Visionary architect, inventor and author Buckminster Fuller famously challenged the world’s artists, designers, architects and engineers to create a world that “works for 100% of humanity.” On October 7, the MFA Design for Social Innovation Department (DSI) hosted the Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI) jury deliberations for the 2013 Buckminster Fuller Challenge, which annually awards a prize of $100,000 to support the development and implementation of a design strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. Following the deliberations, DSI, along with BFI and Marfa Dialogues/NY hosted a public discussion with members of the jury at the SVA Theatre (watch the video here). Hila Mehr, DSI’s director of operations, filed this report.
The panel brought together International Living Future Institute CEO Jason McLennan, The New York Times “Dot Earth” blogger Andrew Revkin, eco-activist and writer Linda Weintraub, and Slow Money Founder and Chairman Woody Tasch. Cultural leader Dorothy Dunn moderated.
Fuller’s daughter, Allegra Fuller Snyder, opened the program by suggesting her father never judged others’ work, but rather their integrity and experience. The jurors on the panel reported that the applicants for the 2013 Buckminster Fuller Challenge were taking systems approaches, and emphasized how innovation will come not through technology but through behavioral and social change. Fuller’s observation that there’s no “food crisis” or “climate crisis,” just a crisis of ignorance, prompted a discussion of how to communicate change. The Times’s Revkin noted that a lot of innovation is not about communicating the science, but about limiting people’s perception of risk.
The panelists also discussed the role of beauty and “stickiness” in design. While Fuller was quoted as saying, “when the solution is not beautiful, I know it’s wrong,” Weintraub challenged the audience and designers to broaden their definition of beauty to consider function and not just appearance. McLennan, a past winner of the Buckminster Fuller Prize, argued that while design is sometimes messy, it matters, and the solutions that stick are the ones that we are attracted to.
In her introduction to the evening’s discussion, DSI Chair Cheryl Heller noted there are many young people who want to lead the transformation that Fuller envisioned. Her program at SVA equips leaders to use the power of design to solve human and business problems through immersion in the context, tools and skills of design for social innovation. In closing, the panelists echoed her program’s goals by urging those in the audience to consider the need for innovation around systems, not just by designers, but also by lawyers, accountants, biologists, and others. To make a difference in the world through design, they seemed to say, you don’t need to be an inventor, you just need to be collaborative and creative, determined and flexible.
Visit Storify for a summary of tweets from the event.
Images from top down: Buckminster Fuller courtesy of the Buckminster Fuller Institute; Buckminster Fuller Challenge jurors/panelists; SVA’s Cheryl Heller.