The Life Aquatic: We Spotlight Bucky's Astounding Submarisle
By Keely Burkey
Posted in Overcup Press, on June 02, 2016
You may have thought today was an ordinary day. Little did you know, something extraordinary happened 57 years ago: a man with a dream took steps to make that dream a reality. The man? Buckminster Fuller. That dream? To make an underwater island.
That’s right—on June 8, 1959, Buckminster Fuller filed his patent for his “Submarisle,” or “underwater island.” While this idea might seem outlandish, Fuller actually developed the idea for purely practical reasons: he wanted to develop a less expensive way to conduct offshore drilling. This “island” would be floating and fully submersible, attached to a fixed rig dug into the ocean floor. But here’s the kicker: rather than leave the oil derrick fully exposed to the elements on the deck, Bucky’s Submarisle would protect the derrick in a partially submerged Caisson (a watertight structure that would protect the derrick).
Bucky’s Submarisle imagined on paper (image source)
Ok, we get it. A partially submerged oil derrick just doesn’t deliver the excitement that the phrase “underwater island” promises. However, like an iceberg—or Bucky’s oil derrick—the whole story isn’t only on the surface. The plot thickens in the early 1960s, when a wealthy patron commissioned Buckminster Fuller to build a floating tetrahedronal city loosely based on the underwater island in Tokyo Bay, Japan. It was to be called Triton City, and Bucky had lots of plans for it. He designed it to be anchored just offshore from Japan’s mainland, connected only with bridges. According to Fuller, the floating island would be “resistant to tsunamis, provide the most outdoor living possible, desalinate the very water that it would float in, give privacy to each residence, and incorporate a tetrahedronal shape, which provides the most surface area with the least amount of volume.” Sounds great—sign us up!
We bet the tennis courts would have been fabulous. (Image source)
Unfortunately, the floating city, just like the underwater island, was not meant to be. Bucky’s mysterious wealthy patron died in 1966, and the project floundered without anyone willing to bankroll the spendy endeavor. However, Buckminster Fuller’s grand floating plans do live on in spirit. While Triton City was never built, the Japan’s artificial island Kansai and its airport in Osaka are derivations of Fuller’s plan.
Just because Submarisle or Triton City were never fully imagined in the real world, it doesn’t mean we can’t imagine them in our minds (or books). In fact, if you happen to find yourself near Water Mill, New York, be sure to take a trip to the Parrish Art Museum. Their Radical Seafaring exhibit (May 8th - July 24th) will highlight the way artists, including Buckminster Fuller, have connected with the environment. Or, if you can’t get to the Parrish, check out Bucky’s other wonderful ideas, inventions, plans, and patents in Cole Gerst’s Buckminster Fuller: Poet of Geometry (Overcup Press 2013). Happy sailing!