Freesteel Blog » Corroborations of Buckminster Fuller’s floating city

Corroborations of Buckminster Fuller’s floating city

Sunday, December 10th, 2017 at 2:51 pm Written by:

Page 332 of Buckminster Fuller’s 1981 book Critical Path has the following passage (rewritten for readability):

In the early 1960s I was commissioned by a Japanese patron to design one of my tetrahedronal floating cities for Tokyo Bay.

Floating cities are designed with the most buoyantly stable conformation of deep-see bell-buoys. Their omni-surface-terraced, slope-faced, tetrahedronal structuring is employed to avoid the lethal threat of precipitous falls from sheer high-rise buildings.

The tetrahedron has the most surface with the least volume of all polyhedra. As such it provides the most possible “outside” living. Its sloping external surface is adequate for all its occupants to enjoy their own private, outside, tiered-terracing, garden homes. These are most economically serviced from the common, omni-nearest-possible center of volume of all polyhedra.

In 1966 my Japanese patron died and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development commissioned me to carry out a full design and economic analysis for potential USA use. With my associates I completed the design and study as well as a scaled-down model.

The city of Baltimore was interested in acquiring the first such floating city for anchorage just offshore in Chesapeake Bay. At this time President Lyndon Johnson’s Democratic Party went out of power. President Johnson took the model with him and installed it in his LBJ Texas library. Baltimore’s politicians went out of favour with the Nixon administration, and the whole project languished.

That’s interesting, I thought, and looked for information about it at the LBJ presidential library.

I couldn’t find any record of a model, but I did get this transcript of an oral history interview with, I think, one of the White House staffers.

Liz [Carpenter] (press secretary to the formidable First Lady) and I had a fascinating afternoon. Charlie Haar, assistant secretary of HUD (under RC Weaver), who had some money for grants for new and innovative kinds of things, had given Buckminster Fuller a grant to develop a concept and model of an offshore city, floating habitation. Bucky had done the model in terms of, I think, San Antonio. Am I right? Is that on the coast? No, no, Galveston. That’s on the coast.

Haar was intrigued by it, and he thought we’d be interested in seeing it. So over we went, and there was this great model in the hall. Mr. Fuller and Secretary Haar began explaining how it worked, and Liz looked at it and she looked at it. This was the latest and most advanced, most sophisticated concept of all integrated facilities and services and shops and schools and housing and residences and everything all piled in a great bundle out at sea where it didn’t take any land, et cetera. She said it looked like a filing case, and what kind of people were going to live in a place like that? What was going to become of them if they lived in a place like that? She was shocked with Charles Haar. In fact she was going to turn the Sierra Club loose on him if he ever surfaced this proposal anywhere. People would turn into moles and be stunted if they had to live in a filing cabinet. She thought it violated everything we’d been standing for and working for.

Poor Fuller blinked, and I think that’s one of the best things that ever happened to him. Because he’s the kind of person who’s a demigod among technocrats and innovators, and everyone pays tribute to his genius. But Liz Carpenter sure didn’t. Liz just cut him down. He began talking about the mobilty of people these days and how he lived out of a suitcase and went from hotel room to hotel room. He was always making speeches and consulting here and there, and people really just need a place to bathe and lie down for a while. This kind of facility was designed for the new mobile age. Liz said, “Well, if they don’t stay home, it’s because we haven’t given them anything to stay home for.”

Charlie began getting worried that his august consultant might be offended. Liz was so direct and so irrefutable and so to the point and so insistent that they face up to the more basic question she was asking that Charlie finally sort of pulled her over under one side of the model, and I pulled Fuller over to the other side of the model to keep them away from each other. We temporized as hard as we could, and then we got Liz in an elevator and sent her down. I sort of patted Fuller on the back and said, “Now don’t you worry, and don’t you ever forget anything she said, because you know she’s right. But don’t let it get to you.” Charlie and I rolled our eyes at each other and felt that one had distinctly backfired. I think it shows her extraordinary contribution, and I couldn’t help but be glad that she’d done it.

For a bit of context, this was the era of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project disaster, which was designed by no less than the architect of the World Trade Center buildings. Public housing is hard– especially when public administrators are politically instructed to ruin everything in their power.

A clue of the personal-social dymanics between the professions is provided in an essay entitled; The Pruitt-Igoe Myth:

Even after the architects had switched to an all high-rise scheme, they faced continued pressure from the Public Housing Administration to keep costs to a bare minimum. In a 1975 study of the St. Louis Housing Authority’s expenditures on Pruitt-Igoe, political scientist Eugene Meehan analyzed the extent to which these budget constraints affected the final design. In addition to the elimination of amenities, such as children’s play areas, landscaping, and ground-floor bathrooms, the cost cutting targeted points of contact between the tenants and the living units. “The quality of the hardware was so poor that doorknobs and locks were broken on initial use. …Windowpanes were blown from inadequate frames by wind pressure. In the kitchens, cabinets were made of the thinnest plywood possible.”

…By continuing to promote architectural solutions to what are fundamentally problems of class and race, the myth conceals the complete inadequacy of contemporary public housing policy. It has quite usefully shifted the blame from the sources of housing policy and placed it on the design professions. By furthering this misconception, the myth disguises the causes of the failure of public housing, and also ensures the continued participation of the architecture profession in token and palliative efforts to address the problem of poverty in America. The myth is a mystification that benefits everyone involved, except those to whom public housing programs are supposedly directed.

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