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Buckminster Fuller - Making the Invisible Visible*

by Allegra Fuller Snyder and David McConville

Photo: scanned by Gene Keyes from cover of World Game Report, [28 p.], ©1969, Edwin Schlossberg. Photography by Daniel Gildesgame and Herbert Matter.

Decades before the term “sustainability” entered the cultural lexicon, R. Buckminster Fuller sought to illuminate the interconnected challenges facing humanity. During the 1930s, he began charting long- term trends relevant to industrialization and globalization. This seminal work demonstrated the value of visualizing the relationship between world resources and human needs.

To better visualize patterns of global change, Fuller proposed that a spherical Earth display—called the Geoscope—be installed outside of the United Nations and other public facilities. In this passage, he describes how the Geoscope might function:

“The consequences of various world plans could be computed and projected, using the accumulated history-long inventory of economic, demographic, and sociological data. All the world would be dynamically viewable and picturable and radioable to all the world, so that common consideration in a most educated manner of all world problems by all world people would become a practical event.” - Education Automation (1962) (1)

Fuller envisioned the visualization of global datasets over time as a powerful tool for playing what he called the World Game. The World Game’s bold purpose statement invites players “To make the world work, for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.” (Fuller & McHale, 1963) (2)

Informed by an elegant set of design principles, the World Game challenges players to “start with the whole” and “anticipate the future.” The goal is to employ existing resources and know-how in order to raise the standard of living for all.

The use of the word “game” in the title is instructive, illustrating Fuller’s approach to whole systems thinking and creative problem solving. Though intended as a serious tool, Fuller chose to call the initiative a “game” because he imagined a process open to everyone. Well before its time, Fuller was an advocate of “open source” design. He envisioned a tool that was available to the widest possible audience with its findings widely disseminated to the public. As solutions were proposed and tested, a groundswell of public support would influence the political process to adopt the strategies and innovations of those playing the democratically open World Game.

Today, many of the technologies Fuller anticipated are woven into the fabric of our society, including computer networks, simulation games, and scientific visualizations. Many “Digital Earth”(3) initiatives (ISDE, 2013) are now working to apply these new technologies to make visible the intimate interconnections between economic, social, and ecological health.

The Buckminster Fuller Institute is dedicated to connecting these initiatives with a new generation of design scientists working to create an abundant, restorative, and regenerative world that benefits all of humanity.

Sketch by Winslow Wedin (1956) of Buckminster Fuller’s Minni Earth Location at UN Building 4, New York City [Courtesy of the Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller].

Anticipating the arrival of digital cartography and scientific visualization displays, Fuller proposed a Geoscope Mini Earth be installed outside of the United Nations. He envisioned that this would allow UN delegates to envision metabolic flows of energy, food, water and military movements around the globe.

Images, except for Winslow Wedin Sketch, courtesy of The Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller.

[1] Fuller, R. B. (1962). Education Automation: Freeing the scholar to return to his studies; a discourse before the Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville Campus Planning Committee, April 22, 1961.

Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

[2] Fuller, R. B., & McHale, J. (1963). World Design Science Decade, 1965-1975.Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University. [3] International Society for Digital Earth. (2013). Retrieved from


Allegra Fuller Snyder, Buckminster Fuller’s only child, is an Honorary Member, Board of Directors of the Buckminster Fuller Institute; Professor Emerita of Dance and Dance Ethnology, UCLA; former Chair, Department of Dance; and founding Coordinator of the World Arts and Cultures Program.

David McConville, current Chairman of the Board of the Buckminster Fuller Institute, is a media artist, researcher, and entrepreneur who designs tools for seeing the world in new ways.

*"Making the Invisible Visible" by Allegra Fuller Snyder and David McConville is presented in collaboration with Streaming Museum in the publication Centerpoint Now ©2013, World Council of Peoples for the United Nations, special edition Sustainability”


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