The Biosphere: A powerful statement of the future
Recently Bing featured a stunning image of Buckminster Fuller ’s design for the US Pavilion at the 1967 World’s Exposition in Montreal. When I opened it, I literally gasped; the still futuristic image seemed to float above normal terrain. The Biosphere put a new stamp on the future and epitomized the Space Age.
Fuller joined the forces of architecture, engineering, and technology to express a new way of living. And through his genius, he inspired a generation of Americans; in fact, of the world. Bravo, Mr. Fuller!
USA Pavilion for the 2010 World Expo
Fast forward to today, the
US Pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai featured two wings in the shape of leaves, joined by a cone. What is that? The makers call it an eagle. Huh? A logo made into a building? No strong statement of design, environmentalism, or humanitarianism comes to mind.
What does it stand for? a design-numb Corporate America. (yes, some US corps understand good design; MIA here.)
This structure looks like a poor stand-in for what should have been an image of the American Dream, an architecture of the future. Where is the hope, the vision, the statement of who we are as a people or where we are going?
No one had any doubt that America led the world in innovation in 1967. If anyone is looking to us for vision or inspiration based on the 2010 American pavilion in Shanghai, they would be severely disappointed.
Has that day of 1967 passed?
Yes, it’s true; I have a nearly delirious case of pavilion envy. Those buildings are remarkable! They not only sing the praises of the architects and the countries; they offer a glimpse of what we might experience down the road.
In other words, the reason we build these outlandish structures like the Eiffel Tower and the Space Needle is to influence and shape things yet to come. That’s the whole purpose. To shine a bright light on the path to the future. And to inspire through the power of that vision.
Come On, America
Hey Americans, if we think that this average architectural statement offers the best of the best, we should be very worried. Because boxes shaped like leaves and cones never moved anybody to dream, much less to act. That disappoints me; no, it really makes me mad. The people that built this pavilion are saying – nothing’s new, nothing special’s going to happen, it’s just more of the same. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.
We are living in one of the most enthralling, mind-numbing, exuberant times in history, a virtual windfall of daily discoveries. Yet without an urgency to design the future, to visualize the world ahead, to roll the dice on a seemingly impossible idea, we are already dead. We lose our capacity to aspire, transcend ordinary life, and stretch our imagination.
We can do better. Look at Jeanne Gang’s
Aqua Tower, Holl’s Nelson-Atkins Museum Addition, Bohlin Cywinski’s Apple Pavilion – all capture the spirit of our future selves. While there’s no such thing as one true American architecture, these buildings clearly express visionary futures designed by exceptional American architects for forward thinking clients.
Maybe the burden of “American Pavilion” confused some literal minded deciders. “We’ll make a building like an eagle. That’s American.” Pshaw. Our standards for excellence, our design aspirations, must surely seek a higher standard.
We need a pavilion that dares to venture beyond sure thing; explores crevices of materials and shapes never seen; surprises, no, it bamboozles us with its energy. It’s a revelation. From that moment on, our lives are changed immeasurably; we see the world through new eyes.
Next expo, let’s build architecture that matters, that transports us to the future, stretches us beyond the ordinary, and willingly risks everything to do it. In fact, that capacity to dream – unforgettable, life-changing dreams – proves we have a future.