The Personal Well-Tempered Environment

Sketch from Dan Hill's post, The Personal Well-Tempered Environment
Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. 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 trimtab.

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 trimtab. 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.

So I said, call me Trimtab.

— R. Buckminster Fuller, Barry Farrell (Playboy Interview, Feb 1972)

I once heard Bucky Fuller speak at William and Mary around the same date as that interview. He was talking about how architecture should start with the idea of its relationship to the human scale. Such a different idea from those who set out to build monuments. I found myself in awe of his genius at encapsulating complicated ideas in simple metaphors.

Check out how Dan Hill uses the trimtab metaphor at his blog, City of Sound in a January 15 post as named above, in which he outlines his idea that feedback from devices monitoring real-time usage of electricity, gas, water and so forth could encourage conservation with

maximum information coming from a minimum of conscious engagement.
Hill cites research by the Design Council, published in its report, "Designing for a Future Climate" that

studies show that if people can see what they’re using, they use up to 15% less energy.
The post is filled with illustrations and links to other sources both philosophical and practical.


The Trimtab was the name for the Buckminster Fuller Insitute's newsletter, which has archives available online through 2005. Also on the site is the new of a play which opened January 17 and runs through February 10 opens at Rubicon Theatre in Ventura, CA--R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe.