Buckminster Fuller in Manhattan (c. 1931)
As Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller told it, in 1927 he stood on the banks of Lake Michigan contemplating ending his life; in the depths of despair, he heard a voice telling him he couldn’t kill himself, because it was his life’s purpose to use his intellect and experiences to serve mankind. Having spent his working-life to this point solving problems in construction and engineering, he decided to dedicate himself to one of his main interests—how technology could be employed to “do more with less” to improve human housing.
What followed was an immensely creative string of “Dymaxion” inventions (a term coined by advertisers of the Marshall Field’s department store in Chicago, where Fuller’s first architectural model was displayed, based on the words "dynamic," "maximum," and "ions”)—among them was his 1936 Dymaxion Bathroom, which he filed a patent for on May 12th, 1938.
Prefabricated and lightweight, the Dymaxion Bathroom was designed to be easy to install, sanitary, cost-effective, and easy on the environment. It broke down into five pieces and all of the necessary appliances and plumbing were built in, including a sink, toilet, and combined tub/shower. The bathroom wouldn’t harbor mold or bacteria (and the mirror wouldn’t fog up!), due to electric heating strips and a ventilation system designed to draw steam out through the under-sink vent. A shower required only one cup of water using Bucky’s “Fog Gun” technique, by which a jet of compressed air mixed with a small amount of water to blast off dirt; unless someone was really filthy, no soap was needed. The waterless “Packaging Toilet” separated urine and excrement, and shrink-wrapped the latter to be picked up for composting or fuel. The fact that it was waterless was a big deal—ordinary toilets use around 2,000 gallons of drinking water, per person, per year.
If it sounds too good to be true, the public decided that it would be; the Dymaxion Bathroom only made it to the prototype phase. In an oversimplified explanation, a big reason why they failed to take off may have been because they weren’t customizable, something most people desire. We want our bathrooms, like our homes, to reflect our personal taste. However, Bucky’s visionary approach to conservation and sustainable design continues to inspire decades of artists and designers. If you want more on Bucky’s revolutionary designs, realized and unrealized, check out Cole Gerst’s gorgeously illustrated Buckminster Fuller: Poet of Geometry.