In 1938, the visionary designer R. Buckminster Fuller wrote Nine Chains to the Moon,his radical proposal for improving the quality of life for all humankind via progressive design and maximization  of the world’s finite resources. The title was a metaphor for cooperation – if all of humankind stood on each other’s shoulders we could complete nine chains to the moon. Today, the population of the planet has increased more than three times to 6.7 billion (we could now complete 29 chains to the moon), and the successful distribution of energy, food, and shelter to over 9 billion humans by 2050 requires some fantastic schemes. Like Fuller’s revelation from five decades earlier, 29 Chains to the Moon features artists who put forth radical proposals, from seasteads and tree habitats to gift-based cultures, to make the world work for everyone.
Nostalgia for our alternate future is in the ether on this convergence of anniversaries: 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the centennial of Futurism, and the quadricentennial of the Newtonian telescope. Over the last year, major art museums have presented exhibitions of visionary design and architecture , meant to reignite that spark of collective imagination that the 20th century saw via world fairs  , the formation of international space agencies, and the promise of better living through technology.
Among the surveys was the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2008 exhibition,Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe. Viewers familiar with Fuller’s pragmatic geodesic domes and octet truss structures were introduced to his lesser-known concepts for tomorrow’s cities, like Dome over Manhattan (Midtown Manhattan acclimatized by a 2-mile diameter glass dome); Cloud Nine (a spherical cloud city that could levitate an entire community), and Triton City (a modular seastead for 100,000 inhabitants). Despite having a hallucinatory, science fiction veneer, these proposals were serious enough to be examined by agencies like the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development, which commissioned the study for Triton City, and, along with the U.S. Navy, approved the design.
If one of Fuller’s futuristic communities had been realized, it would not have been the first time that science fiction became science fact. In 1945, author, inventor and futurist Arthur C. Clarke predicted geostationary communications satellites, some 15 years ahead of NASA’s launch of Echo, the agency’s first experimental communications satellite project . In 1941, Isaac Asimov popularized the term “robotics” in his short story, Liar, over three decades before Carnegie Mellon University founded The Robotics Institute in 1979. Aldous Huxley foresaw cloning decades before Dolly the sheep was made incarnate (again), and countless other authors and artists envisioned technological milestones – from the creation of the atomic bomb to nanotechnology – and their social implications in advance of their manifestation.
It’s not so easy to instill in the public the same brand of wonder and nationalist pride that the Space Race evoked from 1958 to 1975. One seismic shift of late has been the redirection of major scientific exploration from countries to private corporations and citizens . Unbridled individual potential is one outcome of the information age, but so is ambient fear of the future. A 2002 Time Magazine poll revealed that 30 percent of its respondents believed that the world would end within their lifetimes. The work in this exhibition corresponds to the other 70 percent of the population that is optimistic despite the massive challenges faced by civilization . These artists seize technologies that provide unprecedented platforms for collaboration, and new ways of visualizing and representing reality. Theirs is a moment of fluid exchanges between artistic and scientific disciplines, and cooperation among private and public institutions, toward the realization of a possible future.
– Andrea Grover, Curator
Open_Sailing is a multi-disciplinary international team led by Cesar Harada andHiromi Ozaki that is revolutionizing the concept of seasteading and social production of ideas and technologies. The Open_Sailing prototype is a “living architecture” at sea, composed of multiple dwellings, ocean farming modules, and an amoeba-like design that can expand and contract, based on the existence of calculated risks. “Open_Sailing acts like a superorganism, a cluster of intelligent units that can react to their environment, change shape and reconfigure themselves. They talk to each other. They’re modular, re-pluggable, pre-broken, post-industrial.” The concept forOpen_Sailing came from creating a geography of fear – a world “potential threat map” that highlighted the centers of greatest risk (pandemics, high-human density, recent violent conflicts, hypothetical nuclear fall-outs, tsunami risk, potential exposure to rising sea level, and so on), to determine the safest areas on Earth, which happened to be at sea. Open_Sailing was awarded the 2009 Prix Ars Electronica in “THE NEXT IDEA” category, and is underway with construction of an advanced prototype for their floating laboratory.
Stephanie Smith’s projects span the worlds of architecture, art, technology, and culture. Her research into the social practices of fringe and nomadic societies yielded a movement she calls Wanna Start a Commune?, and include diagrams for creating modern Cul-de-Sac Communes, portable kiosks for non-monetary exchange and meet-ups, and most recently an online platform for creating as many communes as your life demands, WeCommune (www.wecommune.com). Smith says that the impetus for these projects was to counter the assumption that being green means consuming green products; instead she wanted to revive the best parts of the commune concept (a community where resources are shared) and “bring collective attitude to places where it doesn't yet exist.” Smith is also the founder of Ecoshack, a design experiment that began in Joshua Tree, CA and is now an LA-based design studio inspired by the ad hoc, indigenous and archetypal typologies typically found at the fringes of society and culture. In 2008, the Whitney Museum identified Smith as the designer/entrepreneur most actively taking the ideas of Buckminster Fuller into the 21st century.
Mitchell Joachim [jo-ak-um] is a Co-Founder at Terreform ONE and Terrefuge. He earned a Ph.D. at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MAUD at Harvard University,M.Arch. at Columbia University, and BPS at SUNY Buffalo with Honors. He currently serves on the faculty at Columbia University and Parsons and formerly worked as an architect at Gehry Partners and Pei Cobb Freed. He has been awarded the MosheSafdie Research Fellowship and the Martin Family Society Fellow for Sustainability at MIT. He won the History Channel and Infiniti Design Excellence Award for the City of the Future and Time Magazine’s “Best Invention of the Year 2007” for Compacted Carwith MIT Smart Cities. His project on view at the Miller Gallery, Fab Tree Hab, has been exhibited at MoMA and widely published. He was selected by Wired magazine for "The 2008 Smart List: 15 People the Next President Should Listen To."
Terreform ONE is a non-profit philanthropic design collaborative that integrates ecological principles in the urban environment. The group views ecology in design as not only a philosophy that inspires visions of sustainability and social justice but also a focused scientific endeavor. The mission is to ascertain the consequences of fitting a project within our natural world setting. Solutions range from green master planning, urban self-sufficiency infrastructures, community development activities, climatic tall buildings, performative material technologies, and smart mobility vehicles for cities. These design iterations seek an activated ecology both as a progressive symbol and an evolved artifact.