The Venus Project as ‘Old’ Futurism?

An assessment by Eric Hunting:

The Venus Project was founded by futurist, architect, and inventor Jacque Fresco sometime in the 1960s but only started publishing media in the 1980s. It is named for Venus Florida, the home of Fresco and the location of his ‘research compound’. It’s quite a lovely place from what the images suggest, featuring some of Fresco’s less ambitious ferro-cement based organic/Modernist architecture set in an idyllic tropical landscape -with huge numbers of raccoons!

The core premise of the Venus Project vision of the future is the idea of Cybernation; a society based on the creation of a centralized supercomputer which ‘scientifically’ manages all world resources in response to human demand moderated by environmental sustainability. This massive expert system manages all resource extraction/collection, distribution, and production through advanced Total Automation and a scientifically rational urban architecture. Thus it arrives at a post-industrial culture -though Fresco had no specific concept for such a culture other than the idea of a ‘scientifically rational culture’- where people can have anything they want within reason for free and pursue whatever vocations they find personally rewarding without being paid for it. This, of course, is not an original idea. What’s interesting with Fresco’s version of it is how elaborately and compellingly -yet frankly naively- he has illustrated it in diverse media. He’s a brilliant illustrator, designer, and modelmaker -even though his style tends to be anachronistic.

Fresco is a ‘classic’ mid-century futurist in the sense that he presents a vision of the future without any evolution. It springs fully-formed from a vacuum with no explanation of where it came from. The future as concept car design. And like futurists of that era his models of technology are very Industrial Age in style; gigantic machines, gigantic infrastructures, gigantic vehicles, gigantic master-planned cities, and everything is sleek, streamlined, shiny, spotless, and suburban. His concepts of industrialization are definitely from the mass production Total Automation notions typical of the 1950-60s -whopping-great Santa Claus machines as big as a city by themselves. He also sometimes gets into very fuzzy physics with some of his proposed technologies and got stuck in some completely wrong interpretations of more contemporary technology ideas. His descriptions and depictions of nanotechnology, for instance, make absolutely no sense and, in a decade, no one has ever corrected him on this. Yet despite all this he’s often spot-on in underlying premises and a few of his designs remain relevantly advanced despite their great age. His car designs, for instance, could compete with anything contemporary concept cars offer as well as inform some open source car projects. Looking at his work is very much like comparing Werner von Braun’s depictions of the future of space to current space capability and planned missions. He was pretty spot-on even if the form and style were largely off and there really wasn’t anything you could say was implausible. It’s just that the specific technologies evolved to produce a slightly different look to everything. For instance, Fresco is quite right about the significance of the sea as a source of renewable energy and resources. It’s just very unlikely that any settlements we actually build there will be the big monocoque donuts on stilts he envisioned -although a surprising number of his designs for such things were directly lifted by Disney Corp. in their creation of the 1980s Horizons futurist exhibit and ride.

The lack of depth to Fresco’s model of the future has left his Venus Project a bit lost in implementation. His attitude tends to be; “I’m the visionary. It’s other people’s job to figure out how to make this stuff happen.” This attitude is mirrored in his view on the role of inventors, who he feels should never be burdened with the additional task of being industrialist or entrepreneur. How he’s made a living remains something of a mystery, though he did sell a number of inventions for medical equipment. So for 40 years the Venus Project has been marketing this vision and a proposal for a model Cybernated city with no concrete plan for how to implement anything. It’s as though his plan has been to just get enough people to desire what he’s depicted in images, to convince them of what is possible, that it compels the civilization to spontaneously manifest it. If only it were so simple… This sort of notion seems common among other architect/futurists.”

3 Comments The Venus Project as ‘Old’ Futurism?

  1. steve ward

    common among programers too shrug i will agree with you eric his future is very clean he is a very good end product producer but he is wrong about. (who he feels should never be burdened with the additional task of being industrialist or entrepreneur)with out one you can not have the other sometimes you have too be both in order to build the protype so people will go now i get it.

  2. Pingback: 21st Century Spirituality · Hyperstream of 2008-10-23

  3. Stu

    A good perspective on the venus project. It’s amazing how it’s taken this long to become mainstream. Thanks to the internet I suppose.

    I think it’s working though!

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