Heal The World: Buckminster Fuller Challenge Names This Year’s Six Finalists

Buckminster Fuller Challenge Names This Year’s Six Finalists

By Annette Barlow September 2, 2016
Photo courtesy of

The Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI) has named its six finalists for the 2016 Buckminster Fuller Challenge, one of whom will be granted a handsome $100,000 in prize money.

Related: Does This Building Make Me Look Fat? – Architecture is Trimming Down, Growing Up

The challenge, established in 2007, aims to discover and support the most comprehensive solutions to pressing global issues, and is open to designers, artists, architects, students, organizations and environmentalists alike. Building on the legacy of the visionary systems engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, the BFI is dedicated to finding and implementing transformative solutions to global problems through design. And, this year’s shortlist is a glowing snapshot of hope, paying tribute to the power of design and systems management that have to truly change people’s lives.

Photo courtesy of

Take Cooperación Comunitaria, for example, the multi-faceted initiative working with marginalized Mexicans to rebuild their own communities using both local knowledge and engineering advancements. This kind of engagement is key to the project, as locals contribute to the placement, design and building of eco-friendly and structurally sound permanent residences. The CC crew also work toward the revitalization of these local indigenous cultures, taking a fully holistic approach to community building.

Similarly, Taking Root’s CommuniTree project is all about solving an environmental issue (here, climate change, deforestation and poverty) through local innovation. By tackling the reforestation of plundered areas, using carbon credits and sustainable wood products as financial incentives, small, local farmers can contribute to the replenishment and revival of their communities.

PITCHAfrica’s Waterbank Schools take more concrete form to address the global need for water, the innovative architectural structures serving as water catchment and filtration systems. It’s a simple but deceptively ingenious idea that manages to respond to a pressing environmental need, while placing community values and education at its center.

The Rainforest Solutions Project, however, is a more abstracted and established idea; a coalition of organizations including Greenpeace and Sierra Club BC, two decades old, with the mission of encouraging collaboration between divergent interests in the Great Bear Rainforest, while developing an ecologically sound legal framework. Their biggest coup to date? An agreement between all parties to conserve 85% of the 15-million-acre rainforest for 250 years.

Una Hakika’s The Sentinel Project takes a more digital bent, melding communications technology with social media, and leveraging “informational architecture” to de-escalate conflict in areas where misinformation is a dangerous game. Projects have already been established in Kenya and Myanmar, and use both technological tools (mobile, radio) as well as old-fashioned word of mouth to combat inter-community violence.

Last finalist The Urban Death Project takes an often taboo subject as its motivation, designing a scalable, regenerative death care model based on the natural process of decomposition. Sound bleak? Well, it’s actually deeply fascinating: Recomposition centers—essentially public parks—will function as both memorial spaces and funeral homes, where bodies and forest waste will be composted and transformed into soil. This will have a significant impact; as traditional funerary practices take more of an environmental toll than you’d first think.

It’s an impressive pool of talent, and any winner will be able to proudly take their place alongside former beneficiaries of the prize; such as Rhodesian ecologist and farmer Allan Savory, whose Africa Center for Holistic Management in Zimbabwe won in 2010 for its advocacy of land, water and wildlife restoration through properly managed livestock; or 2012’s winner, the Living Building Challenge, an international sustainable building certification promoting the advancement of sustainability in the built environment.

Annette Barlow



Annette is freelance editor, sub-editor, journalist and proofreader with a fierce love of all things feminist, food and music. She is a regular fixture on the arts, culture and feature desks at The Guardian, and her words have appeared on NME, Great British Chefs, The Fly, The Line of Best Fit and Australian Times.

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