Welcome to the Buckminster Fuller Challenge (BFC) archive! Here you will find a comprehensive history of the BFC program and a curated archive of the ‘best of’ entries reviewed by the program from 2007-2017 making visible the vibrancy and dedication of an emerging field of comprehensive, whole-systems designers. This searchable archive is offered as a resource and tool for educators, the design community, and the general public to use to discover the remarkable ideas and successful projects at work in the world today.
Origins and Histories
In 2010 Fuller Challenge juror David Orr – the esteemed sustainability educator and author – remarked that human civilization has entered the historical equivalent of shooting the dangerous rapids of a treacherous white-water river. With a broken paddle. Blindfolded.
Buckminster Fuller put it in stark relief with this famous question: Are we heading toward Utopia or Oblivion? He challenged his contemporaries to creatively respond to the urgency of this moment by re-framing the crisis as an opportunity pointing to humanity’s “option to make it – to live successfully without compromising the ability for all of life to thrive.”
Fuller demonstrated through his research and design practice that the resources needed for all forms of life on the planet to live in relative peace and prosperity exist. Creatively deployed, these resources are more than enough to raise the standard of living for everybody.
He called for a revolution by design –not political or military - but a revolution driven by the problem-solving creativity of design combined with the empirical demands of science.
Fuller’s practice took a comprehensive approach, starting with the whole; anticipating future trends and needs; employing the scientific method; and aligned with nature’s operating principles. He saw that this way of thinking and doing was to be the future of design. He called his practice design science. And in the 1960’s he launched the Design Science Revolution with an open call to the world’s creative communities “to make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”
In 2007 The Buckminster Fuller Challenge Prize program reintroduced Bucky’s vision. After extensive research we determined that the development of a competitive prize – an open call to anyone creatively addressing any of the world’s most urgent problems - would enable us to accomplish several goals:
1. honor the legacy of Fuller and create a prestigious program that would encourage innovation and recognize integrity;
2. draw attention and support to the thinkers and doers applying a comprehensive, whole-systems approach to designing solutions to the
great challenges we face today;
3. leverage the power of a prestigious innovation prize to demonstrate the importance of whole systems-thinking and its integral function in design-
4. educate a new generation of designers to take up Fuller’s Challenge to transform our world through design, by showcasing world class projects
and celebrating the people behind them”,
Over the program’s ten-year history (2007-2017) the Fuller Challenge attracted thousands of initiatives from across the globe, tackling every conceivable issue facing humanity and the planet today. Each team submitted an application that was subject to a rigorous vetting process in which our esteemed review team and juries invested hundreds of hours of investigation, research, and debate to select our honored entries.
First recognized in 2011 by Metropolis Magazine as “socially responsible design’s highest award”, the program conferred an annual grand prize of
$100,000 to a project that best fulfilled the entrance criteria and embodied what we have called the ‘spirit of the Challenge’. Winning projects are visionary initiatives that address multiple problems simultaneously, and evoke inspiration for others to study and replicate.
The winning team also received with The Omnioculi, a commissioned sculpture created by artist Tom Shannon in collaboration with geodesics expert Joseph Clinton.
While one project was selected as the winner, each year the Fuller Challenge program awarded resources and support to an additional 40-60 projects through our Catalyst Program. These projects typically represented the top 20% of the entry pool and received opportunities for additional funding and investment, pro-bono legal services, fast-track access to accelerator programs, mentorship opportunities, and international press coverage.
The projects included in the archive demonstrate that design can and must be applied to every aspect of the global system, and reveal a groundswell of successful solutions to our most complex and urgent problems.
With an expanded view of design’s scope, we were able to recognize design innovation in places and projects that were unusual and new. And in the process we discovered an extraordinary group of passionate people with an unusual capacity to feel a deep sense of generosity for the future. It is our hope that
history will look back on their sacrifice, commitment and creativity to recognize that these were the trimtabs of our time who navigated us to safer shores, calmer waters, a world that works for all.
On behalf of the Fuller Challenge staff, review team and our generous supporters we thank you for your interest in this project and hope you will enjoy this archive!
-Elizabeth Thompson, Founding Director
Thank you to our generous supporters!
The Fuller Challenge was designed and implemented by a visionary and committed group of people led by Founding Director Elizabeth Thompson. They included program managers Matt Barron (2007-2009), Jenjoy Roybal (2009-2011), Sharifah Taqi (2012), Sarah Skenazy (2013-2015) and Megan Ahearn (2015-2017). Each year, the program managers oversaw the Fuller Challenge Review Team, led by JP Harpignies, which included Jay Baldwin, Michael Ben- Eli, Bill Browning, Christina Ciardullo, Bonnie DeVarco, Willis Elkins, Melissa Kelly, Greg Watson, and a number of Fuller Challenge Fellows and Directors of The Buckminster Fuller Institute.
The Fuller Challenge was made possible by generous support from: a/d/o, The Arnow Family Fund, Elyse and Joshua Arnow, Joan and Robert Arnow, TheCooper Union, The Center For Architecture, CUNY, Columbia University, Dorothy Dunn & Associates, Duggal, Inc., Halloran Philanthropies, The Highfield Foundation, Interface, Inc., Marfa Dialogues, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, The New York Open Center, The Northwest Area Foundation, The Public Concern Foundation, The Salzburg Global Forum, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, The Pulitzer Foundation, Robert Rubin, The Surdna Foundation, Tom Shannon, The Wythe Hotel, and the members of The Buckminster Fuller Institute.