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Future by Design (2006)

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Future by Design shares the life and far-reaching vision of Jacque Fresco, considered by many to be a modern day Da Vinci. Peer to Einstein and Buckminster Fuller, Jacque is a self-taught ... See full summary »

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Title: Future by Design (2006)

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Future by Design shares the life and far-reaching vision of Jacque Fresco, considered by many to be a modern day Da Vinci. Peer to Einstein and Buckminster Fuller, Jacque is a self-taught futurist who describes himself most often as a "generalist" or multi-disciplinarian -- a student of many inter-related fields. He is a prolific inventor, having spent his entire life (he is now 90 years old) conceiving of and devising inventions on various scales which entail the use of innovative technology. As a futurist, Jacque is not only a conceptualist and a theoretician, but he is also an engineer and a designer. Written by Gazecki, William

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10 June 2006 (USA)  »

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Live Is Just a Bowl of Cherries
Written by Lew Brown and Ray Henderson
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A sweet paean to a hopelessly impractical future
13 August 2012 | by (San Francisco) – See all my reviews

It's impossible not to like Jacque Fresco or to not be charmed by his enthusiasm. There's no doubt that he's a gifted stylist, immensely hardworking and sincere, and that he has synthesized most of the "futuristic" notions of the 20th century. You can see the influences of Bucky Fuller's geodesic structures, the streamlined vehicles of Norman Bel Geddes, Oscar Niemeier's curvilinear architecture. He's assembled a world-view that's appealing and might well be an improvement over what we have now. For that, he's something of a treasure.

Having said all of that in his favor, even his newest creations are dated and, almost without exception, simply replace existing problems with other problems he does not seem to see. Countless examples present themselves in this documentary.

For example, he posits "cities of the future" which are saddled with the problems that have always plagued utopian city planning, from Le Corbusier's "Ville Radieuse" to Niemeier's Brasilia. First, the resources, energy, tools, etc., required to create these cities is vastly greater than creating an organically-grown city. This is a mistake that Fresco repeats again and again. He posits huge "prefabricated buildings, assembled by robots". Instead of actually being a step forward, all this does is to shift the labor and energy from where it is now (construction crews building on-site) to construction crews building prefab modules elsewhere, and then requiring the energy to move them to the site, AND to create (and provide materials and energy for) the robots to assemble them. There is no net savings; indeed, there's a net LOSS in efficiency, all for the sake of "futuristic" prefab buildings and robot assemblers. Every "automated system" he suggests comes at a huge cost in materials, energy, manpower, etc.

Second, people simply don't like living in symmetrical cities; they're soul-crushing. Every city ever been built upon a symmetrical plan has been a failure. Most have become housing projects, slums or demolished just decades-on. And it's far more difficult to demolish and ethically dispose of "futuristic" buildings than ones made of say, brick and wood. (Monsanto's fiberglass "House of the Future" defied nearly all attempts at demolition and even after being chopped up, became toxic landfill.) It's unlikely that anyone a century from now will bemoan the loss of the "grid city", but people will always feel attracted to chaotic jumbles like Bruges, Carcassonne or Carmel-by-the-Sea. Humans are organic and they just naturally relate to organically-evolved settings.

Third, the inflexibility of planned cities is antithetical to growth and change; two things that every city needs. Fresco says that the central hub of the city will house all of the shopping facilities. With that limitation of space, a finite number of businesses can be accommodated. Which ones will be allowed there? How can they grow as they succeed? Cities aren't closed systems; they need to be flexible.

Two huge failings of Mr. Fresco's vision are those of energy demands and of materials. He speaks of aircraft that will operate by electrostatic power (something he explains by the wrong-headed analogy of squeezing a peach pit between your fingers to shoot the pit across the room. Sorry but the air cannot produce pressure against two opposite sides of an aircraft to squeeze it along). The fact is that, barring many magnitude-orders of technological advancement, "electrostatically-powered aircraft" are about as sensible as nuclear-powered autogyros. He touts a variation of the trusty "futuristic monorail", not acknowledging that monorail beamways are FAR more expensive and difficult to build and repair than traditional railway lines, and are extremely inflexible for growth or change.

Likewise, he never mentions what "futuristic" material his ambitious building projects will use. To make a large building shaped like a potato chip requires a material that can be formed in complex curves. What to use? Fiber-reinforced resin? The Futuro houses of the '60s used that; they're a nightmare of maintenance and repair (or disposal). Ditto concrete sprayed over forms. And integrating doors and windows into complex-curved structures is problematic (ask anyone who has built a geodesic dome). Metal alloys are hugely expensive. The amount of aluminum required to build a million new homes would increase the unit cost many times, and there's not enough aluminum ore on the planet to build 100 million such homes.

His "car of the future", with its "self-repairing body", covered with photovoltaic skin and equipped with radar and computer to prevent collisions, is a nightmare of complexity, materials and energy cost, and repair and disposal challenges. All of that technology just so drivers can pay less attention to driving? One could learn something from proponents of "appropriate technology" who might instead suggest building bicycles enveloped in bamboo and fabric streamlining. Of course, they're not "futuristic" looking, but in their favor, they can be built at home by most reasonably handy people out of cheap materials that can easily be repaired and recycled.

It's not enough to come up with an appealing form that looks sleek and desirable; a designer must also understand materials and their limitations. Does Mr. Fresco? If so, he never touches on it; he just trots out one epically ambitious structure or vehicle after another, as if the shape will overcome the challenges of materials, construction, economy, repair or disposal.

One thing I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Fresco about is an hour into the film where he very cogently explains why humans create superstitions, and how they hold us back. Bravo to him for that, and for challenging our species to do better than we have thus far. But all of the ambition in the world, unless coupled with a good understanding of what it takes to make dreams reality, is little more than window-dressing. Mr. Fresco dresses a window beautifully, but brings us no closer to the future. Still, the film is highly recommended for retro-futurists and dreamers. And in an ideal world, he would have every resource needed to build those dreams.


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