May Day Mashup- Bucky, Hippies, And The 99%

Last Tuesday , I had time to duck in to SF MOMA and catch a couple of shows ; the painter Mark Bradford, and a show on Buckminster Fuller. It  dawned on me  the night before there were also going to be protests and marches the following day- it was May Day. So this amble was going to be a bit different,  spent going to and taking in the museum, and then checking out the protests and marches.  I thought there was definitely a connection between the two, as we shall see.

For the uninitiated Buckminster, or Bucky, was a bit of a design “bon vivant”. He was essentially self-taught as an Architect, but really was much more than that. He was a tinkerer, a problem-solver, and ultimately,  someone driven by how we could live lighter on this planet, how to elevate the lives of, well, the 99%.

So here’s Bucky:

Bucky , among other things, refined a concept for lightweight dome structures that could be erected with ease. He is perhaps most well-known for these “Geodesic Domes”. This was erected for the 1967 Montreal Expo :

He envisioned more modest versions of this that could create instant structures everywhere. It caught my eye that a commune in Colorado employed them. He also designed a home for the masses. This was his Dymaxion House (and is that a child with a goat out front?):

Here is his three-wheeled Dymaxion Car:

I won’t expound on the theories here, but suffice to say spheres and domes were very central to his work, as they increased the volume of space efficiently. Ultimately, he was interested in mass-produced solutions, with more modest scaled domes able to be fabricated quickly by a few.

Some of the work is a bit quirky and in part impractical, but I think Bucky’s biggest legacy was as a teacher, lecturing and inspiring on how we must all work to save the planet. He coined the term spaceship earth, reminding us all that we were rocketing through space on this planet, and this was important in terms of how we thought about it. He was concerned about the resources we were consuming, and no doubt if he were around today, would be addressing the demands of climate change and unsustainable population growth in the developing world. In the end, he thought himself a “trim-tab”, that tiny piece of a rudder whose tiniest motions can  initiate the change of course of a huge ship. In other words, his main mission was to inspire others to create and spread change. His disciples landed at my undergraduate school at Buffalo, where a holistic design approach took root based on many of his methods of solving problems.

Oh, and here is his Dymaxion Map:

Bucky and The Hippies

The Bucky show itself was actually somewhat disappointing, as I often am the with the Design Department at the Museum. There wasn’t enough “Bucky-nalia” on display, and the show was instead oriented a bit towards forcing the issue of Bucky’s legacy as it related to some of the Bay Area’s current buildings. It felt like they rummaged through the basement to find recent building models with which they could patch a story together.

What WAS amazing was the film they screened. It’s an extraordinary cultural artifact which documents his talk he gave in San Francisco in late 1967. Bucky went to Golden Gate Park, to Hippie Hill, plunked down a stool, and on a golden fall afternoon in the forest, with hundreds of hippies gathered around him, talked and answered questions, very stream of consciousness. The hippies were in full regalia, some asked thoughtful questions, and several, in full trip mode, rambled on in a hallucinogenic way about mother earth.

When Bucky started talking about spaceship earth, you could see their eyes roll back in their ahead, along for the trip. When he told them why he wore three watches (constantly traveling, one for where he was now, one for where he had been, one for where he was going) they shook their heads “wow man”. When he told them that stairs, in the context of living on a spherical planet,  should be called in-stairs and out-stairs instead of up-stairs and down-stairs, I think I saw a couple of heads explode.

At any rate, the movie was great, and he is a hero of mine. An original , self-educated, always probing, always questioning innovator.

The 99%

So it was off to the marches, but first I decided to walk through downtown, and take in the targets of the Occupy protests, the Banks. And downtown San Francisco has some lovely banks, that were either quiet or on lockdown this day. They from an era that above all else, wanted to convey a sense of solidity and grandeur. No light on the earth here, cuz this is where your money lives:

Meanwhile, several blocks away, the sound and the fury:

Later, I made my way to downtown Oakland, and walked a bit with the Labor march as it made its way to downtown. Once downtown the labor focused group joined forces with more Occupiers. As is often the case, there were three rough groups that constituted this gathering; the passionate members of groups and organizations with specific beefs (labor and low-income workers for example), more fringe groups with fringe issues (“Free The Land” seen below) , and then ,  those that seem to have no specific gripe other than to be part of the street party and raise  a ruckus.

Oh, and there was this guy, who made the trip from San Francisco. We have all seen the sign guy. Today’s message :”Geretrostrllligul”. I believe I had an aunt to suffered from that for years.

A few thoughts about the protest:

1. The banks certainly were guilty of a lot of , at the least irresponsible, and at the most fraudulent lending, that helped bring the economy to a crash. And they pretty much got off scott-free. But it seems to me these days that we should be rallying in front of government buildings. Ultimately , they are responsible for regulation, and bringing the offenders to justice. And they can, I believe most affect positively or negatively, the lives of the 99%. Right now, we have a poisonous political culture, with one political party hell-bent on nothing it seems but lining the pockets of the wealthy, and in their spare time, returning the country to the Victorian Age socially. Are we really paying for these guys to sit and debate contraception – really? Do we need to balance the books-yes. Do we need conservatives and Progressives to rediscover the lost art of compromise- yes. Do we need to give  tax-breaks so the  “small-business owners” wealthy can buy a second yacht- No. The only trickle-down of that will be the waves that will ripple up from said yacht that will lap at the feet of the growing population of waterside shanty-town dwellers.

2. In the meantime, amidst well-meaning and passionate protesters, merchants have to deal with thugs who run around and break windows and destroy property, all in the name of well, what exactly? The 99%? What statement are you attempting to make when you break a small entrepreneur’s window, as they did throughout the Mission the night before? As I walked to the BART Station, the police in Oakland began to move the crowd to disburse, and there suddenly was a wave of people running toward me, and I dodged into a shop that was open. For many here, it was a game of cat and mouse, games we all played when we were young. I remember that, there is a thrill in all that, and was that all this boiled down to? I didn’t want to be a part of this anymore and caught the train home.

I am part of the 99%, and my profession of Architecture has been ravaged like no other these last 4 years, with many of us struggling to make ends meet. Things are improving, and  I continue to make  my own humble contribution to improving the places we live. As I headed home, I returned to my thoughts of earlier in the day. What would Bucky make of all this? Well, he clearly wouldn’t be happy that so much of our economy seemed driven by the notion that everyone in this country should be able to buy oversized resource gobbling homes they couldn’t afford, and that a predatory lending structure would make that possible, allowing the economy to grow on a false premise.

I think he would be engaged in more problem solving, with climate change in particular. I think he would appreciate the efforts of the last 20 years to re-use old buildings, to grow in the cities instead of the suburbs. Ultimately , he would be continuing to tinker, to noodle, to invent.

And finally, I wondered if on this May Day, like that day in 1967,  would he be able to sit down in the middle of the plaza, or the forest, on a stool, and engage with the people here? I wanted to believe that of course the same thing could happen, but there is such shrillness to so much of the discourse today, a world seemed founded on the belief, (hello TV talk-show), that if you just out-shout your opponent you will win. The art of thoughtful debate seems lost amidst the need to score the day’s soundbite, and really who, has time for it. Just give me the sound bite, right?.

So today, in this culture, if a brilliant, solitary man set a stool down in the forest, and proposes change, will anybody hear him?

This was Hike 11 in my chronicling 50 urban ambles in my 50th year. 

Hike 11:  3 Miles

Distance traveled  to date:  68