Design Science

Kirby Urner
4 min readJan 21, 2022

Bucky Fuller is credited for popularizing a lot of memes, some of which developed into full-fledged physical artifacts, such as the geodesic domes, which blossomed everywhere in architecture, most impressively on the industrial scene, but also in the form of do-it-yourself affordable shelter solutions.

However “the industry industry missed” (Archibald MacLeish) is still missing for the most part. We have the mobile home industry instead, which gets little input from the aerospace sector. Fuller’s overall strategy was to introduce more tension over compression, as a design principle, thereby making artifacts more performant per pound.

He pointed out this was a general trend: as humans become more confident and competent with a technology, they optimize it to become less wasteful of resources. He called this trend “ephemeralization” (Arnold Toynbee: “etherealization”). Ephemeralization was evidence of our growing mastery of the generalized principles (or “natural laws” as we say in English).

Other memes he coined were more nebulous in terms of outcome. Consider his “design science revolution” (DSR) aimed at ending world hunger (The Hunger Project), bringing electricity to currently under-served millions (World Game), and improving the general public’s comprehension of our human potential (Synergetics).

To what extent were these hopes and dreams realized? Are we still on track to utopia, or did we choose oblivion?

Fuller’s emphasis on “design science” was somewhat unique in that he saw it as an alternative to the political process and its “warring state” model (War Game). He would tell his students that politicians were in no way in a position to deliver the goods, lacking the appropriate training and background.

The internet itself would be a good example of a life-changing invention that was not a product of the legal imagination, even if it was aided and abetted by the inventor of the algorithm, Al Gore (joke).

Fuller walked his talk, delivering working prototypes of a new kind of car, house, world map, curriculum. His work seemed on track to dovetail with Disney’s, who envisioned experimental prototype communities wherein these new ideas might be tested.

Fuller’s geodesic structures became a fixture at World’s Fairs and Expos, subsequent to the Kabul and Moscow Domes of 1956 and 1959 respectively, and culminating in the Biosphere, the US Pavilion of 1967 in Montreal. The geodesic dome…

Kirby Urner