In the future there are no right angles!

“You’re right Daddy, in the future there are no right angles,” my daughter said to me the last time we were on vacation.

We were walking through EPCOT in Disney World, the truncated final statement of one of our century’s great creative geniuses, Walt Disney. As we looked around at the AT&T Unisphere (called Spaceship Earth), the faux buttresses of the World Of Energy, and a series of exhibits called the Conunicore, not a single right angle was to be found.

Ovals, curves and triangles were present but the overwhelming level of acuteness was somewhere around 45 degrees, an angle that implies a forward-looking swoop, a race to the future, a break with the past. Even the simple concrete benches, strategically placed to reduce the level of emergency medical care needed by grossly overweight and heat exhausted Americans, defied the natural uprightness of ninety degrees, sloping instead to a rather lounge like attitude suitable for the Jetson’s living room.

I had noticed this many years ago, first in the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrow Land and then in any number of graphical and architectural invocations of the future such as Expos and movie sets. It seems that many artists picked up on this vocabulary to invoke the future. During one obsessive period I surveyed hundreds of photographs of the 1964 New York Worlds Fair and I confirmed that this 1960’s inspiration for Walt’s EPCOT also had decided that the future of mankind would be devoid of Greco-Roman geometry. One look at the Futurama and you know that squares and cubes are doomed. It was then that I began to make my oh so wise observation out loud that, “In The Future There Are No Right Angles,” to the amazement of otherwise bright people who now, because I was calling it out, were noticing it for the first time.

Only this month did I realize that this clever observation that had made me look brilliant dozens of times was really the resonant echo of the work done by another creative giant, Buckminster Fuller.

Wired magazine once fawned over Bucky, saying that …

Pronounced the “Leonardo da Vinci of our time” by Marshall McLuhan, Fuller invented everything from the geodesic dome to a device that cleaned without soap. … his influence spanned generations and transcended disciplines…

And he made us all think of the future as place of increasing velocity composed of triangular packed tetrahedrons banishing the cube as an unstable remnant of a past age. All Fuller wanted to do, he told Fortune Magazine in 1946, his “simple aim in life, was to remake the world”, and he wasn’t going to do it out of blocks.

At a remarkable show of Fuller’s work currently at the Whitney, and a smaller presentation at the Sebastian + Barquet gallery on 24th Street, you can see the progression of this man’s ideas for an if not perfect, then certainly more perfect future, develop as ninety degrees succumbed to a geometry of his own creation.

Synergetics was the name Fuller gave to his geometry and he used it as the foundation for all his designs. E.J. Applewhite wrote that “for (Fuller), geometry was a laboratory science with the touch and feel of physical models–not rules out of a textbook. He started with models of the closest packing of spheres. From that basic starting point he derived triangles as the most economical relationship between events.”

In the Whitney as I looked at the creations Fuller made for a new future of the world, a world which he first called Spaceship Earth, I saw the foundational echo of my simplistic observation about the cartoonish mimicries of Fuller’s designs.

And just then my cute snarky snip sounded rather hollow. Fuller was attempting to create a future world of harmony and equilibrium, but all I had seen was an absence of right angles.

Recent work about Fuller and the Bucky revival

“Fixing Earth One Dome at a Time” – The New York Times, July 4, 2008

“What We Can Learn from Buckminster Fuller” – Wired, July 2008

“Can Fuller be rehabilitated as a 21st century design hero?” – International Herald Tribune, June 20, 2008

“The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller” – The New York Times, June 15, 2008

“A 3-Wheel Dream That Died at Takeoff” – The New York Times, June 15, 2008

“Fuller’s Dymaxion Houses” – New York Magazine, June 15, 2008

“Dymaxion Man: The Visions of Buckminster Fuller” – The New Yorker, June 9, 2008

See also –

The Buckminster Fuller Insiutue

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