The Utopian Impulse: Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area

thumbnailThe Bay Area attracts dreamers, progressives, nonconformists, and designers. Buckminster Fuller was all of these, and though he never lived in San Francisco, his ideas spawned many local experiments in the realms of technology, engineering, and sustainability—some more successful than others. The first to consider Fuller’s Bay Area design legacy, this exhibition features some of his most iconic projects, primarily drawn from the recently acquired print portfolio Inventions: Twelve Around One. The 13 works in the portfolio date from the late 1920s through the mid-1970s and include Fuller’s 4D House, Geodesic Dome, World Game, and Dymaxion car, among other important inventions.

The other half of the exhibition presents Bay Area endeavors inspired by Fuller’s commingling of technology, ecology, and social responsibility, specifically projects concerned with improved living systems such as dwellings (temporary inflatable structures by Ant Farm and tents by The North Face and Sierra Designs); transportation (the Plastiki sailboat); and better access to information (Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog and smart phones by Apple and Google); and architect Nicholas de Monchaux’s Local Code initiative, which uses geospatial analysis to collect real-time data on health, environmental, and crime activities in San Francisco’s publicly owned unused spaces and then proposes temporary solutions for dire conditions.

Fuller’s radical idealism kept him from realizing most of his projects, and he never achieved the success he would have liked. Paradoxically, the view of Fuller as a nonconformist is exactly what links him to the many successful Bay Area innovators who aspire to the kind of visionary thinking the designer has come to embody.

Nicholas DeMonchaux’s contribution to The Utopian Impulse is supported in part by the Berkeley Center for New Media.

Photo Caption: Buckminster Fuller, Laminar Geodesic Dome, United States Patent Office no. 3,203,144, from the portfolio Inventions: Twelve Around One, 1981; screen print in white ink on clear polyester film; 30 in. x 40 in. (76.2 cm x 101.6 cm); Collection SFMOMA, gift of Chuck and Elizabeth Byrne; © The Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller, All Rights reserved; image courtesy SFMOMA.