Buckminster Fuller’s Old Man River

R. Buckminster Fuller worked with Washington University Professor of Architecture James Fitzgibbon. Here is a portion of text by Fuller discussing the project:

Having undertaken the solution by artifacts of the world’s great housing crisis, I came to regard the history of cities. Cities developed entirely before the thought of electricity or automobiles or before any of the millions of inventions registered in the United States Patent Office. For eminently mobile man, cities have become obsolete in terms of yesterday’s functions-warehousing both new and formerly manufactured goods and housing immigrant factory workers. Rebuilding them to accommodate the new needs of world man requires demolition of the old buildings and their replacement of the new and now obsolete real estate, streets, water and sewer lines, and yesterday’s no longer logical overall planning geometries. I sought to take on this challenge and developed plans for an entirely feasible and practical new way for humans to live together economically. Old Man River’s City is one such design.

Old Man River’s City, undertaken for East St. Louis, Illinois, takes its name from the song first sung by Paul Robeson fifty years ago, which dramatized the life of Afro-American blacks who lived along the south-of-St. Louis banks of the Mississippi River in the days of heavy north-south river traffic in cotton. Cessation of the traffic occurred when the east-west railway network outperformed the north-south Mississippi, Mexican Gulf, and Atlantic water routes, which left many of its riverbank communities, such as East St. Louis, marooned in economic dead spots. East St. Louis is an American city overwhelmed by poverty. Its population of 70,000 is 70 percent black.

I originally came to East St. Louis to discuss the design and possible realization of the Old Man River’s City, having been asked to do so by East St. Louis community leaders themselves, being first approached by my friend Katherine Dunham, the famous black dancer. At the community leaders’ request I presented a design that would help solve their problem. It is moon-crater-shaped: the crater’s truncated cone top opening is a halfmile in diameter, rim-to-rim, while the truncated mountain itself is a mile in diameter at its base ring.

You can read the entire piece A Community Dwelling Machine by clicking here.

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  1. Katrina Fairley October 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    James Fitzgibbon, professor at the University of Washington, and long time colleague and friend of Buckminster Fuller designed the Old Man River project. Fitzgibbon was an architect and co-owner of Synergetics, Inc in Raleigh. Synergetics, Inc designed the early geodesic domes, not Fuller. Buckminster Fuller patented the geometry for geodesic domes, but he did not design any actual dome building. Fuller left the design work to real architects and engineers.

    • admin October 12, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

      Katrina –

      Thank you for the information. The project publication does clearly reference Fuller as does the label on the model illustrated. Many geodesic domes and similar projects have the same kinds of issues with regard to proper attribution and conception. I don’t mean to take anything away from Fitz. One note: Fitzgibbon taught at Washington University in St. Louis.

      Andrew Raimist