Buckminster Fuller: Comprehensivist
In “Dymaxion Man“, an new article in the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert writes about the innovative and maverick career of Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983). In addition to his other qualities, Fuller was a word-coiner. Kolbert writes that he called himself a “‘comprehensive, anticipatory design scientist’—a ‘comprehensivist,’ as opposed to a specialist—and believed that his task was to innovate in such a way as to benefit the greatest number of people using the least amount of resources.”
Fuller was fond of neologisms. He coined the word “livingry,” as the opposite of “weaponry”—which he called “killingry”—and popularized the term “spaceship earth.” (He claimed to have invented “debunk,” but probably did not.) Another one of his coinages was “ephemeralization,” which meant, roughly speaking, “dematerialization.” Fuller was a strong believer in the notion that “less is more,” and not just in the aestheticized, Miesian sense of the phrase. He imagined that buildings would eventually be “ephemeralized” to such an extent that construction materials would be dispensed with altogether, and builders would instead rely on “electrical field and other utterly invisible environment controls.”
But Fuller was not responsible for one of the words most closely associated with him:
Fuller’s favorite neologism, “dymaxion,” was concocted purely for public relations. When Marshall Field’s displayed his model house, it wanted a catchy label, so it hired a consultant, who fashioned “dymaxion” out of bits of “dynamic,” “maximum,” and “ion.” Fuller was so taken with the word, which had no known meaning, that he adopted it as a sort of brand name. The Dymaxion House led to the Dymaxion Vehicle, which led, in turn, to the Dymaxion Bathroom and the Dymaxion Deployment Unit, essentially a grain bin with windows. As a child, Fuller had assembled scrapbooks of letters and newspaper articles on subjects that interested him; when, later, he decided to keep a more systematic record of his life, including everything from his correspondence to his dry-cleaning bills, it became the Dymaxion Chronofile.