Bucky Fuller’s Book: “I Seem To Be a Topsy-Turvy Design”

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Thumbnail for Bucky Fuller's Book: "I Seem To Be a Topsy-Turvy Design"

Last week, Steven Heller covered Quentin Fiore, designer of books by the medieval-minded media theorist Marshall McLuhan and the yuppie-brained Yippie leader Jerry Rubin. Heller also mentioned a 1970 paperback that the architect/engineer/designer R. Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller put together with Fiore and writer Jerome Agel.

Fuller has been called the grandfather of the green movement. He coined the word “dymaxion” in 1930 to describe “maximum gain of advantage from the minimum energy input,” and began developing houses, cars, and maps according to this principle. He was a geodesic guru to Whole Earth Catalog hippies, and was recently resurrected with an exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art that honored his lasting legacy.

I Seem To Be a Verb focuses on what’s now known as “sustainable design.” The book is a collage of images, bite-size facts, and provocative, inspirational notions by an expanse of artists, musicians, astrophysicists, mathematicians, politicians, and others… which is why my copy’s pages came to fall out of their binding over the past 40-plus years. Fuller himself provides the main narrative, which includes his philosophies—such as “When man learned to do more with less it was his lever to industrial success”—his predictions, such as “When automation frees all workers we will be able to ask, ‘What was it I was thinking that fascinated me so, before I was told I had to do something else in order to make a living?'” And, yes, it’s also a time capsule of 1960s utopian idealism.

I Seem To Be a Verb is much more ambitious in scope than McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage, and Fiore’s spreads reflect that expansiveness. The book opens with text and images printed in black, which shortly shifts to the upper half of the page as upside-down green comes to graze along the bottom. Rhythmic builds and variations in type and layout ease you through the pages while clever and often humorous visual juxtapositions surprise and engage you.

Near the presumed “end,” you’re told that “The words ‘up’ and ‘down’ have no meaning.” And sure enough, on page 192 the design leads you to take a 180-degree revolution and continue through the second half. Once back to the beginning, your eyes are prompted to follow a single-line overview—pre-reminiscent of a Jenny Holzer LED display—that flows through the page centers, again running first in black and—flip!—then in green. The whole experience feels like having gained access to an ever-expanding, free-form wellspring of information… only in print rather than online.

Here are some sample spreads that you can peruse, and click for enlarged views. As for rotating… well, you’re on your own there.