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Conversations : Constellations of Knowledge

The Conversation Series

Transcripts of recordings between Michael Rotondi and colleagues in architecture and academia,

taken from video meetings. The dialogue has been lightly edited for text format.

With Prof. Max Underwood, Architect and Presidents Professor at Arizona State University
October 1, 2020

Michael Rotondi : I went back and was rereading Bucky Fuller's Education Automation.

Max Underwood : Oh yeah, that's a great book.

MR : 1963 – I read these when I was working on my thesis. I read that one, and then I read Understanding Media, by McLuhan. I read those two books and was like ‘Wow, how come no one's ever talked about this with us before?’

MU : There's so many things out there to talk about, right? And depending on what you recall, your thesis people, and what you discover… I think a lot of it is, we take for granted people have read a lot of this stuff, and we realized the only way we figured it out, was, like you're saying, ‘Oh my God, I need to read that!’

MR : Yeah, exactly. I decided I had to read Bucky Fuller. I started reading him when I was at Cal Poly, after listening to an open lecture that he gave on campus that went for four and a half hours.

MU : He came to SC – same exact thing during that time.

[‘Everything I Know’ -- 42 hours of Buckminster Fuller lectures on video, or read the transcriptions.]

MR : I was just amazed at how he basically went through all of the food groups, you know? He's talking about everything on campus – all the disciplines, all the different fields of knowledge, as he does. And he knew it all. What made me curious was, how could anybody have a memory like that?

MU : That was one of the things… He came to the Eames Office when I was there, a couple of times, and it was unbelievable, with Charles.

MR : I bet Charles must've had an amazing conversation.

MU : Always. And they were best friends and things. He left, Charles was tired, and he said ‘it's the only guy I know that attacks a problem from 30 different disciplinary foci.’ You know, he's coming at it from science, he's coming at it from poetry, he's coming at it from energies, he’s coming at it from natural systems... And he goes, ‘That's what is so great. It's like -- what haven't we been considering?’

[Visit the Eames Archives to read: THINKING OF BUCKY AND THE TOY]

And I think that these multiple bodies, as you're saying this constellation of knowledge, that you can connect and shift that is really key. And having people around you – oh, it's an architect, or it's a naturalist, or it is social justice, whatever it is. But the idea that whatever you're looking at, they can walk in and have fresh eyes.

And I think what was interesting with Billy Wilder, who also was at the office a lot, Charles said, ‘well, Billy's like a little child. He has what's called childlike wonder. He'll walk in, he knows a lot about it, but he's wondering about it with you. And he's playful in how he's looking at something with you.’ You start reading about Wilder in filmmaking, he knew what it was, but like jazz, there was an improvisation. That playfulness where you're starting to discover stuff, and he always had, as Charles said, this childlike wonder with the moment. And that was key to what happens.

MR : I've never read much about Billy Wilder. I've seen his movies, I should read a biography.

MU : I'll dig around and send you that. Let me write that down, because there's really a good one.


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