In 1938, Buckminster Fuller observed in his book Nine Chains to the Moon that there were enough humans on earth to form nine chains reaching to the moon; at our current population of 6.7 billion, we could forge an astounding 29. Fuller’s book proposed innovative solutions for improving quality of life through progressive design, despite growing populations and finite resources. The exhibition “29 Chains to the Moon” took Fuller’s utopian thesis as a jumping-off point, and aimed to instill in today’s public the same sense of awe that futuristic proposals once stirred.

The show presented three projects by artists developing 21st-century ideas (some actually in the testing stage) to tackle big problems. It might be futile to exhibit world-saving proposals in a traditional art space, where they could seem to be nothing more than conceptual exercises, but the mix of novel ideas in this show suggested that people working in diverse disciplines might collectively yield solutions to some looming predicaments. The Miller Gallery’s location on Carnegie Mellon’s campus was an appropriate setting for an exhibition of works by individuals or collaboratives with varied backgrounds.

Stephanie Smith, a designer, is the founder of Ecoshack, a design lab where architects, designers, artists or “anyone with a passion for change” can work. In the gallery viewers could access her WeCommune, an online platform for resource sharing (now in beta testing), which was accompanied by a portable wooden kiosk designed to facilitate the real-life exchange of goods (books, videos, etc.) and ideas—a cross between a swap meet and town hall. This work grew from “Wanna Start a Commune?,” her novel project to create utopian communities within already existing social structures, such as suburbs.

Architect Mitchell Joachim, working with the design collaborative Terreform ONE, of which he is a co-founder, showed panels of digital prints with the schematics for Peristaltic City, a tall building made of a cluster of transportable pods; Stackable Cars, a storage and charging system for electric urban vehicles; and Homeway: The Great Suburban Exodus, which proposes retrofitting American dwellings with wheels in order to maintain the continuity of home in changing locations. Also on view was a digital schematic of the team’s Fab Tree Hab, a proposal to “grow” homes by training trees into habitable shapes using scaffolds.

The international, interdisciplinary members of the collective Open­_Sailing presented a model and video illustrating how we might live on a crowded Earth through something called “Open_Architecture”: a floating village surrounded by ocean farming units, designed to adapt to various crisis conditions, from nuclear fallout to rising sea levels. Open­_Sailing is building a prototype in London and Berlin, soon to be ready for testing. That some of these projects might be realized suggests that open exchange between artists and scientists, along with institutional support, may provide the creative solutions necessary to assure a livable future.

Photo: Terreform ONE: Fab Tree Hab Village, 2009, digital rendering; in “29 Chains to the Moon” at Carnegie Mellon.