Life, Facts & Artifacts
by Bonnie Goldstein DeVarco
Click the yellow arrows above to read other essays on Buckminster Fuller.
It may seem a contradiction that a man who not only made an impassioned
call for doing more with less, but also coined the phrase itself, spent his
life amassing, storing and carting around what now weighs in at approximately
90,000 pounds of personal history. But it is no contradiction when one
realizes that Bucky knew, and planned for, a time when technology would
allow that much material to easily fit into a space smaller than a shoe
box. Even those of us who spend daily hours on the Internet and World Wide
Web or must upgrade our computer systems or software several times a year
are startled by the speed at which computers are getting better, faster
and cheaper at a rate unparalleled by the performance curve of any other
current technology. If Buckminster Fuller were alive he would probably
not be surprised.
In fact, he would probably find more than a few ways
to effectively harness its speed. There may be no better case study for
a digital collection than Buckminster Fuller's archives, in a few years
easy enough to fit in its entirety on a dozen CD ROMs weighing less than
a pound. Rapid advances in computerized search capability exhibited by
the "robots" of today, those tiny web spiders of search engines
like Alta Vista, who crawl around the Web to provide links to billions of
words on millions of pages in a global network of data may hold the key
to both the internal and external cross-referencing of such a digital body
We are rapidly entering a time in which thoughts, facts or comments can
be brusquely jotted down, absent of the necessary accouterments of formality,
and faxed or e-mailed to someone halfway around the world in the blink of
an eye. The era of true letter writing seems to be on the wane. As it
ambles its way into becoming a much more quaint or antiquated art form,
hand-written letters, or typed versions of manuscripts with hand entered
revisions will be relegated to the collective memories of future generations
--or to become only artifacts in the physical archives and libraries of
their past. Meanwhile the ephemeral data on our computer screens--final,
informal versions all--will someday fill the deep data banks of the ethers,
available with the touch of a finger but not able to be touched again in
their raw state from thought to pen--in fact, as part of the ubiquitous
paperless home and office of tomorrow, never to become physical at all.
A personal, physical archives of such epic proportions as the one Bucky
left could never be attempted again. He said as a comprehensivist he had
no competition, because he had found nobody else during his lifetime who
shared the importance of such a role for themselves. For a deliberate act
of self-documentation which in Bucky's case left us with a longitudinal
study of genius and more, he also did not have competition and probably
never will. With paper replaced by cyberspace, who in today's world could
amass such a large body of physical letters, papers and artifacts and leave
such a remarkable context for discovery? For that matter, who would want
When a few paragraphs of formality give way to an avalanche of shared introspection,
layers of the psyche or soul laid bare to a dear friend or lover, these
letters could build throughout a lifetime into an oeuvre of self-reflection,
an immensely detailed foray into the vast inner life of an individual--
all the better if that individual happens to be Leonardo da Vinci, the poet
Rainer Maria Rilke, or John F. Kennedy who left larger but far less spontaneous
imprints on history with their contributions as historical figures. A better
autobiography could not be found by these figures even if they took the
time, in retrospect, to write one because these personal letters carry with
them the specter of immediacy--the primary emotion of the moment rather
than the secondary reflection and revision that is so much a part of memoir.
Such is that intangible quality of raw intimacy that we experience when
reading a tome that begins, "The Collected Letters of..."
But imagine if someone kept everything? Imagine if, during the process,
he also became a visionary of world renown? Imagine if he kept everything
in the order that it came in and out of his life. Relevant or not, a grocery
list next to a letter of termination, a child's drawing next to a report
from the AIA. Imagine if it was all bound together in chronological order
where an official letter of recognition on linen paper emblazoned with the
Presidential seal could follow a penciled scrawl in a letter from an inquisitive
seven-year old child. For someone who by age 87 had received 47 honorary
doctorates you could have each cap and gown as well as each official award.
As documentor, you could have each camera and lens he owned, as geometrician,
each of his most significant papers and first synergetic models, as engineer
and architect every version of every blueprint of every building project
and all of his drafting tools, as professor and lecturer, full transcriptions
and recordings on film and audio of almost every public lecture. Imagine
if, on a handful of CD ROMs we could have the "Collected Everything
GUINEA PIG "B"
Buckminster Fuller, a dogged individualist with a singular mission and uncompromising
self-reflexivity was a voracious self-documentor. Through this little understood
facet of personal enterprise he will someday be seen as a bold pioneer of
far more than his well-known artifacts and ideas. In a determined lifelong
pursuit of patterns, of relationships, it should be no surprise that after
more than 87 years of diligent searching, deep introspection and undaunted
rigor, the greatest artifact he left us with was his life. Guinea Pig B.
Known by most as Bucky, he was a man who courted the world of the future,
documented the life of the present and reframed the world of the past with
fresh eyes. Although some of his views were idiosyncratic--Bucky was defined
as much by hubris as by leaps of inspiration and genius--he left a body
of artifacts that he was sure would long outlive him and perhaps offer by
demonstration the rest of the story he so hoped to tell.
In his work as well as his life, Bucky was determined to be as "micro
incisive" as he was "macro inclusive." While he worked tirelessly
on the tiniest design details of what would become air deliverable shelter
systems, he never stopped charting the broad trends of the global environment
in which they would eventually land even fifty to a few hundred years hence.
He set his sights on exploring the geometries of the outer reaches of the
cosmos as well as their counterparts on the smallest scale, unraveled by
the advances in microbiology during the course of this century, in order
to discover the mathematical bridge between. And he hoped this system of
geometry which hinged on the simplest structural system with insideness
and outsideness, the tetrahedron, would reach deeply enough to attempt to
reconcile the "metaphysical" world with the outside "physical"
world as possible, explaining as much about the processes of thinking as
it did the universe progressively probed by our instruments and directly
experienced by our senses.
Bucky wrote that in the 1920s, he had planned to document the life of an
individual born in the Gay Nineties who matures during the 20th century
while "crossing the historical threshold from a static, inert Newtonian
century into the dynamic, abstract Einsteinian Universe." He saw
a vastly different world taking shape around him and vowed to capture it
in his lens and somehow grab hold of the reins of that change. His explanation
of this Einsteinian world view was the "Universe as an aggregate of
only overlapping nonsimultaneous episodes--I have come to call 'scenario
Universe' because of its resemblance to an ever-changing film script with
the threads of new comings and goings interwoven into a complex story."
Within this framework, Bucky wanted to "identify the function of humans
in Universe" and began to understand humanity's collective role as
"local problem-solvers and information harvesters."
In this role, one had to get used to ever-changing scenarios, to stop thinking
of things in terms of finite isolated objects but instead as bodies in motion,
affecting other bodies in motion all the time--pattern integrities in relationship
to a continually transforming Universe. His life became a model for that
shift of focus, traveling around the world so many times that he said he
could feel the Earth rotating beneath his feet. He changed his sleep patterns
to what he called, "dog sleep," with a fifteen minute nap every
two hours--a practice which eventually accommodated his daunting schedule
of speaking engagements around the world and satisfied his unquenchable
thirst for explication.
Bucky's work assumed moving from a world of stasis to process--seeing things
in motion, as they transform into myriad shapes and forms through time.
He felt most at home with the world while it moved, embracing the grand
oscillation of the meeting place between things, the sets of relationships
that make up who we are. He was one of the few who gave us vision for that
--a pair of glasses, a telescope that broadens the relevance of each and
every ordinary person's life by example. An examined life.
I believe the examiner will be many future generations and the patterns
of Bucky's life will be unraveled long after he has shared his unique world
views with audiences around the world. Of his growing archives, he said
shortly before his death, "I hope that the record so documented (and
your hoped-for-by-me close examination of it) will serve as an encouragement
to you as individuals to undertake tasks that you can see what needs to
be attended to which are not to the best of your knowledge being attended
to by others, and for which there are no capital backers." And he
called himself "an ordinary man."
In the 1980s, self-reflexivity became a key concept and a commonly added
component for inquiry in many of the academic disciplines, from physics
to anthropology. From the new understanding that our own analytical models
in the social sciences are themselves culturally constructed to the acceptance
of the notion that the observer influences the observed in the laboratory,
we are beginning to recognize the importance of looking at who is doing
the looking as well as what it is we are looking at. For Fuller even in
the early part of the century, this became a modus operandi. It was just
as important for him to document what he was doing as as it was for him
to do it.
From early on, Bucky unceasingly looked at what nobody else was paying much
attention to. He called his approach comprehensive, he called it anticipatory,
and with a devotion to the processes of objective and experientially based
understanding, as a scientist would make his way through the experimental
rigors beneath each hypothesis, he called it science. He was bothered by
the limits of overspecialization, fascinated by the rapid evolution of technology
which allowed us to do so much more with so much less, and acutely aware
of the processes of globalization long before the world could fathom such
a concept or had a word for it. He explored the benefits of lightweight
shelter design, championed the importance of what he termed "a worldwide
livingry service industry" and charted the correlations and patterns
of seemingly unrelated events occurring around the world during each prolific
decade of his life. In what he called his "experiment of individual
initiative," Bucky never took a break, and never stopped documenting
in every format possible--wire recordings, film, photographs, letters,
manuscripts drawings, graphs, publications or transcripts--what he was
doing, why he was doing it, and how.
In a world that was oblivious to the importance of such things, was it relevant
for him to produce tools for a change that wasn't to occur for a few more
generations? Would anybody take him seriously? Bucky knew of the time
lag, the "invention to use gestation periods" between the time
something is invented and the time it is adopted for industrial use. For
livingry, or shelter, he used a framework of 50 years, stating that he deliberately
designed far into the future. Perhaps he also knew the time lag between
what he was doing and when anyone would find it worth the scrutiny. His
experiment in self-documentation was designed accordingly. This was why
he not only documented his own endeavors but kept a careful accounting of
anything written or published by others about his work. At that point,
he reasoned, who else would?
In just one section of the archives, the Clipping Files, what began as five
broadsheet-size clipping scrapbooks documenting the first 25-year period
of published articles about his work, artifacts or ideas from 1922 to 1947
eventually turned into to more than 60 file boxes of clips from magazines,
newspapers, journals, brochures and press releases. These boxes are packed
with items covering the broad range of his public life from kitsch to classic.
You can find a full page ad in a 1941 issue of Vogue magazine showing glamour
models swathed in fur coats next to Bucky's Dymaxion Deployment Unit to
a cover story in Life magazine on his Montreal Expo '67 dome to a matchbook
engraved with a geodesic dome restaurant to comic strips on Bucky's trade
fair domes in Japanese newspapers of the 1960s to significantly positive
reviews on Synergetics in 1975. Concurrently, his evolving trend chart through
which he depicted the acceleration of these published accounts from the
1920s to the 80s showed a steep upward curve of public popularity and historical
relevance. This would be only one of such illuminating statistical charts
he used to objectify the range and reception of his life pursuits.
When archeology was but a fledgling discipline in its quest to find out
more about the past, bones, pottery, jewelry were pulled out from the ground
one by one, cleaned, numbered, and placed upon a shelf for identification.
Only later their form and characteristics would be analyzed and classified,
often bereft of any clues that may have been left behind in the dirt they
had once been surrounded by. Many years later the discipline, seasoned by
time and experience, began to understand how much information was being
thrown away with each shovel full of earth. It finally became clear that
the context of the dig itself--the ground from which the items came, was
an important part of the equation when digging up the past. For it was
the context that made the items and their relationship to one another relevant.
Now archeological digs are measured to the micro level, depth, width and
breadth, as each item found and its physical location in relationship to
every other item is carefully described and logged, photographed or drawn
in detail before being pulled. Now it is well understood that accurate
inferences about the past cannot be made by items in isolation.
Such is the nature of Buckminster Fuller's archives. In its entirety, Bucky
left not only a collection of important items, documents, sets of data and
memorabilia, but more importantly, he left the context of a lifetime that
includes both his failures and successes, insecurities and boldness, youthful
infidelity and mature devotion. It includes the genesis of design ideas
such as his earliest sketches of the Dymaxion Car on the back of an early
letter he wrote while he was renovating the curiously similar hull of his
sailboat, Lady Anne. It includes a set of papers with no less than four
"Eurekas" furiously printed at the top as his geometry first gelled
into the system he would later term synergetics. It contains his exhaustive
1948 draft to Einstein about the relevance of such geometry--a letter which
was finally, never sent.
This is an archives that includes in every detail the physical remnants
of seemingly irrelevant events that only many years later could be understood
as great turning points in the life of a visionary. It includes not only
the latest version of Bucky's evolving articles, essays, books but every
version, replete with layers and layers of multi-colored marginalia. In
it one can find countless transcripts of talks he gave around the world
through the course of fifty years, including some handwritten by friends
on lined paper going back to his earliest shelter lectures given to New
York and Chicago audiences from 1929 to 1931. Numbering in the hundreds,
most of these transcripts have counterparts in his media archives recorded
on wire, audio tape or video tape.
In this growing body of materials that resulted from Bucky's life experiment,
he knew that the only way for it to be useful was to organize it as he
went. And organize he did, first with chronology as the main ordering system
for his correspondence files which he called the "Chronofile."
In the earliest years, this included literally every piece of paper that
came in and out of his life. With his wife Anne's help in the early years,
he retroactively compiled into bound volumes his earliest letters as a child
and documents such as baptism papers and the extensive correspondence between
them during his Navy years. Much later as his collection grew, he organized
sections by project and by type of material. He started an index he called
the Dymaxion Index which at first only included his itinerary and references
to published items about his work. This index eventually grew to comprise
20 volumes and referred to 20 different sections of his archives from patent
files to family history.
The itinerary alone comprises four thick volumes of the Dymaxion Index containing
Fuller's day to day projects and activities, where he traveled, with whom
he stayed, where he lectured, and what he spoke about or worked on from
the 1960s on. The earlier itinerary is almost as detailed, with a full
accounting of at least his week to week engagements, all major artifact
prototyping and production, university appointments and projects, lectures
and world travels. On just one page of the last fifteen years of his life
you can see a jaunt from Philadelphia to Canada to Chicago to Italy and
then to Israel in less than a week, each stop involving some meeting, lecture
or project he was working on. Bucky was a consummate "world citizen"
and his itinerary shows it.
But his itinerary can also be used as a key index to flesh out a period
of his life. Choosing, say a period of about three months in 1953, the
itinerary tells us where he was teaching, what building projects he was
working on, what speaking engagements he had and where he was. You could
go to the original drawings or blueprints, the photo and slide collection
to get full documentation on the projects, the Chronofile for full correspondence,
personal and professional, the project files for additional written documentation,
reports or syllabi, the clipping files for any publicity on him during that
time or any of his own published articles, the manuscript files for or transcripts
of his talks and finally the media collection for audio and film or video.
Before you know it you could be surrounded by everything that Fuller was
surrounded by at the time, as if a doorway to the past had opened up for
you. Did he plan it that way or was it a result of his incessant rigor?
Bucky was as rigorous with the documentation of his personal life as he
was with his professional pursuits. He approached each exercise of documentation
with vigor--from the extensive cross-index cards of his genealogy to his
chronologically organized correspondence with his wife Anne during his Navy
years, from his type-coded cache of selected photographs and copy negatives
documenting each and every design project, artifact and period in his life
to his life chart showing the intersection between global trends in communication
and transportation and the evolution of his work. Not only did he compile
extensive lists of his published articles and books, his keynote speeches,
honorary degrees, awards and appointments, but also such seemingly maudlin
things as a full listing of every car he owned during his lifetime. Nothing
was considered unimportant--anything could prove relevant if documented
in the same serious and deliberate fashion.
Even his fascination with graphs began with his personal experience. Bucky
worked with Phelps Dodge on a copper autonomous bathroom unit in the 1930s,
a practice that initiated his first official study of industrialization
published in Fortune Magazine in 1940 and eventually led to his far more
extensive trend charting of the voluminous World Design Science Documents
of the 1960s and 70s. But before that, his first graph began with his little
family of three. After the birth of his daughter Allegra in 1927, Fuller
statistically charted her growth curve in her first months on graph paper
now bound tightly in an early volume of the Chronofile. One page included
an almost whimsical diagram of her little body growing from 7 pounds to
almost 19 pounds in relationship to "Daddy's leg in same scale."
He placed a graph outlining her week to week eating habits, health and activities
in relationship to his job search and his wife Anne's routines during the
first seven months of Allegra's life. Baby Allegra was even deemed "president"
of his first company, 4D.
Bucky's archives is an archive of thousands. In the same way that he enlisted
literally hundreds of students to carry out the calculations and prototyping
and trouble-shooting that perfected geodesic math and demonstrated the possibilities
inherent in geodesic structures, he also captured the enthusiastic support
of hundreds of people to compile, organize and build his collection of self-documentation.
Although he said he never subscribed to a clipping service, there are hundreds
of clips from published items around the world supplied by services and
numerous ones sent to him by people he knew, as well as those he compiled
Bucky would tell people what he was doing and they would often send things
back to him for his archives. Whenever he was filmed or audiotaped (if
he did not already have something set up for that) he would ask for a copy
--his media archives is rife with such great material gleaned from others.
Of the thousands of photographs in his non-indexed photo collection, many
hundreds were gifts from others which offered a broad spectrum of perspectives
on his work and similar work by others. Bucky also kept full working records,
reports and blueprints from almost all of the projects carried out by his
students at universities across the nation during the 1950s and 60s. Portions
of the archives are actually discreet sections of unindexed materials such
as his full legal files returned by his legal and patent attorneys and boxes
of project files from Shoji Sadao, his architectural associate for more
than 30 years. Items published by or about Fuller's work continue to stream
in to his archives even now, long after his death.
Bucky's friend and admirer, John Cage once said that Bucky really had only
one thing to say--which he said over and over again, but in many different
ways. He never sat down to write a book or an article from start to finish,
nor did he have the time. Instead, when he spoke to others, from personal
associates or friends to audiences of hundreds, he called his lengthy bouts
of verbal exposition "thinking out loud sessions." Thus, with
his desire to have what he spoke about transcribed, he had more than the
purpose of mere documentation in mind.
Assistants, students or admirers as far away as England or Malaysia would
carefully listen to audio or video tapes, painstakingly transcribe his talks
and offer them as additions to his extensive collection. Often Bucky would choose
paragraphs from his manuscript files, those with the best variants on an
idea. Then he'd have somebody assist him in pasting new manuscripts together.
To each he would add his expansive pockets of marginalia and it would be
typed into the next draft of a piece which was eventually meant for publication.
He kept every version of an item, sometimes numbering in the dozens, from
the paste-ups to the final drafts, in its own file. These files, with a
thickness ranging from a fraction of an inch to a few feet, are all named
and placed in chronological order.
To Bucky, even the galleys for a finished book would sometimes be seen and
treated as just another draft. Everything was in the state of perpetual
revision and expansion. In the thousands of pages that make up the manuscript
files, the same ideas are spread out in endless variations in these multiple
versions of essays, specially selected letters, transcripts, articles and
books. Although Bucky was a prolific author, publishing more than 20 books
and hundreds of articles in his lifetime, it is estimated that more than
two thirds of the entire manuscript collection has never been published.
But thanks to many others who helped him through the years, everything
from these thinking out loud sessions is still intact and in one place.
In the 1960s until 1983, great efforts were undertaken by many of Bucky's
students and staff from the Morris Library at Southern Illinois University
in Carbondale and later in Philadelphia at the University City Science Center.
During his time at SIU a large number of people including Dale Klaus, Naomi
Schwartz and Constance Abernathy,worked with him to set up and organize
portions of the archives such as the photo files or set up cross-reference
cards or index files for his ideas.
In his later years in Philadelphia, Bucky enlisted the professional assistance
of archivist Ann Mintz to reconcile, add to and update his immense genealogy
files, and had her undertake other major projects in the archives. Medard
Gabel, who with Fuller initiated his World Game, also worked extensively
in the archives, updated the Dymaxion Index and wrote with Robert Kahn a
broad description of its organization and its contents in 1976. Shirley
Sharkey, Bucky's Executive Secretary for well over a decade knew more about
where he was going and what he was doing during those very busy years than
anybody and added yet another layer of organization to the vastly expanding
Kiyoshi Kuromiya, Bucky's adjuvant on two of his last books, "Critical Path"
and the posthumously published "Cosmography" also spent many years on his
staff and as his assistant. He also carved the first niche for Bucky's
work on the Internet back in 1990 with The FIX: Fuller Information Exchange
BBS. Amy Edmondson, John Warren, Christopher Kitrick and Robert Grip worked
closely with the application and final developments of geodesics and synergetics
in Bucky's final years.
During his lengthy collaboration with Bucky on his magnum opus, "Synergetics"
and "Synergetics II", in the 1960s and 70s, Ed Applewhite typed and compiled
22,000 5 x 8 cards of his ideas drawn from two trunkfuls of original notes
on synergetics going back to the early 40s various transcripts tape recordings,
unpublished papers, letters and manuscripts. With Applewhite's association
with Bucky reaching back to his Wichita House days, there may be no one
better acquainted with his entire corpus of work, and more intimately involved
with its organization and its disposition for the future. His efforts have
always been to surround some of Bucky's work with the tools "for students
and critics to make their own assessments of his work and thus reinforce
the achievements with the weight of discriminating examination."
Through the years, and to Applewhite's credit, a very rich and discreet
collection of the entire evolution of synergetics and collateral activities
and ideas by others around the world is beginning to comprise its own section
of the archives. In addition, he published the 5 x 8 cards themselves in
a 4-volume Synergetics Dictionary which, like a HyperCard stack, exhaustively
cross-references what Bucky had to say about everything from Christmas to
wind power, taste buds to tetrahedrons. This dictionary, which includes
citations to sources published and unpublished, will someday become another
doorway into Bucky's archives as well as his ideas.
If Bucky's entire philosophy could be brought down to one single word or
phrase, synergy may be the one, the behavior of the whole systems unpredicted
by the behaviors of any of their parts--whole systems which are greater
than the sum of their parts. During his lifetime Bucky seemed to have a
knack for eliciting enthusiastic and tireless hours of dedication to almost
all of his endeavors by literally hundreds of students, staff, family, friends
and in some cases strangers--and always without many resources. The artifact
of Bucky's lifetime experiment as Guinea Pig B was built this way as well,
with the efforts of hundreds, possibly thousands in service to an idea that
seemed to make a lot of sense. It is an artifact that may have more relevance
for future generations than anyone, even Bucky himself would have thought.
Although the tactile pleasures of sorting through the physical artifacts
of Bucky's life brings a dimension all its own to the discovery of who he
was and who he shared his life with, almost the same could be done with
the same body of materials available on a computer screen-from drawings,
letters and manuscripts to "ephemerabilia," at the touch of a
fingertip. In hundreds of letters spanning well over half a century, the
love story of Bucky and Anne is told. Anne's letters carry a lilting youthful
quality that punctuates even the most fatuous groupings of correspondence
to be found in the Chronofile boxes. Her handwriting is like a beautiful
victorian stenciled wallpaper and her ardent and boundless devotion gives
life to the saying that behind every great man is a great woman. It is no
wonder he personally deemed his most famous geodesic dome, at the 1967 Montreal
Exposition, his "Taj Majal to Anne" in honor of their 50th anniversary.
The letters of sculptor Isamu Noguchi, Bucky's lifelong friend, spann
decades and flavor the correspondence files with Asian subtlety, each page
an artwork in and of itself, all on sheer white rice paper written with
a brown fountain pen, always poignant, always aesthetically disarming.
And how affecting it is to see in a letter to his mother bound into the
1928 Chronofile volume, Fuller's youthful discovery of his Great Aunt Margaret
Fuller's thought and its parallels to his own as he writes, "I have
been reading much by Margaret Fuller lately. I was astonished to find that
some things I have been writing myself are about identical to things I find
in her writings. I am terribly interested and am astounded fully that I
should have grown to this age and never have read anything of her or grandfather
Bucky's relationships with hundreds of people, many who were well-known
figures of the 20th century spring to life in the hundreds of volumes of
the Chronofile. His friendships with Romany Marie, Margaret Mead, Indira
Ghandi, Josef and Anni Albers, Marshall McLuhan, Christopher Morley and
John Cage represent only some of the remarkable correspondence which can
be found in that section of the archives alone. Things came in so fast
after the 1940s that there was no time left to bind the volumes together
and items were instead placed loosely in folders and files, but still kept
together in their chronological order. Because they are organized chronologically,
it is hard to follow a stream of correspondence from a single person with
so many hundreds of others between. For his own purposes, in 1970 Bucky
set his office staff to the task of compiling a matrix to log each incoming
item as it came in. This matrix included the names of people, nature of
correspondence, and the date of each letter which then turned into a series
of 5 x 8 typed index cards cross-referencing the Chronofile alphabetically
for a 13 year period from 1970 to 1983. This helps for the last years but
doesn't make a dent in the first 75 years of Chronofile letters.
Even though Fuller's 20-volume Dymaxion Index and a number of other card
files comprise the key to to such a large body of material, an estimate
that these provide indexes to only about 25% of the entire collection is
not too far off the mark. Going through so much material to find what one
is looking for is sometimes impossible and often inordinately time-consuming.
Bucky's archives has captivated, frustrated and confounded the few researchers
who have spent lengthy periods of time in it, from Kirk Simon and Karen
Goodman for their American Masters biography on Bucky to J. Baldwin who
just completed his photographically rich book about Bucky's artifacts to
Yunn Chii Wong, who spent one full year in the archives on a daily basis
for his dissertation on the evolution of Fuller's geodesics and shelter
ideas to Joachim Krausse who has returned for a month at a time through
the past couple years preparing for a seminal exhibit on Fuller's work to
debut in Zurich in 1997.
The lament by these researchers is that there is just too much stuff; there
is just not enough time. Even in the years I have spent in the archives
with these researchers and joining the lineage that began in Bucky's lifetime
with the progressive task of helping to organize this unique body of materials,
I know we have only touched the tip of the iceberg. The next big leap would
be to computerize large portions of the collection. Although there are
redundancies everywhere, by beginning with the Dymaxion Index and enlisting
the planning efforts of many who helped to build or organize the collection
in the first place, such a thing could be done. How fitting for a man who
felt technology was part and parcel of nature--a natural thing, that computer
technology would find a meeting place with his lifetime experiment to take
it to the next stage before the year 2000. Although such a daunting task,
it seems to be possible with greater ease than anyone may have thought until
just the last couple years.
At this very moment, a student from MIT is walking around with a computer
headset and wired body almost every minute of his waking day to document
with videocam and a direct computer feed everywhere he goes and everything
he sees--well, almost everything. Although I haven't seen it yet, anyone
can bring up his daily video feed through the World Wide Web. It reminds
me of Bucky's approach with his lifetime experiment. He never stopped looking
outward as he looked in. He documented the changing world of the 20th century
as well as the world of his life.
One of Bucky's last messages was that anyone could do what he did--find
something that needs to be done that nobody is attending to. There is certainly
enough of that out there for everyone. He said integrity was the one thing
that had helped him remain on track, to continue his lifetime mission.
In his mind, all important things get done by individuals with initiative.
I will never forget when I saw him speak in those last few months of his
life, having only been introduced to his work a couple years before. After
a grueling, almost non-stop six-hour lecture about a little bit of everything,
his youthful audience of a few hundred people stood up vigorously and gave
him a standing ovation that lasted many minutes, applauding his decades
of service to the future and his call for us to take our own initiatives
--to go out and look for what needed to be done. When the room was finally
quiet he looked up at us, held out his arms and said, "I wish you could
see yourselves from where I am standing now."
Bucky was one of the few mentors of this century, and he took the idea of
demonstrating what you are talking about very seriously. He said if you
can't make a model of it, don't talk about it. And somehow he managed to
leave an artifact, a "model" of his life in addition to everything
else he did. Some can call it ego to spend so much time leaving one's own
life bared for all to see--thinking there is meaning in every ounce of
minutiae, but I think it was instead a gesture coming from Bucky's sense
of personal responsibility. Everything he did was with future generations
in mind. With this model he says to us, "see what I did, see what
worked and what didn't--use what you can as an example, good or bad."
Bucky did not hold anything back while telling the story that is told in
the intellectual artifact that he left and hoped someday that anyone who
wanted would have access. Although this is not possible in its physical
state of today and it would be a crime to lose all that was built up in
a few short years of unlimited rifling, those of us who have been inside
his archives hope that day will not be too far away. And, as Bucky would
have wanted it, someday it will belong, unconditionally, to everyone.