Buckminster Fuller and John McHale, Cornell University (and several other test sites), 1960s
CAN WE USE GLOBAL DATA AND INVISIBLE PATTERNS OF CLIMATE TO FORECAST AND PLAN BETTER?
Working with the English futurist John McHale and the architect Shoji Sadao, Fuller began in the early 1960s to develop his ideas for a World Game with a geodesic Geoscope- a three-dimensional planetary educational device. The Geoscope was a 200-foot sphere studded with light bulb-size ‘pixels’ that could display a variety of geo-political, geo-physical, and other data – the World’s resources, World population, pollution, de-forestation, etc.
For Fuller, the Geoscope was a data-visualisation device which would enable all data to be dynamically “viewable, picturable and relayable by radio to all the world, so that common consideration in a most educated manner of all world problems by all world people would become a practical event.” (Fuller, Education Automation) Framed within a spherical structure, Geoscopes simultaneously displayed local and cosmic information in the range of climatic, geographical, and sociological data. In effect, it could be argued that Fuller’s efforts were the first known attempts to foster a more technologically literate global citizenship. To this end, the Geoscope facilitated the visual communication of invisible information patterns to humanity in a timely manner, in order to “satisfactorarily anticipate and cope with inexorable events.” (Fuller, Critical Path, 163)
With the use of electric light bulb display technology, as well as connected computers for the display of data, the device aimed to represent current, past, and future conditions which would inform both the decisions of everyday citizens and government officials. Its vastness at 200-feet and shape as a globe would enable people to identify particular geographical locations and the patterns produced. Of the handful built during the numerous development phases of the project, there was a twenty-foot diameter iteration at Cornell University and consequently one at the University of Colorado, a nearly completed two-hundred-foot diameter at the University of Minnesota, a ten-foot diameter probe at Princeton University. There was also an unrealized proposal across the United Nations headquarters to name a few, while the US pavilion for the Montreal Expo in 1967 could be seen as a giant inhabitable Geoscope as well.
Designed with a polar axis parallel to the planets’ north-south orientation, the scaled down miniature-Earth afforded users accurate representations of the planet. As part of Fuller’s grand vision for the project, the Geoscopes were to be deployed across the globe with users occupying them and interacting with the information patterns from inside. On this note, Fuller wrote: “By standing inside, you can view the stars exactly as they appear to anyone standing at any point on Earth. Computers for each Geoscope will store all relevant inventories of world data arranged chronologically, in the order and spacing of discovery, as they have occurred throughout all known history. Time-lapse images projected onto the Geoscope will display in a matter of minutes all sorts of global, long-term trends, everything from continental drift to human migration to use of transportation. With the Geoscope humanity would be able to recognize formerly invisible patterns and thereby to forecast and plan in vastly greater magnitude than heretofore.” (Fuller, Critical Path)