Gettin’ To Know Bucky

“I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process – an integral function of the universe.” – R. Buckminster Fuller

I feel fortunate that we were able to see Portland Center Stage’s production, R. Buckminster Fuller: THE HISTORY (and Mystery) OF THE UNIVERSE last night. Going in, I didn’t know much about this man. The fact that I did not seems incredible to me now. Be that as it may, I certainly care to know more.

There was so much density in last night’s finely honed delivery of Fuller’s vision, that I hardly know where to begin. But I can point to a few things that jumped out at me. Fuller’s sense of “design responsibility” grabbed me. So did his admonition to do more with less. I was also impressed with his playful, but serious, use of the English language. For instance, Fuller coined lots of terms in his day. One that stands out for me is “livingry.” Livingry is the opposite of weaponry and killingry, and means that which is in support of all human, plant, and Earth life. It’s an idea that brings to mind Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s call for a Department of Peace. I wonder where Obama is on that idea.

While I ponder that, take a look at this video on Fuller, clearly one of the more enigmatic American thinkers (and doers) in the 20th century:

Hill Country Modern

Spend any time in Austin today and you’ll see sharp looking modern homes popping up in historic neighborhoods every direction from the Capitol. With their funny shapes and bold colors, they are hard to miss.


Austin culture ‘zine, Odic Force, is reporting on the action.

Nobody said living in modernity was easy. Even so, more and more people in Austin are taking the plunge. The trend is noticeable all over the city. Scattered along streets like North Loop and Live Oak between South 1st Street and South 5th Street, Woodrow Avenue north of Koenig Lane, and in various parts of neighborhoods like Bouldin Creek and Hyde Park, houses have materialized that may as well been teleported there by aliens bent on taking over the real estate market. These structures tend to throw conventional home design out the energy-efficient window. They have angles where traditional homes have straight lines. They have straight lines where normal homes have curves. They hoard light where other homes collect shadows.

Modern Austin kindly offers page after page of modernist imagery and links to listings.

As I was clicking around, I also stumbled upon this Lake Flato modernist masterpiece on 17 acres in Kyle, TX, which one can rent for the night.

Boot Repair

German, Dutch and British retirees looking for some southern sunny weather are finding it in Puglia, at the heel of the Italian boot.

According to The Wall Street Journal, one of the draws is the trulli — the cone-roofed structures that dot the countryside. The most basic trulli are one-room, round huts constructed of stacked, dry stones, which form walls and a simple vaulted cone roof. They date back to as early as the 14th century, and most housed peasants or livestock — or both.

The recent trulli boom is partly a continuation of the foreign-fueled real-estate speculation that began in Tuscany several decades ago, where so many British began buying second homes that it was given the nickname Chiantishire. As the values of country homes in Tuscany soared, the more adventurous wandered into nearby regions such as Umbria, and then farther south to the Marche and Abruzzo, buying up abandoned farmhouses or run-down villas. Puglia is the end of the line.

May The Sun Never Set on Wright’s “Child of the Sun”

“I have no money with which to build the modern American campus, but if you’ll design the buildings, I’ll work night and day to raise the means.” -Dr. Ludd Spivey, President of Florida Southern College, appealing to Frank Lloyd Wright in 1938

Lakeland, Florida is an old school Florida town with lovely lakes, a vital downtown core and a private college with the largest single collection of Frank Lloyd Wright designed buildings anywhere in the world.

inside Annie Pfeiffer Chapel at Florida Southern

We arrived on campus the Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving which meant that the visitor center was closed. However, the walking tour was all the more pleasant without students or crowds of any sort to distract from the main show. And what a show! FLW went all out in Lakeland and I kept thinking as we wandered around the former orange grove how nice it would be to spend four years on this campus, or longer if one were a faculty member or administrator.

Florida Southern is a private liberal arts school. They don’t have an architecture program. However, the school would do well to start one, or better yet a program in achitectural preservation and restoration. Given that many of the buildings were built in part by students working in return for tuition and board, there would something poetic about a new group of students engaged in preservation of this national treaure.

For more images from the campus, see my Flickr set.

Progress Is Slow

“To keep going our present ideal of an industrial plutocracy we must continue to have war. We have to keep scaring the sheep. A politician today is that man among men who can scare them the worst and huddle them the fastest and the most, managing that way to get almost anything out of them.” -Frank Lloyd Wright in a speech given May 20, 1949 in Biloxi, MS


I periodically like to review the nation’s military history. To do the same, here’s a list of our wars and conflicts. It’s a lonnnnnnggggg list, and growing longer by the day.

People say we need to remove the money from politics. While that’s true, it seems more accurate to say we need to remove the profit from war. If we could manage that, many of our domestic ills could then be addressed. But the reality is we won’t manage it without a complete realignment of our priorities, and the structures that support them.

We like to believe our own rhetoric and refer to ourselves the greatest nation on earth. We’re not. We’re but the latest incarnation of imperial greed, bound to fail as Britian, France, Spain and ancient Rome failed. Imperialism is not a sustainable practice. The aftermath of our pending failure in this endeavor could mean utter darkness, or it could mean a new enlightenment.

People also talk about how we’re in the midst of an internal culture war (and have been for decades). That’s correct. And this internal battle is for our collective soul; therefore, its outcome is imperative to our future as a nation. I believe most Americans are good people, but we’re also an easily confused people with little sense of our own history. To stop the confusion, we need to shut off the TV and read. It may not sound like fun, but knowledge is freedom.

If you’d like to take my word for it and crack an important book, I can think of none better than Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Every concerned American can benefit greatly from this book, as it details in plain English what this country is all about.

Florida Southern Keeps The Dream Alive

“We are beginning to learn that the highest and finest kind of morality is beauty.” -Frank Lloyd Wright, Oct. 25, 1951 at Florida Southern College

Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision of a spectacular “water dome” at the heart of one of his most ambitious projects was finally realized on October 24th (70 years after he designed it), when Florida Southern College turned on 74 high-pressure jets that create a graceful 45-foot-high dome of illuminated droplets above a basin 160 feet in diameter.

The water dome was a central feature of Wright’s design for the college. But the pumps available at the time proved significantly less powerful than Wright’s imagination, and the fountain was eventually divided in three smaller pools with walkways between them.

The college is in the midst of several projects aimed at restoring its Wright-designed structures, including the fountain, the larger of two chapels, and Wright’s striking esplanades — cantilevered walkways that connect his buildings. The effort to recreate the water dome as Wright envisioned it cost nearly $1-million. The college will need close to $50 million to complete all the Wright restoration it has slated.

[via The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Ledger and NPR]

Silver Puts Hollywood Dollars To Good Use

Yemassee—Hundreds of sightseers got an eyeful on this crisp November weekend, as history and architecture buffs from as far away as Virginia and Florida made their way to the rural northwest corner of Beaufort County. The reason for their journey? Auldbrass, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterworks and his only project in the Lowcountry.

see my entire Auldbrass Flickr set

Wright started work on Auldbrass in 1939 and continued to improve the project until his death in 1959. The plantation–as all such properties are known in these parts–was commissioned by an industrial engineer from Michigan, C. Leigh Stevens. After Stevens’ passing, his daughter lived on and maintained the property for 20 years, before selling it to a group who used it as a hunting lodge.

Modern day Auldbrass began in 1986 when Joel Silver, the famous (and rich) Hollywood producer came on the scene. Silver hired Eric Lloyd Wright, the legend’s grandson, to help restore the place to its original magnificence. The pair had previously joinded forces to restore Wright’s “Storer House” in Los Angeles.

Thanks to Silver’s generosity, the public is invited to see the property once every two years. The showing is coordinated by Beaufort County Open Land Trust.

Vintage Ecotopia Takes Root In West Texas

Thanks to an article in Dwell, I’m freaking out right now. In a good way. I’m freaking because I just learned about El Cosmico, the new community art project from Bunkhouse Management.


Bunkhouse is the team behind the coolest hotel in the world, Austin’s Hotel San Jose. Their vision of El Cosmico is equally enthralling.

El Cosmico will be part yurt and hammock hotel, part residential living, part art-house, greenhouse and amphitheatre – a community space that fosters and agitates artistic and intellectual exchange. As part of the overall aim to build community in a creative and sustainable space, thirty renovated vintage trailers will make up a small village on the site.

This experiement is taking place in West Texas, outside the small town of Marfa.

Like any great community project, there is a blog to keep people in the loop.

Re-Engineering The Huck Finn Experience For 21st Century Retirees

River Cities Inc. of St. Paul, MN is developing a twist on condo living. As odd as it may sound, they’re bringing adventure travel into the mix by constructing a floating community that will navigate America’s inland waterways.


Their so-called “River City” will be on the move all year, cruising the northern rivers in the summer and the southern rivers and Intracoastal Waterways in the winter. The rivers include the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, Cumberland, Arkansas and Atchafalaya. Plus the Tombigbee and Intracoastal Waterways.

Amenities include a grocery store, restaurants, concierge service, a rooftop lounge, theaters, activity rooms, a library, hot tubs and pools, fitness equipment, walking tracks, a rooftop chipping course and even fishing.

A 924 s.f. condo is going for $499,000. Fractional onwnership is also available.