Happy (Spaceship) Earth Day!: 5 lessons from Buckminster Fuller

By Molly MacGilbert
Posted in Overcup Press, on April 22, 2018

“Now there is one outstandingly important fact regarding Spaceship Earth, and that is that no instruction book came with it.” — Richard Buckminster Fuller

In an increasingly technology-reliant and perpetually polluted society, it can be easy to forget that a bounty of inspiration can spring from natural phenomena not made by man. Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller, a pre-Jobs, pre-Zuckerberg genius, teaches us that superhuman intelligence and earthly appreciation are not mutually exclusive. Here are just 5 of the planet-protecting tips we can learn from Cole Gerst’s Buckminster Fuller: Poet of Geometry:

  1. Even nature’s challenges can lead to transformative solutions. In his early life on his grandmother’s Bear Island, one of Bucky’s tasks was to row backwards against the current to get the mail. Instead of letting this task beat him, Bucky developed a system inspired by the way jellyfish move through water that allowed him to face forward while rowing. Sometimes it may feel as though nature is working against us, but natural forces can inspire (or, rather, force) us to think creatively.
  2. Do more with less. Bucky coined the term “ephemeralization” to refer to “doing more with less”, or working with minimal resources. This philosophy was an integral part of his designs and developments. Thrifty thinking and limiting excess is a major way to minimize the footprints we stomp into the planet.
  3. Change your perspective (or create a new one). Bucky’s Dymaxion Projection method lead to the development of a new kind of map, and his continued research lead to his most well-known invention, the Geodesic Dome. Bucky’s ideas deviated from the norm and he “found his own geometry of nature”. As Gerst writes, Bucky “believed most developments… could be directly linked to the desire for people to explore and reach new shores.” Looking at the world through an abstract, curious lens may be the genesis for your next scientific or artistic breakthrough.
  4. Humans are part of nature, not a separate entity. Bucky’s Geosphere was a giant sphere people could stand inside to look at the stars from different perspectives. It was intended not only for stargazing but also to observe humans’ place in the universe. He also designed an interactive map the size of a football field for Montreal’s “Expo 67”. The interactive nature of the project aimed to keep the public engaged with the planet on a local and global scale, and to see how their actions could affect people on the other side of the planet. In other words, buying local, sustainable and ethically made goods is the way to go.
  5. Don’t forget to stop and look around. Bucky’s transparent domes focused largely on limiting barriers between humans and natural views while still protecting people from the elements. He built a commercial restaurant with nighttime views of the galaxy. The plastic skin covering Ford Rotunda let light in but kept out less desirable elements such as rain. Bucky even completed a military project, Radome, which protected radars from Arctic weather conditions while preserving their functionality. And Bucky’s Climatron, a climate-controlled greenhouse for the Missouri Botanical Garden, protects over half an acre of tropical rainforest and was named one of the most significant architectural achievements in United States history. Even though he was an innovator, these domes served as reminders of humanity’s earthly origins.

As the world becomes increasingly high-tech and our realities increasingly virtual, it is important to remember our roots in the flora and the fauna, the palm trees and pines, the soil and the sea. Let’s make Bucky proud. Happy Earth Day!

For more on Bucky’s brilliance, pick up your own copy of Buckminster Fuller: Poet of Geometry, available now through Overcup.