THE BFI CHALLENGE.

SOCIALLY-RESPONSIBLE DESIGN'S HIGHEST AWARD.

Now in its 10th year, The Buckminster Fuller Institute will present the winner of the 2017 Buckminster Fuller Challenge at A/D/O. Since 2007, the Fuller Challenge has been posed to designers as a “whole systems approach to understanding and intervening in complex and interrelated crises for wide-scale social and environmental impact.” Widely known as “socially-responsible design's highest award,” it has attracted the brightest minds – from scientists, architects, activists and artists – to tackle large-scale issues from a comprehensive mindset inspired by the award's namesake, the visionary designer Buckminster Fuller.

Best known for developing interlocking systems from a geometric scale (including iconic designs for homes based on geodesic spheres) to the world-wide power grid, Fuller's impact on approaches to sustainable design and systems thinking cannot be overstated. “Doing more with less,” Fuller emphasized, increases the efficiency and performance of every resource involved in a given system.

Past winners have included Living Breakwaters – a coastal resiliency infrastructure based on habitat reinforcement; Operation Hope – an audacious plan to reverse desertification in the world's savannas and grasslands; and Sustainable Urban Mobility, a project developed at MIT Media Lab's Smart Cities Group to insert lightweight, highly-efficient electric vehicles into existing urban fabrics.

The winner of the 2017 challenge, Bhungroo, will receive a $100,000 grant towards their project for the expanded deployment of an inexpensive rainwater storage and filtration system that involves only a one square-meter topsoil basin and a tube driven deep into the subsoil. This essentially low-tech piece of equipment exploits climatic and hydrological factors to collect and store as much as 40 million liters of rainwater – a small but ingenious innovation for farmers in regions where monsoons alternate with dry periods. Already deployed in Gujarat, India, the Bhungroo team is currently working to adapt the system for Bangladesh, Ghana, Togo, and Vietnam. The selection committee compared the device and its innovators to Buckminster Fuller's favorite metphor of steering “trimtab,” which he described in 1972:

Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there's a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It's a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it's going right by you, that it's left you altogether. But if you're doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.

Bhungroo will be honored alongside finalists and past winners at A/D/O on November 10-11. RSVP for the event here.

Images courtesy Buckminster Fuller Institute.

A/D/O is a creative work space dedicated to exploring the full lifecycle of design. Sign up for our newsletter to be notified about future events.