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Arizona, November 2009

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Vernadsky + Buckminster
Fuller = Allen’s Biosphere2

by Antonino Saggio

Often the term “synergy” has been abused. For some time now everything has become synergic.
And quite rightly, though not entirely, the purists say “Enough of this synergy, of this synergic, of this-oh no!- synergically”.
You could also call it “biological mathematics” if you don’t like synergy, but the concept still remains and has to be understood for once and for all.
Because it is the key to many “elevated” human activities. So this biological mathematics ( the neologism isn’t bad) says that 1+1 isn’t 2 at all, as in algebra. It can be zero, or -1 or it can be 3 or 4 or 5!

Among other things, at school we should have learned that: if you take one of Newton’s apples and then take another one, from the same supreme British physicist’s tree, you get two apples.
But if you take two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen molecule….voilà…’ve got water and as a consequence many other things present in our biosphere!
What does this mean? It means that the sum of elements in this biological mathematics creates multiple effects which can have, in some fortunate cases, exponential results.
I have looked for a shining example of this approach and there could be nothing better than that of Biosphere2 and its inventor John Allen ( who is fortunately both a very dear friend and mentor). Allen could also be a likely candidate because already in 1971 he referred to his ranch at Santa Fe in New Mexico as Synergy ranch.
It was his vision of life and also a homage to the chapter Synergy dedicated to the subject by Richard Buckminster Fuller in his coeval volume Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.
Bucky is a nineteenth century inventor and thinker! In the good sense! He is one of the great American transcendentalists (like Emerson, Whitman as well as, all considered, F.L. Wright himself).

Now John Allen has put together the operative, profound, revolutionary, non conformist and holistic thought of Bucky and his own geodetic technique with a philosophy which stems from a far away culture.
In fact, at the time of the USA-USSR block, a politically opposed culture. It concerns the studies of Vladimir Vernadsky, that is of a Russian scientist who achieves a cosmic reasoning and who sees the geological, biological, atmospheric and human phenomenon as an interacting whole of forces and forms.
He doesn’t do this in a short essay, but in a series of important edited writings as president of the Science Academy of Ukrain. John Allen invents the incredible equation Vernadsky+Fuller and this invention is the basis of his prodigious project: Biosphere2.

At the core of this project (on the subject of which a public discussion was held with its inventor twice recently in Rome) there is the ingenious intuition that the idea of the biosphere promoted by Vernadsky could be combined with the ecological observation and technical inventions of Fuller.

Biosphere2 is thus realised in 1991 at Oracle in the desert near Tucson, Arizona, and affirms itself as an extraordinary work of both engineering and ecological science at the same time, one of the most important of its kind. Allen, assisted by a team of numerous consultants, of whom at least the architect Margaret Augustine and the engineer William Dempster should be remembered, so realises a project according to the image and likeness of the terrestrial biosphere: an interacting whole of geological, ecological and human forces formed of seven biomes (ecologically balanced systems) which serve to study systematic phenomenon.

Biosphere2 is based on these dynamically balanced systems where carefully studied percents of plants, microbes, water, animals and air are in a cycle of continuous regeneration. Through a complex research with several experts specialising in different areas, the seven biomes are thus determined (from the Amazon forest to the Great Coral Reef, from the anthropologic Mediterranean environment to the same ocean’s marine environment) housed within great glass panelled surfaces which cover an area of more than a hectare. Living and relax areas and laboratories are also integrated into the structure.

The experiment allows, among other things, to patent various systems and technologies that bring up to 100% the recycling of water, human and animal waste as well as the autonomous generation of food and a minimum loss of air inside the great closed environment.
Eight scientists, including Mark Nelson and Ray Walford, live sealed up in this environment for two years experimenting its efficiency.

After this Biosphere2 is conceded to Columbia University and then to the university of Arizona which modify its structure, but this extraordinary event marks the basis of a possible systematic development of architecture, towards an architecture that need not necessarily be connected to infrastructural networks but is autonomous as regards to its own vital and energetic cycle.
An important source of study on this question is now described in detail in Allen’s new book, Me and the Biospheres. Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere2 (Synergetic press, Santa Fe, 2009), which provides the opportunity to follow in detail the history and conquests of this and other projects of Allen.
There are few architects and engineers, I’m sure, who know of what I’m talking about, but thanks to the Web and Wikipedia in particular, in depth information is available to all. Lastly: this article was written on returning from a research period with the computer scientist Sergio Crochik and Allen himself.

The idea of the Vernadsky and Fuller “synergic” combination was born out of a discussion with Sergio himself and most certainly, without all those hours of work spent together it would never have got so far.

Originally published as "Synergia. Vernadsky + Buckminster
Fuller = Allen’s Biosphere2" on:
"L'Architetto Italiano" Mancosu Editore n. 30 anno V 1-2 2009, pp.70-71.
Republished by Author permission.

Italian translation: Ingrid Anna Golding

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© Toni Garbasso