70 Years of Buckminster Fuller's Tesselated Worldview

By Wesley Fenlon

An art competition challenges map lovers to put their own twist on Buckminster Fuller's classic design.

One of the best gags in Aaron Sorkin's West Wing played out when the White House staff dedicated a single day dealing with the small organizations that were ignored the other 364. One of those groups, the Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality, petitioned the government to ditch Mercator maps in schools in favor of the Peters Projection map. Why? Because the Mercator map is distorted--we all know Greenland isn't that big--and the organization argues that size is associated with power. Africa and South America, which appear far smaller than they really are, don't get the respect they deserve.

The gag works because it actually has a good point behind it, something we don't think about very often. The Mercator map is really, really inaccurate. And the Peters Projection is inaccurate, too, just in a different way--it stretches all the continents vertically to approximate their actual landmasses. Maybe the Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality should've been pushing Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Map, which just turned 70. To celebrate, the Buckminster Fuller Institute is looking to give the map a rebirth.

The Dymaxion world map looks nothing like what we typically associate with a map, but its tesselated design, which folds up to form an icosahedron, does a better job of preserving the shapes and sizes of the continents than either the Mercator or Peters maps. The downside, of course, is that the array of unfolded triangles would make sea navigation impossible. But the map offers something unique as well: there's no "right" direction to look at it from, no real up or down. The Dymaxion is all about equality.

The Buckminster Fuller Institute's Dymax Redux contest " is calling on today’s graphic designers, visual artists, and citizen cartographers to create a new and inspiring interpretation of the Dymaxion Map. BFI will publish accepted entries within an online gallery, feature the selected finalists in a gallery exhibition in New York City and select one winning entry to be produced as a 36" x 24" poster." Anyone can enter a map design, and the deadline is on June 14.

Gizmodo's story on the contest includes some pretty cool versions of the Dymaxion map, as does the contest page itself. The map may never replace Mercator as the go-to representation of the Earth, but at least it's produced some pretty cool art.