Life as a Verb: Applying Buckminster Fuller to the 21st Century

Fuller consciously, even obsessively, documented his own existence, referring to himself as an experiment: “Guinea Pig B,” as he phrased it. The Chronofile, assembled by Fuller and his assistants, is perhaps, Keats says, the most comprehensive record of any individual’s life. Now maintained by Stanford University, it challenges scholars with 1,200 linear feet of boxes containing manuscripts, drawings, and tapes of lectures (as well as overdue library notices and grocery lists). Fuller’s was not a life unrecorded. But it is a life practically un-examinable in any comprehensive way.

.. Yet peeking through that smokescreen of self-mythologizing in fact provides ample evidence that, even when it came to basic moments in Fuller’s life, the visionary designer was anything but a reliable narrator.

.. For instance, central to Bucky Fuller’s story was a winter evening in 1927 when, beset by financial woes and a string of business failures, he resolved to end his life in the icy waters of Lake Michigan. A voice, telling Fuller that he “belonged to the Universe,” convinced him that his life had purpose. Returning home in a trance, he then remained silent for two years (maybe); wrote 5,000 pages of notes (maybe); became a vegetarian (maybe); started to lecture, publish, and craft his own legend (certainly).

.. Readers who possess sufficient fortitude to brave the Chronofile, writes Keats, might be disconcerted at how little of Fuller’s autobiography agrees with facts.

.. Yet for someone whom left-leaning university students embraced as an iconoclastic advocate for international peace and cooperation, his professional life was enormously shaped by the military.

.. Fuller designed and patented his Dymaxion World Map. Eliminating the spatial distortions of traditional Mercator projection, Fuller broke the world into 20 equilateral triangles, projected onto a multi-sided polyhedron, which could then be unfolded and flattened. As Keats describes it — inexplicably, the book does not have illustrations — Fuller’s Dymaxion map was a “remarkably neutral platform.” One could use it to center the world around any one point instead of privileging a particular country or landmass.

.. Fuller’s dome design swiftly became a symbol and instrument of American power.

.. He became an example of what Keats might call a “world-changer”, a person with an expansive view of our planet’s systemic shortcomings and how Big Ideas — specifically, Fuller’s — could fix them. His lecturing stamina became legendary. Picture a sprawling TED talk lasting for hours with dozens of ideas, concepts, and neologisms projected at the audience in a manic torrent of words.

.. they acted not as visionaries but what I have called “visioneers.” The former offer only speculations, informed or not, about what the future, especially the technological future, might hold. The latter work to bring these over-the-horizon conjectures closer to physical reality.

.. For example, Fuller’s car anticipated, according to Keats, today’s use of biomimesis, in which features from nature are incorporated into designs.