R. Buckminster Fuller & Bruce Mau’s Critical Path & Massive Change (January 2005)
A comparison of Mau’s new Massive Change and Fuller’s seminal Critical Path — two books that take on the challenge of examining the future of information and culture.
When architect-designer-theorist R. Buckminster Fuller published Critical Path in 1982 — a year before his death — he summed up a life’s work theorizing about the crises that face humanity, and cemented his reputation as one of the planet’s most innovative thinkers. In addition to inventing the geodesic dome and the Dymaxion world map, Fuller is known for a unique philosophy anchored in both individuality and sustainability — the latter being a radical notion at the time.
Critical Path is a trove of futurist thinking that predicts, among other things, the ubiquity of computers; but the bulk of its ideas remain dormant, still awaiting discovery. Some theories, such as his declaration that Southeast Asia is the true cradle of human civilization, are thrilling if yet unproven. Others, such as the viability of the geodesic doming of midtown Manhattan, sound as attractive today as ever. The book reads like an amalgam of Fuller’s life and work, which influenced generations of creators, including leading Toronto-based designer-theorist Bruce Mau, whose Institute Without Boundaries (IWB) takes on Fuller’s challenge to forge a new breed of designer.
With the publication of Massive Change, Bruce Mau and IWB launched their own future-forward design philosophy. The appropriately named Massive Change project, of which the book is a fragment, includes a traveling exhibit, an evolving website, a radio program, and a slew of other components. The book itself is a compendium of insight from some of today’s leading sages on sustainability. Binding ideas to their economic lives, individual chapters on urbanization, movement, energy, information, image, market, material, military, manufacturing, living, wealth, and politics tackle the question of not what we do but how we do it.
It is reassuring to see two books by leading visual thinkers fearlessly engaging the issues faced by present and future designers. Although Fuller and Mau take some different approaches, both refuse to see their mega-projects as part of some sort of utopian futurism, but instead, as viable solutions couched in pragmatism. Subverting Timothy Leary’s ’60s axiom to “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out,” Massive Change’s website shouts: 1. Learn, 2. Act. (HV)