Source – global.oup.com
– ” …His life after all had a purpose, “which could be fulfilled only by sharing his mind with the world” – And share it he did, tirelessly for over half a century, with houses hung from masts, cars with inflatable wings, a brilliant and never-bettered equal-area map of the world, and concepts for massive open-access distance learning, domed cities and a new kind of playful, collaborative politics“:
IN 1927 the suicidal manager of a building materials company, Richard Buckminster (“Bucky”) Fuller, stood by the shores of Lake Michigan and decided he might as well live. A stern voice inside him intimated that his life after all had a purpose, “which could be fulfilled only by sharing his mind with the world”.
And share it he did, tirelessly for over half a century, with houses hung from masts, cars with inflatable wings, a brilliant and never-bettered equal-area map of the world, and concepts for massive open-access distance learning, domed cities and a new kind of playful, collaborative politics. The tsunami that Fuller’s wing flap set in motion is even now rolling over us, improving our future through degree shows, galleries, museums and (now and again) in the real world.
“Fuller deserves his visionary reputation. He grasped in his bones the dynamism of the universe“
Indeed, Fuller’s”comprehensive anticipatory design scientists” are ten-a-penny these days. Until last year, they were being churned out like sausages by the design interactions department at the Royal College of Art, London. Futurological events dominate the agendas of venues across New York, from the Institute for Public Knowledge to the International Center of Photography. “Science Galleries”, too, are popping up like mushrooms after a spring rain, from London to Bangalore.
In You Belong to the Universe, Jonathon Keats, himself a critic, artist and self-styled “experimental philosopher”, looks hard into the mirror to find what of his difficult and sometimes pantaloonish hero may still be traced in the lineaments of your oh-so-modern “design futurist”.
Be in no doubt: Fuller deserves his visionary reputation. He grasped in his bones, as few have since, the dynamism of the universe. At the age of 21, Keats writes, “Bucky determined that the universe had no objects. Geometry described forces.”
A child of the aviation era, he used materials sparingly, focusing entirely on their tensile properties and on the way they stood up to wind and weather. He called this approach “doing more with less”. His light and sturdy geodesic dome became an icon of US ingenuity. He built one wherever his country sought influence, from India to Turkey to Japan.
Chapter by chapter, Keats asks how the future has served Fuller’s ideas on city planning, transport, architecture, education. It’s a risky scheme, because it invites you to set Fuller’s visions up simply to knock them down again with the big stick of hindsight. But Keats is far too canny for that trap. He puts his subject into context, works hard to establish what would and would not be reasonable for him to know and imagine, and explains why the history of built and manufactured things turned out the way it has, sometimes fulfilling, but more often thwarting, Fuller’s vision.
This ought to be a profoundly wrong-headed book, judging one man’s ideas against the entire recent history of Spaceship Earth (another of Fuller’s provocations). But You Belong to the Universe says more about Fuller and his future in a few pages than some whole biographies, and renews one’s interest – if not faith – in all those graduate design shows.
Oxford University Press
This article appeared in print under the headline “The tomorrow person”
(Collaborative Consumption & The Circular Economy)
How can we reduce our ever increasing throughput of raw materials? By breaking out the the ‘iron cage of consumerism’, writes Mariale Moreno: make things to last – whether clothes, houses, cars, or washing machines. Join a car club. Share domestic appliances with neighbors. And bring back the laundromat!
The sharing economy or collaborative consumption has demonstrated new ways of distributing goods and services to consumers. As goods are shared instead of owned, it represents an alternative to consumerism.
Every year massive amounts of valuable resources are deemed ‘waste’ and consigned to landfill. Take the UK – around 540 million tonnes of products and materials enter the country annually, but only 117 million tonnes are recycled.
However if we truly thought that waste equals value, and ensured that resources are kept in the economy for longer and thus reducing the use of raw materials, we could make serious steps towards diverting all this waste from landfill. This is what’s known as the circular economy.
For the circular economy to thrive, we must be serious about reducing waste. And yet we’re still locked into an ‘iron cage of consumerism’. Shifting to a future in which we’re more efficient with materials will require significant changes in the way we consume things and in the way businesses are organised.
To make this shift possible, we must recognise that a lot of customers simply don’t consider sustainability the main selling point of a product. We must be realistic, and businesses have to target what consumers really want.
Recycling has thus far been the main focus of waste production, but this is far from ideal as it takes a great deal of energy to reprocess and remanufacture materials, as well as transport them.
We need to focus on making new stuff last longer. In short, we need to do away with the consumer culture. To do this, businesses need to think differently about the ways in which products are provided to consumers.
Tell the truth – stuff lasts
Providing better information to consumers about durability of products would be a good start. Giving accurate lifetime information on product labels could keep them in use for a longer time.
The average consumer expects a washing machine to last six years before it needs to be replaced, and Which? magazine cites quality and reliability as strong buying criteria. So why don’t people actually keep their washing machines for that long?
It’s because they’re confused by the labelling. Consumers tend to assess the expected lifetime of large household appliances through the manufacturer’s warranty. However most just give between one or two years warranty, making it difficult for the consumer to really assess how long it would last.
Rectifying this would mean businesses and their brands become more trusted, enabling them to build better and more prolonged relationships with consumers. When people aren’t switching brands all the time, products will be considered less disposable.
What’s in it for businesses?
Leasing isn’t a new concept, but it could pay dividends for the environment – it’s one of the business models which could reduce the use of materials in the longer term.
Why can’t household appliances like washing machines be rented rather than bought? They could be rented from manufacturers. As manufacturers would be responsible for repair and replacement rather than consumers, this should help to remove any commercial benefit to be gained from making products short-lived.
More leasing would thus significantly cut the use of materials. Appliances could be re-used from one consumer to another while all repairs would be undertaken by the manufacturer, rather than machines being scrapped when they break down.
As well as providing added revenues for manufacturers that would spread over time, this would trigger a change in the design of washing machines which would enhance the focus on longevity.
It is true that consumers already have well-established buying habits, and that firms would encounter significant costs when setting up new business models. But the benefits it seems could out-weigh the immediate barriers.
There would be major cost savings on manufacturing materials, something which may become very important in the future. The more scarce materials become, the more expensive they will be – a real pressure point for the industry of tomorrow.
Re-use and repair services and leasing models will inevitably start to become more appealing to businesses which are looking at ways to turn a profit in the face of increasing costs.
We need an Airbnb for laundromats
In the past few years, the sharing economy or collaborative consumption has demonstrated new ways of distributing goods and services to consumers. As goods are shared instead of owned, the sharing economy represents an alternative to our consumerist society.
Take for example Bla Bla Car, where people can share a ride, or Airbnb where travellers can rent a spare room in someones home, as an alternative accommodation. This peer-to-peer business models had prove to be successful. However, there still some barriers as they depend on trust between people.
Similar business models could be applied to other products such as large household appliances. A laundromat is the perfect example. In Scandinavian countries, famed for their sustainability, it is very common to find well equipped laundry rooms in private and municipal apartment blocks and housing estates.
However, in the UK and many other countries laundromats are often perceived as unhygenic and people can be snobby towards them. Such attitudes aren’t helpful. We should reinvent the laundromat as a key part of the shift towards a more sustainable, sharing economy.
Mariale Moreno is Research Fellow in Product Life extension at Nottingham Trent University.