In expectation of a new exhibit opening at the Whitney Museum of Art, the New Yorker reflects on the curious life and career of Buckminster Fuller.
"Fuller's schemes often had the hallucinatory quality associated with science fiction (or mental hospitals). It concerned him not in the least that things had always been done a certain way in the past. In addition to flying cars, he imagined mass-produced bathrooms that could be installed like refrigerators; underwater settlements that would be restocked by submarine; and floating communities that, along with all their inhabitants, would hover among the clouds.
Most famously, he dreamed up the geodesic dome. "If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are gone, a piano top . . . that comes along makes a fortuitous life preserver," Fuller once wrote. "But this is not to say that the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top. I think that we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday's fortuitous contrivings." Fuller may have spent his life inventing things, but he claimed that he was not particularly interested in inventions. He called himself a "comprehensive, anticipatory design scientist"-a "comprehensivist," for short-and believed that his task was to innovate in such a way as to benefit the greatest number of people using the least amount of resources. "My objective was humanity's comprehensive success in the universe" is how he once put it. "I could have ended up with a pair of flying slippers."