R. BUCKMINSTER FULLER: The Science of Design
R. Buckminster Fuller coined the term “Design”, took for himself the title of the “Designer”, – and also coined the term “Design Science Revolution” to describe his proposed scientific and socio-economic revolution accomplished by shifting from “weaponry to livingry” through the application of what he called comprehensive anticipatory Design Science. His World Design Science Decade, proposed to the International Union of Architects in 1961, was an attempt to catalyze the revolution.
“I did not set out to design the Geodesic Dome,” [one of his famous designs], Fuller once said, “I set out to discover the principles operative in Universe. For all I knew, this could have led to a pair of flying slippers…” This playful declaration stands as a concise summary of the philosophy behind Fuller’s life’s work and introduces the relationship of (the process he called) Synergetics to Design.
“Design science,” in the most general terms, maintains that faithful observation of Universe is the basis of successful invention. The idea therefore is not to invent some strange new gadget, hoping there will be a market for it, but rather to tap into the exquisite workings of nature…”
“While the significance of scientific discoveries is not always immediately understood, the accumulated “generalized principles” have been applied in innovative ways throughout history, producing artifacts which have gradually transformed the physical environment. Therein lies the key to humanity’s success aboard Spaceship Earth”, explains Bucky Fuller.
Fuller defines “Design” as the deliberate ordering of components. Thus distinguished from randomness, Design implies the presence of intellect.
His definition is worth our serious attention, for the word is too often associated with the concept of decoration-secondary or superficial embellishment as opposed to thoroughly developed systems. Fuller was quick to point out that Universe overflows with evidence of Design; unimaginably intricate and reliable energy patterns reveal “eternal design interrelationship principles.”
Universe is nothing but incredible technology
Technology, to Fuller, is principle in action, and so “Universe is nothing but incredible technology.” Its awesome complexity is the inspiration for Fuller’s phrase “Intellectual Integrity of Eternally Regenerative Universe”, a weighty title attempting to convey a nonanthropomorphic respect for a greater (in fact all-encompassing) Divine Intelligence.
Fuller insisted that the key principle of the Design Science revolution was to recognize nature as technology:
“In its complexities of design integrity, the Universe is technology. The technology evolved by man is thus far amateurish compared to the elegance of nonhumanly contrived regeneration. Man does not spontaneously recognize technology other than his own, so he speaks of the rest as something he ignorantly calls Nature. The Natural is the real Technological…”
He stressed that by utilizing these natural principles of technology, industrial civilization could transform from an extractive to a regenerative force within the context of Earth’s ecosystems. Operationally, he viewed Design Science as the integration of natural principles within the utilization of planetary resources to achieve ever-increasing ephemeralization:
“Amongst other grand strategies for making the world work and taking care of everybody is the Design Science revolution of providing ever more effective tools and services with ever less, real resource investment per each unit of end performance. For instance, a communications satellite, weighing only one-quarter of a ton, is now out-performing the transoceanic communication capabilities of 175 thousand tons of copper cable…”
“Man is born a potentially complete success. The reasons humanity loves its children is that they start off in such perfection of potential.”
“Man, as designed, is obviously intended to be a success just as the hydrogen atom is intended to be a success. It is only the fabulous ignorance of man and his long and wrongly conditioned reflexes that he continually allowed the new life to be impaired albeit lovingly and unwittingly…” (Speech at NASA, June 1966)
Combining this newly defined word, “Design”, with “Science,” to describe a new discipline or field, further enriches its significance. “Science” hints at the necessary rigor, suggesting a systematic new study. Fuller thereby expands the realm of “Design”; the scientific method is essential, for “Design Science” involves the application of principle. He points out that “generalized principles” are Eternal Truths, as opposed to special-case statements or transient facts, and as such are inherent aspects of reality waiting to be discovered. Only human beings are able to discern such truths (science) and thereby participate in their own evolution (design).
“Design science” is thus saturated with meaning: humanity alone has access to the Design laws of Universe, and that has determined our unique evolutionary function. Just as bees are meant to cross-pollinate, we are meant to solve problems. Without specialized long beaks or wings or other role-specific physical traits, human beings have learned to exploit mechanical advantage, discipline the electron, travel more quickly than the fastest leopard, and fly farther than the strongest bird. Our unique advantage is a faculty called “Mind,” which can integrate disparate facts of experience.
We are therefore deliberately designed to be “comprehensivists” while all other creatures are specialists.
THE SYNERGETIC HUMANIST
Fuller advocated the Design Science Revolution also as an alternative to Politics, seeking to optimize planetary resources for the benefit of 100% of humanity.
He coined the term “Synergetics” to explain how Design Science could create rich returns, such as how “energy income” could be harvested from the environment. His main premise was that nature’s existing and omnipotent order must be allowed to guide human designs, if they are to survive and thrive as a species. He wrote that humanity was approaching its critical test as a species, in which it would be determined whether or not man was a mistake of nature, or its greatest accomplishment…
“I find that I have to use the words “Comprehensive anticipatory Design Science.” Science sets in order the facts of experience. Design as against that which is happening to you: it is that which you do deliberately. Using principles, then, employing order, we try to anticipate the needs of humanity, anticipate the needs of nature in general, try to anticipate the accommodation of the total intercomplementarity, using those principles then to actually begin to participate in the evolutionary formulations of nature, so we don’t just have to wait and take it for granted that someone else is going to provide this thing for us, and leave it up to them. Each one of us then, has an increasing intuition and an obligation to employ these principles in an effective manner on behalf of all humanity, and on behalf of the Total Integrity of Universe Itself – in its eternal regeneration…” (from “Everything I Know: 42 Hours with Buckminster Fuller”)
“Through Design Science I declared : It is now safely statable that our present knowledge and physical resources are adequate to the support of all humanity and all humans to come at a higher standard of living and enjoyment of life than have ever been experienced by any human. To the best of my knowledge I was the first to discover and to be able to demonstrate why and how this is true…”
He coined many terms to describe his view of Systems: “Our Spaceship Earth”, “Synergetics”, “Geodesia”, “Geodesic Dome”, “Tensegrity”.
The Design Scientist must think ahead. In each industry, there are specific “gestation rates” that determine the length of time between invention and widespread practical application. These inherent lags vary according to the nature of a design: in the electronics industry, for example, it is only a matter of months before a new invention can be incorporated into commercial production; car manufacturers might require five years to bring a new idea to the consumer; and housing presents the slowest evolution of all, Fuller’s rather optimistic estimate of the ‘gestation rate’ being fifty years.
Psychological resistance to change, absence of urgency, and ignorance keep our approach to housing many generations behind our technological capability. The design scientist must take these lags into consideration, explains Fuller; an invention often must wait until its time, but the designer has a responsibility to anticipate long-term developments.
Finally, a necessary implication is that we can glean important clues through the study of Trends, and also the study of Patterns, and thereby determine what needs to be done…
He wrote novels, poetry (his first volume, The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems ,1858, was the first book of Pre-Raphaelite poetry to be published), and even translated works from Icelandic to English.
In fact, he was one of the first writers who helped to establish the literary genre of Fantasy. Some of his wonderful books as a writer: The Wood Beyond the World, The Well at the World’s End, News from Nowhere – Edward James described them as “among the most lyrical and enchanting fantasies in the English language”.
William Morris produced superb designs for books, typography, interior decorations, fabrics, wallpapers, textiles, floral patterns, utopias and dreams.