Buckminster Fuller: Utopia Rising

Fuseproject Founder Yves Béhar On the Enduring Legacy of the Original Architect-Philosopher

Glass domes, pill dispensers and Jambox speakers are arrayed along a cutout of the San Francisco coast in photographer Frank Hülsbömer’s still-life constructions paying homage to vanguard design dreamers R. Buckminster Fuller and Yves Béhar. An American architect, engineer and futurist best known for inventing the geodesic dome, Fuller is the subject of a new exhibition at SF MoMA, The Utopian Impulse: Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area, examining the influence of his work on local progressive thinkers living and working today.  Included in the show is designer and sustainability advocate Yves Béhar’s One Laptop per Child project, a.k.a. a $100 laptop, alongside images showing the remarkable change the initiative has brought to education systems and underprivileged schoolchildren in countries like Rwanda and Peru. Below Béhar discusses the triumphs of Fuller’s enduring utopian vision, and the importance of failure.  

Many of Buckminster Fuller’s ideas got no further than the prototype. Why is that?
Buckminster Fuller was shockingly new and different at a time when there were few pioneers. Society was less supportive of utopian ideas because they did not understand how to commercialize them. Fuller admitted that he had dedicated his life’s work to “a laboratory of ideas.” Today we live in a world where change is a part of everyday life and people are open to new ways of living.

What do you consider to be Fuller’s most significant achievement?
The Geodesic Dome in its variety of scales, from home-like structures to the dome covering Manhattan, is his iconic signature. The Dymaxion house and his more experimental projects continue to live on in the minds of designers and architects. In many ways we owe the notion of architect as statement maker to Buckminster Fuller—the idea of creating photographically accurate renderings of an architectural intervention at a gigantic scale is something that is practiced on an everyday basis now, but Buckminster was the pioneer.

How has Buckminster Fuller’s legacy influenced your work?
I have been influenced in two ways. Buckminster Fuller always presented his work in the context of the needs, phenomena and philosophies of the world at large—this approach is critical to what I do. Secondly, I have been influenced by his notion of the designer as someone who invents structures that push the boundaries of engineering.

What is it about the Bay Area that attracts so many designers?
In San Francisco there’s openness to innovation and there’s permission to fail—in the Bay Area we value the lessons from failure even more strongly than we value the lessons from success. Steve Jobs is one of the best examples of that. What makes the Bay Area unique is the belief that things can be done differently, and better, coupled with an embrace of design, business and experimentation.

Does the beauty of the Bay Area’s natural surroundings play a part?
Absolutely, nature is an inspiration whether you’re Buckminster Fuller or a young designer or entrepreneur. It influences political thinking around nature conservation and being sensitive to the biosphere. The need to preserve our planet was one of the guiding principles behind Buckminster Fuller’s work. He wasn’t pouring out millions of cubic meters of concrete onto the earth. The footprint of his work on the planet was very light.

To see images from the exhibition that inspired Hülsbömer’s series and read a short interview with curator Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, visit our Facebook page here

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