September 13, 2009

Floating Cloud Structures, Or We All Live In A Fuller Satelloon

fuller_cloud_nine_orig.jpg

Just like how, once you've learned it, you start hearing a word all the time, now I see satelloons everywhere. Including at the Buckminster Fuller retrospective last year at the Whitney [which went on to Chicago this summer.]

Buckminster Fuller and his architecture partner Shoji Sadao mocked up this photo of a photocollage, Project for Floating Cloud Structures (Cloud Nine) , around 1960. Cloud Nines are self-contained communities of several thousand people living inside enclosed geodesic spheres a mile wide, which float over the earth's surface.

Because the geodesic structure increases in strength as it gets bigger, and its surface increases at a power of two, while its volume increases at a power of three, Fuller hypothesized that heating the interior air even one degree will set the Cloud Nines aloft.

Obviously, as a sexy, futuristic utopian image, Cloud Nine is hard to pass up, but holy crap, Bucky, did you think for two seconds about the urban fabric and the social experience of living trapped in a floating dome? I'd love to see someone write an SF story about it. Because I think it might be a fantastically totalitarian disaster.

fuller_cloud_nine.jpg

There are two versions of the Cloud Nine image: [the earlier?] one has smooth, silvery, featureless spheres. I'd call them satelloons, even. The other [above] has line drawings of the geodesic structure collaged onto it.

It was only now, as I get around to finally posting about them, that the relationship between Cloud Nines and satelloons might be more than formalistic. The original satelloon, Project Echo launched in 1960, the same year Fuller and Sadao designed their giant floating spheres. Could there have been a connection?

The easiest, most obvious thing to do might be to ring up Shoji Sadao. What is he up to these days, anyway? You'd think that given the recent interest in Fuller's work, a guy who worked so closely with Fuller on so many major projects--he's credited with the dome at the 1967 World Expo in Montreal, arguably the most spectacular Fuller structure ever realized--would be all over the place. I mean, it was only a few years ago that he gave up his position as executive director of the Noguchi Foundation in Long Island City. And then he curated that great Fuller-Noguchi show in 2006. [Sadao was also a longtime collaborator with Noguchi and the chief overseer of his legacy.] Anyone spoken with him lately?

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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first published: September 13, 2009.

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