Tuesday, June 03, 2008

p33 afterthoughts II

Afterthoughts on Buckminster Fuller, Part II

By John Taylor; 2008 June 03, 18 `Azamat, 165 BE


We are going over an old essay series on Buckminster Fuller from 2001-2002. It soon after led me to make my own proposal for extending Fuller's vision into what I call "Earth Charter Houses." In our first installment of this re-write we started into a discussion of Buckminster Fuller's chief discovery, the geodesic dome. In 1964 Time Magazine called this newly invented structure "a kind of benchmark of the universe, what 17th century mystic Jakob Boehme might call a `signature of God.'" What interests me here are the moral and religious implications of this invention. What follows came out December 30, 2001.




Dreams change with one's interests, the stage of life, which of the seven valleys the soul happens to be traversing. I have had my share of fantasies about winning the lottery, the perfect lover or how I might act if I were an ideal saint, like `Abdu'l-Baha. Even now, long after any trace of interest in sports has left me, I catch myself in an unguarded moment dreaming about the ideal quarterback, how he would combine blinding speed with an accurate arm.


Another dream I can't escape is the perfect home. In the last few years this has come to dominate all the rest. How would I design and build my home if things were different? The fact that I have no money, knowledge, energy or even inclination to do something so ambitious only seems to make the dream sweeter and more compelling.


Lately events in Afghanistan turned these fantasies in the direction of caves. How nice it would be to live in a cave, no worries about noisy neighbors, complete climate control, privacy or security. Why not move into one of the caves Al-Qaida just left? Afghanistan seems to be the cave capital of the world. Unfortunately, I suspect foreigners will not exactly be welcome around there for a few years. So, even in our dreams let us think realistically of some cave closer to home.


Changes of any kind, including weather, always provoke migraines for me. Recent studies have found that variations of hot and cold are very tough on the health of older people (I plan to be one someday). I read once of this woman in Australia whose husband worked in a mine. It was a remote mining town and all the houses were hewed into soft rock or basalt or something. She got used to the dwelling's completely steady temperature. Later, when her husband died, she moved back to the city. She hated it and could not stand living in an ordinary house. Not long after she moved back to that underground dwelling.


The dream of a place without temperature or pressure variation is very strong for us migraine sufferers. Not far from where I live another victim of headaches was so desperate to get rid of the agony that he bought a surplus autoclave from the black market. He sat in the hyperbaric chamber for certain periods to relieve his head. Unfortunately he did it once too often; his wife did not hear his screams when the time came to leave. An inquiry after his death found faults in the mechanical workings of the autoclave and strongly recommended that others not do this outside a clinical setting.


 I dream of living in a house with a constant temperature. Maybe a geodesic dome. Yeah, that's the ticket, a dome home covering over a cave entrance, the best of both worlds. Make me an ultramodern troglodyte. That is why I want to look back nostalgically to my lifelong hero, Buckminster Fuller.




 Last time we talked about Fuller's best known, signature invention, the geodesic dome. I have always believed that the geodesic dome is no ordinary structure. It constitutes a basic spiritual advance. When the airplane was invented geodesics and stressed skin enabled extremely light, strong construction. Now geodesic domes permit buildings to do the same, to rise above earthly foundations and put foundations above, in the whole structure, even, as it gets large enough, in the air itself. In a geodesic dome, skin and bone unite in one exoskeleton. Fuller himself wrote,


 "A geodesic sphere is the lightest, strongest, and cheapest way of enclosing space ever invented. Domes can not only house individual families, but they could cover whole cities -- and even float in the air or be anchored on or under the oceans. Domed cities use about 1/90th the energy of uncovered cities, and have perfect climates all year round -- no matter what the outside climate." (http://www.buckminster.info/Strategy/GrandStrategy.htm)


 In 1965 Fuller wrote a famous article proposing that Manhattan be covered over by a geodesic dome. It being the Cold War, he played up its advantages for protection from nuclear attack, as well as the massive energy savings -- this is important, since heating buildings is now known to be a major contributor to greenhouse gases.


 "Due to the principle of energy conservation improvement with size, the larger the domed-over city the more stable its atmospheric conditions become, and at ever-decreasing cost per unit of volume." (Manhattan Dome,





 A paradise for migraine sufferers, of course; a stable temperature and true micro-climate under a huge mega-structure. Now that the earth is heating up, the oceans rising and the climate going wacko, the stability and security of life under such a dome is enticing. And since the foundation of a dome is in its structure and enclosed space, it need no longer be restricted to the surface of the earth,


 "When such large domes are made the captive atmosphere in itself is enough to support the structural shell, as does a large pneumatic tire. The larger the dome, the lower the pressure necessary to carry a given load. With such very large domes, the air introduced with the air conditioning would keep up the shell-sustaining structure. ... City-covering domes of pre-stressed and post-stressed steel and concrete could be made so powerful that they could be covered with earth and become man-made earth mountains, completely air conditioned." (Ib.)


 Exciting as is the prospect of floating cities, underwater cities, artificial mountains and even flying cities under domes, geodesic integrity goes far beyond that. The geodesic dome has heavy implications in the spheres, so to speak, of moral and spiritual realities. Like all inventions, its appearance here is both a cause and an effect of an invisible advance in the larger world of the spirit.




 From the standpoint of religious teaching, it is not surprising that the geodesic dome should turn out to be the height of elegance and efficiency. A geodesic dome is very simple, just a series of triangles strewn into a spherical shape. Let us first look at the sphere, then the triangle.


 The zero, the cornerstone of decimal mathematics, is also an ancient Hindu symbol of the infinity of God, since it has no beginning or end, it goes around forever. Zero is symbolic of the metaphorical nature of the universe. Its shape, a circle, is a sphere in two dimensions. In three dimensions a zero becomes a dome, one of the most common shapes in nature. Everything from electrons to bubbles to planets and stars are spheres, since this shape encloses the most space using the least covering. In spite of the challenge of making domes out of stone religious buildings from ancient times right down to the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar are built in the shape of a dome. Standing under a roof of this shape it is as if the heavens themselves were wrapped around into a second, outside layer to the structure. You sit inside like the self abides in a brain enclosed by the dome of the cranium.


 The triangle is the strongest and most stable geometric form. Analogously, three factors, pressure, tension and integrity work into the foundation of every structure, no matter what the shape. This reflects a deeper spiritual threesome, God, Spirit and Creation. Every revelation of God works its trinity of spiritual forces. Reflected by the physical three-sided figure, there exists an inner trigonometry based on the three human motivators, fear, hope and love. These three support one another as the strongest foundation of human life.


 A geodesic dome combines triangle and sphere in its skeleton, which like an insect's carapace is also its skin. Thus the foundation enters into the whole structure, not just what lies below. The walls, roof and ceiling of a geodesic dome unify into an above-ground foundation. When subjected to pressure or assault from outside, it gets the most protection for the least weight by releasing forces of tension and compression into the whole above ground.


 In religious terms, the same applies, when we place the kingdom of heaven first and pay attention to "all things needful." So the Commonwealth of Baha'u'llah liberates the individual's integrity. No long does it go down on the foundation of autocratic priestly authority; instead it places the onus everywhere, that is, in the integrity of the learned working as individuals for protection (compression) and propagation (tension). The independent, unfettered search for truth is now an invisible, integrated foundation of all religious expressions.


 Nothing is as important to religion as the idea of foundation. The idea of God as architect and planner of a unified universe is the beginning of every monotheistic belief. The structure He builds is one we are meant to participate in. In Fuller's language, we are designed to succeed. Our world is one of abundance, not shortages. The Qu'ran depicts God as sculpting all things abundantly, with the firmament of heaven as a great dome stretching over the earth of our understanding.


 "It is God who hath given you the earth as a sure foundation, and over it built up the Heaven, and formed you, and made your forms beautiful, and feedeth you with good things. This is God your Lord. Blessed then be God the Lord of the World!" (Q40:66, Rodwell)

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