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Our Guide to Retro Futurism: Art and Architecture

What is retro futurism?

The somewhat unusual concept of retro futurism has become popular in both art and architecture in recent years. Our guide to retro futurism will explain where the concept comes from, and how it’s inspiring artists, designers, and architects today. 

Retro futurists look back at the future as it was imagined by people like Buckminster Fuller in the 1950s and 1960s, and see a more optimistic vision than is typically conceived now. People alive in the 50s had seen unprecedented material progress in their lifetimes, going from an era in which cars didn't exist to a time when you could fly from place to place.

Though technology's march continues, material progress has slowed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, resulting in a cultural pessimism and negativity, and causing people to look fondly on a time when we thought flying cars and jetpacks would be right around the corner. This is the essence of retro futurism; bringing to life the society, art, and architecture that would exist if the breakneck pace of technological progress in the early 20th century continued through today and into the future.

What is retro futurist art?

One of the primary themes of retro futurist art is a desire to return to a more optimistic, more positive, more creative time. This is exemplified by Buckminster Fuller's ethos.  In his time, Fuller was simply a futurist, but today's retro futurists refer to his work and aesthetics often. 

Fuller is best known for his design of the geodesic dome. The geodesic dome is a structure that was invented by Fuller in the early 1960s.It is a structure that is both symmetrical and self-supporting. It was based on the idea that a structure would have the lowest energy and be the most stable if it could be made of equal-sized and equal-shaped pieces.  The dome was an idea that Fuller saw as a possible solution to the problem of human habitation as population grew.  The dome could house an entire town and be made of almost any material, and was also designed to minimize the amount of material required for construction.

The most famous geodesic dome is Spaceship Earth in Disney World's EPCOT. Spaceship Earth is the center of the park and houses a large replica of the geodesic dome, and the structure is very similar to Fuller's original idea. 

Another one of Fuller's famous designs was the Dymaxion Car. The Dymaxion car was shaped like a zeppelin for better gas mileage, and it also had a glass dome so the passengers could see out in all directions. Fuller imagined that future versions of the Dymaxion Car would be able to fly. It was meant to be an environmentally friendly and practical car, and it was supposed to be a safer design than most of the cars of the time.