A spectacular full-color edition of the marvelous Dymaxion Map of the world, R. Buckminster Fuller’s innovative attempt to overcome the distortion endemic to two-dimensional projections of the Earth’s surface.
The dymaxion world view of R. Buckminster Fuller
Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) was a distinctly American figure, whose lifelong commitment to identifying problems and develop interesting solutions thereto is reminiscent of Ben Franklin (Though in terms of long-term impact Franklin wins hand-down.) Fuller’s métier was the application of innovative design to problems of housing and transportation, all with an eye toward improving the human condition by “doing more with less.” It is impossible here to recount his long, rich and varied career, but his 1983 CV goes on for 72 pages and concludes with a fantastic chart, “Dymaxion Chronofile Correspondence of Buckminster Fuller Since 1895,” according to which he had sent and received more than 200,000 letters!
The term “dymaxion,” which became so closely associated with Fuller and his inventions, was coined not by Fuller himself but by a department store marketing an “easily built, air-delivered, modular apartment building” of his design.
“Based on the words “dynamic,” “maximum,” and “ion,” [“dymaxion”] became a part of the name of many of Fuller’s subsequent inventions. The word became synonymous with his design philosophy of “doing more with less,” a phrase he later coined to reflect his growing recognition of the accelerating global trend toward the development of more efficient technology.” (“R. Buckminster Fuller, 1895-1983,” at bfi.org)
Other dymaxion designs by Fuller included the three-wheeled “Dymaxion Car,” with an astonishingly tight turning radius; a prefabricated “Dymaxion Bathroom;” and “Dymaxion Deployment Units” to house American military units in remote areas.
The Dymaxion Map
One of Fuller’s more interesting innovations was the Dymaxion Map, a cartographic projection of his own design. In its original incarnation it entailed projecting the surface of the globe on to a “cuboctahedron”, a symmetrical figure with six square and eight triangular faces. Mathematics in general, and map projections in particular, are a great weakness of mine, so by way of explanation I simply quote the web site of the Buckminster Fuller Institute:
“the Dymaxion Map… depicted the entire planet on a single flat map without visible distortion of the relative shapes and sizes of the continents. The map, which can be reconfigured to put different regions at the center, was intended to help humanity better address the world’s problems by prompting people to think comprehensively about the planet.” (“R. Buckminster Fuller, 1895-1983,” at bfi.org)
Fuller first described the Dymaxion Map in print in the March 1, 1943 edition of Life. This was followed by a more detailed discussion in “Fluid Geography,” which appeared in The American Neptune for April 1944 (vol. IV no. 2, pp. 118-136). He also applied for a patent for the projection, which was approved in January 1946.
Fuller later revamped the dymaxion projection, dropping the cuboctahedron, adopting a modified isocahedron (a slightly-asymmetrical figure with 20 faces, mostly triangular) and re-naming it the Dymaxion Airocean World. He first issued it in 1954, while was living in Raleigh, North Carolina and teaching as a guest lecturer at the North Carolina State University School of Architecture. Fuller’s collaborator on the map was Shoji Sadao (1927-2019), a Japanese-American cartographer and architect who had studied under Fuller at Cornell. Sadao later collaborated on major architectural projects with Fuller and Isamu Noguchi, and from 1989-2003 served as Director of the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, New York.
Offered here is a later edition of the Dymaxion Airocean World, dated 1967f but cartographically identical to the 1954 map. One odd feature is the use of a title block printed on a separate, triangular piece of paper and pasted over the original title block. The original can be made out, and reads “The Honeywell Edition of Fuller Projection”, copyrighted in 1967 by the firm of Honeywell in Minneapolis. The origin of the paste-down is not clear, but perhaps Fuller fell into a dispute with Honeywell over the ownership of his projection.
The 1954 edition of the map was accompanied by a large explanatory panel (not present here), which explained the use of the odd term “Airocean” in the title:
“Because the Raleigh Edition of the Dymaxion Airocean World gives the continental stretch-out over the North Pole without continental contour sinuses and also avoids sinuses in the Arctic areas, it will probably be as appropriate to future air voyaging as was the Mercator map appropriate to the square rigged east-west sailings with the Trade Winds—closely paralleling the Equator, around which the Mercator projection was least distorted.”
The intrinsically dramatic quality of Fuller’s projection, the vivid use of color and the substantial size combine to render this a spectacular and thought-provoking display piece.
OCLC 7716101 et al, giving numerous institutional holdings.