Bucky’s essay: “I Figure…” What is Total Thinking in design?

Reading Bucky’s Ideas and Integrities: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure

The visionary had a particular understanding of mobility. He saw the new generation growing with the airplane and the rapid technological developments. In 1942, he wrote that, “[…] In reality, the whole globe will become every man’s backyard” (p.141). The world has become indeed “every man’s backyard,” but with all the implications that we know: stress, waste, pollution, multiplication of identity, etc. Although he did figure out inadequacies of industrialization, Bucky has an unlimited faith in technologies and the ability of particular men (the “industrial businessman” or the “engineer” — both personas he embodies) to use these (war) technologies for the betterment of the society.

I have been analyzing his essay on postwar housing “I figure…” written in 1942 and never published until its re-integration into the book Ideas and Integrities two decades or so later (p. 111 – 147). (1) Find below a screenshot of the .xcel sheet I have been developing to get a better understanding of what Bucky meant by “Total Thinking.” His essay consists of 157 paragraphs (the footnote p. 116 mentions 155 “stanzas” in the original text). According to Bucky, postwar housing is a wrong concept as the shortfalls of housing construction are rooted in history, when men decided to literally anchor housing (stone buildings, codes, real estate, mortgage, etc.). Design should do more than just sheltering people.

I have categorized each of the paragraphs to find out that in general, Total Thinking means:

  1. Identifying the proponents of design.
  2. Setting straight the principles of design
  3. Looking for the applicability of design (mobility, risk of wars, changing needs, individuality, etc.)
  4. A construction that is light, transportable, that can be assembled and disassembled (in mechanical terms)
  5. Including research and technology, so to limit risks of failure and foster innovation
  6. Sound economics including the sharing and circulation of resources.
  7. Resource (building material) management is crucial (re-used, recycled, redistributed, etc.)
  8. Design with agency. If mechanized design should participate to freeing people of everyday tasks, it should enable people to engage positively with their environment.

I find this exercise and the resultant table useful as an element of comparison to think about design for today’s mobilities, with all the drawbacks we now know and in the context of climate changing (there is a high risk of wars due to climate change).

(1) No wonder! Bucky also has a caustic (and complex) writing style. The passage on the Bauhaus (earlier in the book) is corrosive — and such a delight: “What convinced me that the Bauhaus international designing was of secondary rank and limited to interior furniture sculpture…” (p. 54). His critic of the industrial designer is no less powerful: “This superficial rather than fundamental design function will be effected by a new industrial showman, to be called an industrial designer.” (p. 100).