Articles and Reviews




I saw there was nothing to stop me from trying to think about how to operate our total planet Earth on an enduringly sustainable basis as the magnificent human-passengered spaceship that it is.

Murray Grove

The relevance of his radical discoveries, inventions and proposals has increased still further as the world slowly wakes up to the fact that its resources are not infinite and must be handled with greater economy and care.


Review of the exhibition at the Design Museum

Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) is best remembered as the inventor, or rather discoverer, of the geodesic dome. However many of his discoveries, inventions and proposals were not only highly influential but relate to today's issues and their ethical dimensions.

Following the Egan Report there is renewed interest in prefabricated housing, such as that built by the Peabody Trust in Murray Grove, Hackney, London. Like this project Fuller, with his philosophy of "more for less," sought for long term technology led solutions. In 1928 he patented a system for prefabricated multi-storey blocks of flats which could be delivered anywhere in the world by airship - itself a form of air transport being re-examined today. On display at the exhibition was his Dymaxion Bathroom, built as a prefabricated pod using technology transferred from boat building; its introduction was thwarted by plumbers afraid of losing their work.

Fuller's use of technology could also be called appropriate, before that term was phrased, as his Lightfield House of 1928 generated its own light and heat, and was also planned to recycle water and have world telecommunications. This led in 1982 to his autonomous house project with Norman Foster, but we are still waiting for the mass production, or even mass building of low energy low water use housing. Fuller was also the forerunner in using standard 40 foot containers as housing units, and in 1932 was the first to make serious proposals for the conversion of empty office blocks into emergency housing, an idea not taken up in London until the late 1990s.

From 1948 Fuller began a teaching career as visiting lecturer to several US schools of architecture where he was popular with the students, and pioneered project based teaching to inspire innovation and invention. In the same year he discovered close packing of spheres, which led to research in quantum mechanics. This period saw his development of the geodesic dome, which became his only financial success.

Whatever the technical feasibility of his inventions - and most were - the topic to consider here is the ethical implications for us today.

The sustainability debate seems to divide into those putting their faith in technology, such as photovoltaic cells and intelligent buildings, and those advocating a simpler lifestyle. Christians particularly have advocated a simpler lifestyle, and to make do with enough, in order that developing countries may enjoy their share of the world's resources; and since the 1970s there has been a general disillusionment with high technology following various high profile disasters.

However with safer materials airship technology is going forward. And with a new emphasis on design prefabricated housing is once more being developed in Britain - and the IT revolution is ensuring that we cannot return to a low tech past, even though it does present the danger of a new underclass without access to the internet (or more importantly the information and services it provides).

While oil and coal will run out, or rather the remaining deposits will cost more to win, and nuclear power has not proved to be either cheap or safe as promised, God has promised to meet our daily needs sufficiently, if not always abundantly (Ex.16v17-18). He has also promised that seed time and harvest will continue (Gen.8v22) until Jesus returns. It is up to us to work as good stewards of the earth (Gen.2v15) and do our part; part of which is like Fuller to seek to "more for less" and use technology appropriate for the task whether it is high or low.



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