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Floating Cites

A one-hundred-foot diameter geodesic sphere weighing three tons encloses seven tons of air. The air to structural weight ratio is 2/1. When we double the size so that geodesic sphere is 200 feet in diameter the weight of the structure goes up to seven tons while the weight of the air goes UP to 56 tons-the air to structure ratio changes to 8/1. When we double the size again to a 400 feet geodesic sphere - the size of several geodesic domes now operating - the weight of the air inside goes to about 500 tons while the weight of the structure goes up to fifteen tons. Air weight to structure weight ratio is now 33/1. When we get to a geodesic sphere one-half mile in diameter, the weight of the air enclosed is so great that the weight of the structure itself becomes of relatively negligible magnitude for the ratio is 1000/1. When the sun shine& on an open frame aluminum geodesic sphere of one-half mile diameter the sun penetrating through the frame and reflected from the concave far side, bounces back into the sphere and gradually heats the interior atmosphere to a mild degree. When the interior temperature of the sphere rises only one degree Fahrenheit, the weight of air pushed out of the sphere is greater than the weight of the spherical frame geodesic structure. This means that the total weight of the interior air, plus the weight of the structure, is much less than the surrounding atmosphere. This means that the total assemblage, of the geodesic sphere and its contained air, will have to float outwardly, into the sky, being displaced by the heavy atmosphere around it. When a great bank of mist lies in, a valley in the morning and the sun shines upon it, the sun heats the air inside the bank of mist. The heated air expands and therefore pushes some of itself outside the mist bank. The total assembly of the mist bank weighs less than the atmosphere surrounding it and the mist bank floats aloft into the sky. Thus are clouds manufactured. As geodesic spheres get larger than one-half mile in diameter they become floatable cloud structures. If their surfaces were draped with outwardly hung Polyethylene curtains to retard the rate at which air would come back in at night, the sphere and its internal atmosphere would continue to be so light as to remain aloft. Such sky-floating geodesic spheres may be designed to float at Preferred altitudes of thousands of feet. The weight of human beings added to such prefabricated "cloud nines" would be relatively negligible. Many thousands of passengers could be housed aboard one mile diameter and larger cloud structures. The passengers could come and go from cloud to cloud, or cloud to ground, as the clouds float around the earth or are anchored to mountain tops. While the building of such floating clouds is several decades hence, we may foresee that along with the floating tetrahedronal cities, air-deliverable skyscrapers, submarine islands, sub-dry surface dwellings, domed-over cities, flyable dwelling machines, rentable, autonomous-living, black boxes, that man may be able to converge and deploy around earth without its depletion.

Text and drawing by: R. Buckminster Fuller

Reprinted from Transaction Magazine, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo. 1968
The power and utility lines will be installed underground, before the city is built. Solid wastes, water, and snow will be carried off by underground pipelines. All deliveries will be made underground, and there will be no vehicles on ground-level streets. Buildings will be put together and come apart like erector sets, to be dismantled and the parts reused every thirty years or so. Public transportation will be free.

These are some of the features of the Experimental City, now being planned in all its details at the University of Minnesota. But representatives from business and industry, scholars, and the federal Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Health, Education, and Welfare, and Commerce are not resting with a mere paper program. They are organizing and financing just such a city from scratch. So reports committee member Athelstan Spilhaus of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. (Science, Feb. 16, 1968.)

The members of the Minnesota group believe that, in the most basic sense, "the prime pollutant on earth is too many people." If the 200 million people now living in this country were grouped in 800 cities-with a population of 250,000 each, spaced evenly across the country-then the water and air pollution, the traffic congestion, and many of the other ills that plague our cities now would be ended.

The Experimental City will be a densely populated center, surrounded by open land and separated by at least 100 miles from any other major city. Industries that want to operate in the Experimental City will have to abide by the city's extraordinary building regulations and waste-disposal methods. Spilhaus believes they will be willing- because of the tremendous advantages of the city's central waste-processing facilities, smoke sewers, and other underground-disposal facilities. As for people, they will come to the city because it will offer the benefits of urban life without the burdens of conventional cities. The makeup of the population can be balanced by carefully selecting the type of industry invited to join the city, since the industry will influence the work force that comes to live there. The city could he managed, Spilhaus suggests, by a city corporation with professional management.

An Experimental City of this size, the planners calculate, might cost about $4 billion to build. With an average family group of 2.5 people, the 250,000 residents will need 100,000 housing units. These units will cost $20,000 each, and the resulting estimate of $2 billion has been doubled to provide for the substructure this city will have. These costs are not impossibly high.

A strong case can be made for building an entire Experimental City rather than trying out one or more of its elements separately. Everything that happens in a city has an impact on everything else. For example, in a city that is clean and quiet and where factories do not cause pollution, separate industrial and residential zoning is not necessary. When factories, schools, and houses are built in the same neighborhood, there is less need for transportation; when transportation is reduced, air pollution is further diminished. In a city with little pollution, disease is reduced and health-care programs are affected.

The planners of the Experimental City believe that other approaches to ameliorating big-city life are bound to be unsuccessful. Urban renewal in cities already too large, and the building of special communities like Reston, Va. (which can only become dormitories for their big-city neighbors), have not grappled with the main problems. The solution for our polluted cities, then, is ti) get rid of them; to harness modern technology to build a radically different kind of city for the future.

Photo and description courtesy R. Buckminster Fuller.