Triton: R. B. Fuller’s Floating Tetrahedronal City

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“The author’s city of the future consists of three triangular walls of 5000 living units apiece, the walls and base forming a tetrahedron; each unit faces the sky over a spacious terrace. The large cutaway drawing shows a huge public garden at the bottom of the interior of the superbuilding, which the sun pierces through broad openings at every 50th floor. Its transport system (in red) includes funicular as well as interior vertical and horizontal units. Though shown here on land, the city also can float. A drawing of the 200-story city superimposed on a photo of the outskirts of Tokyo vies for attention with Mount Fuji. The lowermost figure in the small cutaway drawing is at the back of the downstairs level of his duplex. Seven stories above him is a section of one of the three city centers that rim the structure. Here a transport system has a terminus at a community park, complete with lagoon, palms and shipping center in geodesic domes. Offices and maintenance facilities (in brown) line the transport tracks.”

—City of the Future by Buckminster Fuller in Playboy Magazine, January 1968.


In the 1960s, Japanese denizen, Matsutaro Shoriki (the father of professional baseball and nuclear power in Japan) commissioned a floating city from American architect, R. Buckminster Fuller (1895 – 1983). Fuller accepted and the project was dubbed Triton City and was to be a tetrahedronal, anchored floating, offshore residential structure, one fourth of a square mile, capable of housing 5000+ tenants that would be “resistant to tsunamis,” and “desalinate the very water that it would float in,” which would be located in Tokyo Bay. The city would be composed of hollow, box-sectioned, reinforced concrete which would provide buoyancy whilst the sheer size of the construct afforded it stability even in turbulent waters. The project was to be a proof of concept for a larger, pre-existing Fuller design dubbed Tetrahedron City, which was similar to Triton, save for its size (it was to be 200 stories tall and two miles from side to side) with a less jagged facade.

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Triton City (1967). Richard Buckminster Fuller.
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Tetrahedron City, project for Yomiuriland, Japan (1968). Richard Buckminster Fuller & Shoji Sadao.

Shoriki died in 1966 after commissioning Tetrahedron City, but the modular test initiative of the project, Triton, lived on through the interest of the United States Department of Urban Development. Both the United States Navy’s Bureau of Ships and Bureau of Yards and Docks gave the project the green light. After the navy’s approval of the design, the City of Baltimore petitioned to have Triton built in Chesapeake Bay, a move which would prove fruitless, as protracted beauracratic complications caused the project to stall which in turn eventually caused Fuller to give up on the project.

There are three principal kinds of conceptual design, those: fictive-for-fiction (not possible in principal — ie. a perpetual motion machine), practicable-for-prospective (possible in theory, untenable at present — ie. a dyson sphere) and practicable-for-practice (presently possible — i.e. a add-on to a contemporary house).

Triton City was the latter and it was for this reason the project remains unique, for despite its seeming grandiosity and fantasticality, it was, and still remains, a imminently feasible (albeit costly and materially intensive) design.

Only a model and book detailing Fuller’s plan for the floating, unpatented, residential area remain of the Triton project.

The fact that Triton was never built, does not, however, mean that Shoriki and Fuller’s work was futile, indeed, quite the opposite, as today it serves as a valuable source of inspiration for seastead designers the world over. Such structures hold considerable promise in their potential to banish for a considerable length of time, the hyperbolic cries of overpopulation. As the surface of Earth is roughly 71% (rounded up) water and only 29% land and the majority of the human population (as of this writing) is concentrated upon approximately but 10% of that total landmass, it is objectively false to claim that the planet, as such, is ‘overpopulated.’ Yet, regardless of population concerns, the overriding object of design should be a increase in habitability precisely because such a increase in his powers is also a increase in survivability. Man is durable as a largely land-locked species and shall thus witness his durability increase whence he is equally able to live upon and under the whole depth and breadth of the ocean-vast.


Sources

  1. Atelier Marko Brajovik. (2010) Buckminster Fuller — Triton Floating City. Bubuia: The Floating Institute; Floating Architecture Research Network.
  2. Matt Shaw. (2016) Review: Parrish Art Museum’s “Radical Seafaring” Catalogue (How Art & Architecture Hit The Water in the 1960s & Beyond). The Architects Newspaper.
  3. NBC News. This Floating City Concept Is One Way To Cope With Climate Change. KSBY-6.
  4. nunno Koglek à. (2013) Triton City – the First Utopian Seastead. Utopicus.
  5. R. Buckminster Fuller. (1982) Critical Path. St. Martin’s Press.
  6. R. Buckminster Fuller. (1968) City of the Future. Playboy Magazine (Vol. 15, No.1, January).
  7. Tom Metcalfe. (2017) World’s First Floating Village To Breath New Life Into Old Dream. NBC News.
  8. Trevor Blake. (2009) The Lost Inventions of Buckminster Fuller (Part 3 of 3). Synchronofile.
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