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Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Map

April 21, 2011 5 comments

As I was looking through the RIBA Journal recently, I came across an article about a new Energy Report from the WWF. This beautiful looking document outlines an argument for a carbon free world by 2050 and was produced and designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his company OMA.

Apart from the obvious and rather worrying energy related issues, what caught my attention was the use of an unusual world projection to illustrate  the various statistics and findings of the report.

Designed by another architect, the American genius Richard Buckminster Fuller, and patented as long ago as 1946, the Dymaxion or Fuller Projection map, was his attempt to portray the spherical nature of our planet as a two dimensional flat projection, whilst retaining as much of the relative proportional integrity of the original globe.

The striking upshot of this approach is illustrated in the image above and in the animated clip below, where the land masses are arranged as you may never have thought of them before. Buckminster Fuller developed the concept of opening the globe out into a regular icosahedron (a regular solid with 20 identical equilateral triangular faces) as a means of addressing what he saw as the limitations of the majority of maps, which included only having one way up, the distortion of the actual shape of the land masses and the altering of their basic relationship to each other.

Most familiar world projections, such as the Mercator or Peters are always presented in the same way, with north to the top and south at the bottom (which interestingly Fuller argued was primarily the result of cultural bias, as the more developed society’s were generally on top). The Dymaxion map not only allowed the viewer to rotate the projection to best suit their purpose, but by opening the triangles of the icosahedron in different ways it was possible to produce any number of different arrangements, possibly the most useful being one in which the seas dominate rather than the land masses.

Koolhaas’s decision to use the projections in the WWF report not only look good and sit well on an A4 sheet (notice how they are turned through 90° from the images above) but they show the information in a completely convincing way. Consider this image of the Global Energy Networks from page 52. The lines linking the land masses have a tension and dynamicism that would be very difficult to convey using a more conventional projection.

So another striking idea from a brilliant man. Buckminster Fuller (who almost certainly deserves a post all to himself) spent most of his adult life thinking about DYnamic MAXimum tensION, the idea that rational action in a rational world demands the most efficient overall performance per unit of input and most of his life’s work relates back to this concept in some way.

If you’re interested, you can check out some of his ideas here and also on Wikipedia. The one I will mention is his Dymaxion car, if only to note that yet another architect, Norman Foster (who worked with Bucky Fuller in the last years of his life) had a working model built last year as part of an exhibition that he curated in Madrid, and here is the great man proudly standing next to it….  more (including a video of him driving it) here.

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