,832 at a concert that same night.

The Weatherproof City. Structurally unlimited as to size, cheap to make, requiring no obstructing columns for support, the geodesic dome uses less structural material to cover more space than any other building ever devised. The diameter of the one built for the Union Tank Car Co. in Baton Rouge is the length of a football field. Next year the Union of South Africa expects to be using geodesic huts for low-cost housing. And within a decade it is quite possible, if Bucky has his way, that cities will roof their centers over with vast translucent domes, beneath which mass air conditioning and weatherproofing will enable houses and stores to be constructed only for privacy and aesthetic delight. Bucky has already proposed one to cover Manhattan from river to river and from 22nd St. to 62nd St. which would soar nearly three-quarters of a mile above the Empire State building, but would contain less steel than the Queen Mary.

Such superdomes are in fact already feasible; several New York designers are still smoldering at World’s Fair President Robert Moses for vetoing a proposal to cover the 646 acres of the fair with a Fuller dome a mile or so in diameter. “What an opportunity missed!” says Arthur Drexler, director of architecture and design at Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art. “It would have had the same impact on the world of design as the Crystal Palace at London’s great exhibition in 1851—probably more so, because the Crystal Palace prefab pieces had classical roots, whereas Bucky’s dome is totally new.”

Romantic Pioneer. Bucky Fuller, as he calls himself and urges everyone else to call him, is a charismatic man who attracted a cultic following even in the days when he seemed to the unclouded eye little more than some kind of a nut. Today, at 68, he is more charismatic than ever and evokes an impressive chorus of enthusiasm from many of those best qualified to judge his work.

Architect Nathaniel Owings of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill pronounces Fuller “the most creative man in our field; he’s the only one that’s dealing with something that’s totally dissimilar to what everybody else is doing. He’s tried to find out how nature really works.” Architect Minoru Yamasaki calls him “an intense, devoted genius, whose mind, which is better than an IBM machine, has influenced all of us.” Italy’s famed Architect Gio Ponti feels that Fuller is “not only a romantic pioneer who sees 50 years ahead, but a genius who has already realized his dreams as to what humanity needs and how the world must look in the future.”

Fuller unquestionably agrees with them all. He sees himself quite simply as a kind of technological avatar, come for the liberation of mankind. Says he: “In 1927 I made a bargain with myself that I’d discover the principles operative in the universe and turn them over to my fellow men.”

That year of 1927 was the low point of his life, the dark night of the soul in which his real work began, when he stood on the shore of Lake Michigan and tried to decide whether or not to kill himself.

He arrived on that shore with the best New England credentials. His great-great-great-great-grandfather came from the Isle of Wight only ten years after the Mayflower’s famous landing at Plymouth Rock and fathered a male line of descendants of which every one was a clergyman or a lawyer except Bucky’s father, who became a merchant importer. But his most illustrious ancestor was a woman, Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller, the literary friend of Emerson and discoverer of Thoreau, whose strong-minded individualism presaged Bucky’s own.

The major influence upon him as a child, he feels, were his summers spent at the small island his family owned, eleven miles off the mainland in Maine’s Penobscot Bay. Boats were the chief preoccupation on Bear Island, and here young Bucky reveled in the lore and learning, puttering and fixing and improvising of the nautical world. Winters he went to prep school as a day pupil at Milton Academy in Massachusetts, an oddball, lonely child whose hazel eyes swam grotesquely behind the thick-lensed glasses he wore to correct the extreme farsightedness he was born with. Bucky was small but sturdy, and he was aggressive enough to achieve the position of quarterback on the football team, though he could never see the ball until it was on top of him, and was haunted by the fear that his bad eyes would trick him into running the wrong way.

Wrong Turn. When he got to Harvard in 1913, Bucky soon realized that things were going to go badly wrong. His best friend at Milton did not room with him. Other Milton classmates explained that they could not afford to associate with him much because he was obviously not going to make a club. When he tried out for football, he broke his knee. So, as he explains it today, “I deliberately set out to get into trouble.”

He cut his midyear exams and took off for New York, where he went on a spending spree that included wining and dining Dancer Marilyn Miller and her chorus line, whom he had got to know by standing outside the stage door in Boston with his family’s white wolfhound as conversational bait. When considerably more than his year’s allowance had gone up in the heady smoke of this lonely freshman debauch, Bucky cabled a rich cousin and was promptly packed off in disgrace to a cotton mill in Quebec. Harvard gave him a second chance, but Bucky was not having any. “Once again I determined to get fired simply by spending more money than I had. I succeeded.”

Long Drinks. Fuller was married in 1917—he was 22—to dark and beautiful Anne Hewlett, daughter of a prominent New York architect. In World War I, Bucky, despite his bad eyes, enlisted in the Navy as a chief boatswain, showed such promise that he was sent to the Naval Academy and commissioned an ensign. Studying logistics, ballistics, navigation and early naval aviation, he suddenly found himself in a world rapidly moving from “the wire to the wireless, the track to the trackless, the visible to the invisible, where more and more could be done with less and less.”

But the troubles piled up. His daughter Alexandra sickened and died when she was four. For the next five years, Fuller worked out of Chicago for a company set up to market a building material invented by his father-in-law. They actually put up 240 houses, and Bucky learned a lot about building, but he was a hopelessly poor executive and as much of a fool about money as he had been at Harvard—living wildly beyond his means and rapidly laocoönizing himself in debts and superdebts. He was also hitting the bottle. “The minute I was through work for the day,” he has written of that period, “I would go off and drink all night long, and then I’d go to work again. I had enough health, somehow, to carry on.”

But eventually Bucky’s father-in-law had to sell his stock in the company, and the directors were delighted to tell Bucky that his services would no longer be required. It was a bad time to be fired; his second daughter, Allegra, had just been born. The year was 1927.

Long Silence. Standing by Lake Michigan “on a jump-or-think basis,” as he has put it, he decided that he had faith in what he calls, in Fullerese, “the anticipatory intellectual wisdom which we may call God.” His next step was to come to the decision that this meant that there was an “a priori wisdom” in the fact of his own being. From there, he decided: “You do not have the right to eliminate yourself. You do not belong to you. You belong to the universe. You and all men are here for the sake of other men.”

At this point, the Fuller legend has it, Bucky came to the conclusion that words—the things people had told him—were responsible for the mess he was in, and that he would henceforth not utter a sound until he really knew what he thought.

Fuller admits that this picture of complete Trappist silence may be somewhat exaggerated. He may have communicated with Anne by something more than sign language. But he did move with her and their infant daughter into a one-room apartment in a Chicago slum, withdrew completely from all friends and acquaintances for more than a year. And he thought.

The Great Leap. Bucky asked himself the most basic of questions. He began by examining the nature of the universe, as a manifestation of God himself. He concluded that it was governed by relatively few principles. Its essence was not matter but design. Even the new knowledge of the atom seemed to confirm his thinking; what gave the atom, and therefore all matter, its individual character, was nothing but the patterning of its component electrons and protons. He began to see man himself as “a complex of patterns. Man is not weight. It isn’t the vegetables he eats, because he’ll eat seven tons of vegetables in his life. It is a pattern integrity that goes on.”

Bucky further reflected that with the huge acceleration of technological capability, mankind was on the verge of tremendous achievements that were not even being attempted because men were stuck in traditional molds of thinking. The time for a great leap forward was at hand, a revolution in which the old Newtonian world would be replaced by Einstein’s. “Newton said in the first law of motion that a body persists in a state of rest except as it is affected by other bodies. Normal was ‘at rest.’ Einstein turned it the other way: 186,000 miles a second is normal. We are living in a world where change is normal.”

Lighter Means Better. Bucky first turned his new perceptions on the industry he knew best: building. In the era when the aircraft industry in particular was devising a new technology of lightweight engineering and materials, the traditional building methods seemed to him absurd. Traditional buildings depended on compression on their walls to support the roof. But modern technology has developed tensile materials, which are many times stronger in relation to their weight than compression materials. A house designed to use tension as its basic structural principle could be made infinitely lighter, built with fewer materials, and therefore far more cheaply. If mass-produced, such houses could solve the world’s shelter problems.

His first plan was pretty far out: apartment houses built of the aircraft industry’s lightweight alloys, each floor hung from a huge central mast. A dirigible would carry the whole building to the selected site, then drop a bomb, plant the building’s mast into the resulting crater, and buzz off—leaving a ground crew to fill in the hole around the mast with concrete.

Fuller’s next “anticipatory” design was more practical. It was for a single-family house that carried Corbusier’s “machine-for-living” concept farther than the Continental avant-garde had dared to think it. The rooms were hung from a central mast. This left free the ground, which could be landscaped to taste. The outer wall was of continuous glass, which enclosed both rooms and garden like a conservatory, with air conditioning from the central mast. The house was supposed to be independent of its location, and therefore easily movable if the family decided to change cities; the whole thing could be picked up and replanted anywhere.

To avoid being tied down by sewage pipes, the bathroom was as nearly waterless as a bathroom can be; a ten-minute “bath” was supplied from a quart of water by means of a Fuller invention called a “fog gun,” and provision was made for even this water to be recollected from the air. The toilets emptied into a waterless device which mechanically packaged and stored the wastes for eventual pickup by a processing plant. Dusting was automatic, by a combination of compressed air and vacuum. Mass-produced, the house was planned to sell at about $1,500 on a 1928 level—approximately $4,800 today.

This “4D House,” as he called it, was the launching of the new Bucky Fuller. Though it only existed as a scale model (in which he included a tiny nude doll lying on a bed for verisimilitude and headline-catching purposes), and though it called for alloys, plastics, photoelectric cells and the like, which did not then exist, newspapers wrote it up, and the Marshall Field department store contracted for its display, to go with some daringly “modern” furniture just imported from France. Fuller’s 4D (for Fourth Dimension) title for the house seemed drab to the promotion-minded store executives; they assigned a couple of high-powered word-sculptors to work out a new word for it. After two days of hectic brainstorming, the result was “dymaxion”—vaguely compounded of “dynamic,” “maximum” and “ion.” Marshall Field copyrighted it in Fuller’s name, and in the years to come Bucky turned it into what amounted to a personal trademark. Today he explains that it means the “maximum gain of advantage from the minimal energy input.”

Messiah of Ideas. After the Marshall Field show, Fuller moved himself, his model house, and his wife and daughter back East. For about a year they stayed with Anne’s family at Hewlett, L.I., and the Hewlett tribe still talks about the alarums and excursions that centered around Bucky and his one-man-band personality. He might insist that the occasion called for an operetta, and no one would be allowed to leave until he had composed the words and music and performed it on the spot. He might fall off the dock, between wind and water, and insist that he never got wet. He might wax furious. “His idea of mass housing seemed so silly in those days,” remembers a family friend. “We were much more interested in having fun. Bucky would become so annoyed with us that he’d put on his hat and coat and walk the 20 miles into New York. It could be two in the morning. But Bucky would say, ‘There are big things to be done in the world,’ and off he would go. He might be gone for two or three days.”

In 1930 Fuller moved to a $30-a-month flat in Greenwich Village. When he was not lecturing around town on his Dymaxion House, he liked to hang out at a Village joint called Romany Marie’s with artists and writers, talking his and their heads off. Remembers Sculptor Isamu Noguchi: “He used to drink like a fish. He had become a God-possessed man, like a Messiah of ideas. He was a prophet of things to come. Bucky didn’t take care of himself, but he had amazing strength. He often went without sleep for several days, and he didn’t always eat either.”

The Steer in the Rear. In 1938 he was taken on by FORTUNE, persuaded the editors to celebrate the magazine’s tenth anniversary by making an inventory of world resources. In 1942. Fuller briefly joined the staff of LIFE, working on a “Dymaxion Globe”—a cut-out-and-fold map that was the first that displayed the round globe in flat facets without the distortion inherent in the Mercator projection, and in Fuller’s words, “revealed the world’s land masses as a one-world island at the bottom of the air-ocean.”

But Bucky’s major energies in this period were devoted to trying to improve the lot of mankind by improving two of man’s proudest creations: the automobile and the bathroom.

The Dymaxion Car was one of the most dramatic leaps forward in automotive design that have ever been made. In a pre-streamlined world, where the old-fashioned buggy’s boxy look prevailed, Fuller’s car was built like an airplane fuselage. It had front-wheel drive with the engine in the rear. The steering wheel was connected to its single rear wheel, which enabled the car to run in circles around a man within a radius of a few feet or to drive straight into a parking space and swing in with only inches to spare. The body was aluminum, the chassis of chrome-molybdenum aircraft steel. It was air conditioned. And its streamlining was so perfect, even including the underside, that its standard 90-h.p. Ford engine could move it at 120 m.p.h.

With financial backing from friends, Bucky turned out three prototype Dymaxion Cars between 1933 and 1935. The U.S. automobile industry refused to admit his car to their annual Manhattan show, and Bucky retaliated by driving it around and around the block outside. An English group sent over a representative to test its performance. But Bucky’s hopes of attracting a manufacturer went glimmering when, with the English visitor on board, the car was rammed by another automobile in Chicago and the driver killed. The car that had hit them, which belonged to a city official, was removed from the scene before the reporters arrived, and early newspaper stories carried screaming headlines, such as THREE-WHEELED CAR KILLS DRIVER. So ended the Dymaxion Car.

The Dymaxion Bathroom, developed in the experimental laboratory of the Phelps Dodge Corp., was designed to slash the cost and increase the ease of installing a bathroom by stamping it out like an automobile body. Fuller really loved this contraption. He mounted it on the back of a truck and rode it out to Long Island. Remembers an old friend: “He went tearing around town, he had some child sitting on the John, and he was throwing toilet paper all over the place.” All together, about a dozen bathrooms were made and installed (Fuller’s close friend, Author Christopher Morley, bought two), but Phelps Dodge never bore down very hard on getting them into production—perhaps because of nervousness about the plumbers’ union. Bucky’s diagnosis: “It was only the general inertia of the building world.”

None of these enterprises brought much money into the family till. And sometimes even Bucky felt a sense of embarrassment. “My friends would say to me that I was not taking care of my wife. Then I’d go out and get a job, sell flooring tiles—anything. But when I did, things always went badly. So I’d go back to my task.” What made things go even more badly in these times of strain was Bucky’s conviction that money was not a serious problem and would always come from somewhere. His wife Anne views this with indulgence, still treasures a bit of family doggerel contributed by her brother Roger celebrating their 25th anniversary:

Lady Anne, Lady Anne, keep the coffee hot,

Bucky’s found a sixpence, and he’s gone to buy a yacht . . .

With the coming of World War II, Bucky Fuller made a major sacrifice. “I drink very well,” he explains, “but I found that if I was talking about my inventions and drinking, people just wrote them off as so much nonsense. The war was something serious, and I wanted to be properly accredited. So I stopped drinking and smoking.” He has done neither since. He got a regular job—as chief of the Mechanical Engineering Section at the Board of Economic Warfare, later as special assistant to the deputy director of the Foreign Economic Administration. The war also brought Fuller another change: for the first time since he started his life over again in 1927, he was able to originate something that was not “anticipatory” but actually put to use: adapting mass-produced grain storage silos for military living units. Hundreds of these “Dymaxion Deployment Units” saw service in the Pacific and the Persian Gulf before restrictions tightened on steel and the project ground to a halt.

Shape of Nature. “Failure-prone” Fuller had another disappointment in store for him; just as a new version of his Dymaxion House seemed about to go into production in a three-way deal between venture capital, big labor and the aircraft industry, the war’s end and a changed economic picture killed the project. But then suddenly, it seemed, he produced the jackpot invention: shelter that was transportable, versatile and cheap—the dome.

But it was not really sudden, nor was it an invention. It was a slow discovery. And it had begun where Bucky Fuller likes to begin: with a probe into the pattern of the universe. To make that probe, Fuller was struggling to develop a new tool—a geometry of energy. In this search of such a geometry, Fuller was using spheres as idealized models of energy fields. Crowding the spheres as close together as possible around a central sphere, he found that instead of forming a still bigger sphere, they made a 14-faced polyhedron—six of the facets in the form of squares, and eight as triangles. Fuller called this figure a vector equilibrium because the outward thrust of its radial vectors is balanced by the restraining force of its circumferential vectors.

Combining a number of vector equilibriums creates a complex of alternating squares and triangles. Dividing the squares once again, he found he had a symmetrical, twenty-sided globe-shaped skin which could be constructed out of tetrahedrons—the triangle-sided pyramid shape that provides the greatest strength for the least volume (or weight). In a sphere made of such interlocked tetrahedrons, the weight load applied to any point was transmitted widely throughout the structure, producing a phenomenal strength-to-weight ratio. Bucky produced his dome by cutting a hollow sphere in half.

Unlike classic domes, Fuller’s depends on no heavy vaults or flying buttresses to support it. It is self-sufficient as a butterfly’s wing, and as strong as an eggshell. Fuller calls it a geodesic dome because the vertexes of the curved squares and tetrahedrons that form its structure mark the arcs of great circles that are known in geometry as “geodesies.”

Stresses & Strains. The geodesic dome, then, is really a kind of benchmark of the universe, what 17th century Mystic Jakob Böhme might call “a signature of God.” It crops up all over in nature—in viruses, testicles, the cornea of the eye. And for the time being at least, Bucky Fuller has this signature of God sewed up tight in U.S. patent No. 2,682,235, issued in June 1954. It is almost like having a patent on Archimedes’ principle.

And it is making Bucky rich. In the last ten years he has grossed about $1,000,000, and his income is continually rising; this year it will be about $200,000. But the only way Easy Street seems to have changed him is to have eliminated the need for the defiant extravagances that used to burden his family and amuse his friends in the days when the only things that crackled in his pocket were overdue bills. Unquestionably, Bucky could have made much more by incorporating himself or going into organized production. But Bucky is not interested. Says he: “Whatever I do, once done, I leave it alone. Society comes along in due course and needs what I have done. By then, I’d better be on to something else. It is absolutely fundamental for me to work and design myself out of business.”

In 1959, he accepted a $12,000 appointment as a research professor at Southern Illinois University, at Carbondale. Bucky’s duties are vague and undemanding: he sees students only when he feels like it, and he is in residence no more than a couple of months a year in the medium-sized, blue-and-white plywood dome where he and Anne live in Carbondale. It looks like an overgrown pincushion without pins. But Bucky does not mind, and does not see why anyone else should. As he once wrote in a light moment, to be sung to the tune of Home on the Range:

Let architects sing of esthetics that bring

Rich clients in hordes to their knees;

Just give me a home, in a great circle dome,

Where stresses and strains are at ease.

Bucky is indebted to S.I.U. for providing him with both a home base and a springboard, and Fuller’s fame has helped repay the debt, Sixteen years ago, there were only 3,013 students on the Carbondale campus: today there are no fewer than 18,201 students and a faculty of 1,154. And the university has just been awarded a $10 million, three-year space project, which Bucky will head.

Ten months of the year he spends traveling—and talking. Fuller gets $1,000 per lecture these days, but he gives his audiences an exceptional $1,000 worth. Rare is the lecture that does not run four hours, and often he is still going strong after six—his younger listeners entranced and his older ones falling out of their chairs with fatigue.

Cities in the Sea. In these talks, and in long hours with his friends, Bucky spins off a constant stream of ideas. The project nearest and dearest to his heart these days is the worldwide inventory of the globe’s resources. Bucky views this as a matter of war or peace. Says a friend: “Bucky sees the population explosion, man’s myths and antagonisms as foretelling a possible new deluge. If resources are not utilized according to Fuller principles of ‘comprehensive design,’ and therefore become scarce, men will begin to club each other to death.” He has drumbeat such enthusiasm for his project that he has enlisted the help of many of the world’s architectural organizations, including the International Union of Architects, which last year agreed to hold a special convention in Mexico City because Bucky could not go to the regular congress, scheduled years ago for Havana.

Bucky sees no reason why mankind should not utilize “the three-quarters of the world that is water.” He has projected service stations anchored to the sea bottom for submarines to nestle up to. “It is well known that below 40 feet, turbulence is manageable.” he says. He proposes that the automobile may be the next fossil. “We will put little jet wings on our backs and fly out the window on high-frequency beams.” Divining that the compression and tension factors can be separated in any structure, he has designed a “tensegrity mast” that seems to be held up by nothing at all. But Fuller insists that with this mast combined with his frame of tetrahedron-octahedron combinations which he calls the “octet truss,” he could bridge the Grand Canyon itself.

So far, no one has put the tensegrity mast to use, except as decoration. But Fuller is not discouraged. As he wrote recently: “My ideas have undergone a process of emergence by emergency. When they are needed badly enough, they’re accepted. So I just invent, then wait until man comes around to needing what I’ve invented.”

When not talking about everything and anything, he is writing about it—in language that can only be described as a sesquipedalian fractured English all his own. A sample sentence, from Page One of a recent autobiographical sketch about his boyhood, begins:

“By ‘teleologic’ I mean: the subjective-to-objective, intermittent, only-spontaneous, borderline-conscious, and within-self communicating system that distills equatable principles—characterizing relative behavior patterns—from our pluralities of matching experiences: and reintegrates selections from those net generalized principles into unique experimental control patterns . . .”

The Garden of Eden. In conversation, though, he is usually as clear as spring water—and far more stimulating.

“Do you remember as a child what it was like playing house out in the woods? It was exciting. It was wonderful—until it rained. Well, I could build you that house today, where the sunlight would come through just as in the forest. A house with no walls, no doors, no windows—only paths of green ferns and green trees through a rainbow of flowers. And it would never rain. I call this house ‘the Garden of Eden.”

“I told my friend John Huston, the movie director, I could build him one like it in Mexico. Huston was fascinated and suggested that I tell Liz Taylor—both of them have bought property in Puerto Vallarta. She loved the idea too, but I don’t know if anything will come of it.”

Fuller visualizes his Garden of Eden as a dome within a dome. “I might use a 114-ft.-diameter dome, inside a 128-footer. I’d plant vines around the base of the outside dome. Because the lines of the dome are geodesic, the vines will follow those lines. You now have the outer dome covered with vines. You then go up between the two domes, winding a translucent plastic around the surface of the inner dome. This will keep the rain out, letting the sun come through your forest of vines. The plastic can be wound in such a manner that the grooves of it serve as rain-catching troughs. These, in turn, can be run into the swimming pool.”

Big Jump. Bucky’s peculiar distinction is that, while many of his fellow intellectuals are depressed by the “materialistic” 20th century, he is exhilarated. He is excited by “humanity’s epochal graduation from the inert, materialistic 19th century into the dynamic, abstract 20th century.” He feels that there is an “important reorientation of mankind, from the role of an inherent failure, as erroneously reasoned by Malthus, and erroneously accepted by the bootstrap-anchored custodians of civilization’s processes, to a new role for mankind, that of an inherent success.” He is sure the whole world can be fed, housed and happy, if designers can just put to work all the world’s skills with Fuller-like efficiency. He is endlessly excited by the massive strides mankind has made in just the last 50 years, of which one of the most dramatic has been the increase in range of the average man’s “toing and froing.” For thousands of years primitive man traveled on foot by necessity, never covered more than an estimated 300 miles in his entire lifetime. Even with the coming of the horse and later the railroad, as late as 1900, the average man was still traveling no more than 30,000 miles in his entire lifetime. This is less than 1 % of Bucky’s own travels. Jetting around as he does, Bucky has already covered 1,500,000 miles, though he started his serious traveling career only five years ago.

Bucky envisions the day when any man anywhere can jet to work halfway round the world and be home for supper. “Today the world is my backyard. ‘Where do you live?’ and ‘What are you?’ are progressively less sensible questions. I live on earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing—a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process—an integral function of the universe.”

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