ARCHITECTURE: Domes in War and Peace.

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Fuller's works" 19-OCT-1993 03:02:50.57
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Subj: Fuller and emergency shelters

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Date: Mon, 18 Oct 1993 23:52:22 -0700
From: Alex Soojung-Kim Pang <[email protected]>
Subject: Fuller and emergency shelters
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I read the _New York Times_ letter with interest, since it was the first
citation I'd seen of Fuller's thinking on using domes as emergency shelters.
And certainly Mr. Stubenrauch is right to raise the question of whether
military "first use" of high technology speaks well of the values of the
society supporting that military. However, while Fuller may have had sketches
in his notebook showing domes airlifted to the Third World, and in the early
1960s did a couple short courses in architecture schools on the use of
indigenous materials (especially bamboo) in dome-building, it is important
to remember that the dome's use by the military happened not in spite of
Fuller, but because of him.

In fact, in reviewing Fuller's research in the 1950s, I find that he never
presented students with the challenge of using the dome to solve Third World
housing problems. He had a carefully-managed network of small consulting
firms, architecture schools in which he held visiting lectureships, and a
good-sized group of student volunteers (he was, in fact, an able if unusual
manager who was deeply concerned with questions of securing patrons, exerting
control over intellectual property rights, etc.) in this period, and they
spent most of their time working on military and civilian defense applications
of the dome. The initial studies for the DEW line domes, for example, were
done by Fuller and students (mainly students) at MIT; studies for the Marine
Corps were conducted at MIT, Tulane, NC State, and Virginia Tech. Other
students designed automated cotton mills in geodesic domes, and worked under
Fuller on designing private and public structures that could withstand atomic
bomb blasts. Studies of how the dome could be put to more humanitarian uses,
in contrast, seem to have received almost no formal attention from Fuller or
his students.

This is not to say that Fuller was not interested in the dome being used in
the Third World; but his vision, at least as described to his military patrons,
was rather more complex and perhaps more sinister than Mr. Stubenrauch reports.
Fuller articulated this vision in letters now held in the Marine Corps
Historical Center archives; in them, he complimented the Corps for their
interest in using domes in forward logistics plans (in which domes, filled
with aircraft repair equipment, would be rushed to contested areas in the
Third World at the first sign of Communist mischief, shortening logistics
lines and allowing stronger support for air wings), and that they had
discovered the key to winning to the Cold War. To quote:

"The Marine Corps [has created] and unexpectedly double-barreled
gun: one barrel for the hot war, one barrel for the cool war. The
hot war barrel of the Geodesic structures weapon will function in
the manner we have outlines above [e.g. in providing logistics
and repair facilities for aircraft]..... The cool barrel of the
Geodesic structures weapon- inadvertently adopted by the Marine
Corpos- is the barrel which can now hit directly, instantly, and
effectively at the heart of every peace-time economic pattern the
world around....

"The logic governing the possibility of our winning the cool war
runs as follows: controlled environment is the comprehensive package
which contains and permits the uniquely high vantage functionings
of industrialization. And it is towards industrialization that
peoples of the world now direct the war-detouring hopes of swift
emancipation from all the fundamental physical disadvantages and
lethan deficiencies.... And, every function of further world-
around industrialization is dependent upon the accelerated realization
of comprehensively deployable environment controls....

"The swift delivery half-way around the world... of all manner
of controlled environment structures... is a first requirement
of all integrated agricultural and industrial economics- from
farm buildings to factories, to governments, to homes.... If
world man can witness the economically realized production of
controlled environments capable of converting to man's unprecedented
advantage the most hostile environment events of converting to
man's unprecedented advantage the most hostile environmental
events... then world man's intuitive response will be to focus
his hopes of swiftest emancipation from 'what ails him' toward
the heart of the American economy and the democratic processes
which provide the sunergetic strength of the U.S.A."

Fuller's other writings and speeches from this period deliver (broadly) the
same message: that domes, filled with power stations, hospitals, factories,
etc., preassembled in the United States and airlifted to underdeveloped
countries, would yield overnight industrialization and the reconstitution
of these nations into American-style societies and economies. This vision
is a far cry from the emergency shelters; it is also the one Fuller invested
more in, and in which he was more interested. The domes weren't empty, either
in a literal or political sense.

Cheers,
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
U.C. Berkeley
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