Reviewing older links tonight, I came across this report on the Buckminster Fuller Challenge 2009 winners. It reminded me of a serendipitous event from my student days, and the realization that I have not yet caught up with the challenge presented then.
In 1970, one of my architecture professors at Washington University in St. Louis was Jim Fitzgibbon. Jim was a very interesting guy with a great outlook (his dream – to every morning be faced with a decision to build), and a former partner of Buckminster Fuller. Jim would periodically have these marvelous evening gatherings at his house, inviting a cluster of students and a professional guest or two to spend the evening chatting. His home was an urban St. Louis classic and a place where, as you glanced about, your eye would catch in corners, behind doors, somewhere on a shelf, these groupings of stones with faces that Jim and his wife, his mirror image, would paint and place.
Bucky came in a couple of times. He had been working on a concept for a dome-covered East St. Louis, across the Mississippi in Illinois, called Old Man River’s City. As many as 125,000 people would live in a crater-shaped city, terracing both inward and out and covered by a one mile diameter geodesic dome. (Note to self – research how it is that a very challenged city came to have leadership who would engage a visionary and see themselves in one of the most extraordinarily imagined cities of our time.)
We’d been prepped for a Bucky “conversation.” Jim had suggested that we all provision ourselves before we gathered for the discussion. I recall that there was one question asked, maybe about 8 o’clock, and about midnight people began filtering out as Bucky was still answering that first question.
As I look back on that simple event of almost 40 years ago, I feel a certain embarrassment – I was in a defining context for the profession, but I was imagining architecture as aesthetic form not as critical regionalism. Bucky went long that night talking about the competition for resources on the face of the earth, and offering ideas that would provide global balance, freedom from war and conflict, and global and local sustainability. I remember impressions of awe, and skepticism. I realize now, however, that the evening was a “shaping” event, where extraordinary consideration and thought about the way in which access to resources affects peace or causes war, and the way in which architects and planners affect that competition with every decision to build.
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