12th December, 2009

                                                                       Ekistics Research Unit-Auckland

                                                                    New Zealand                                                    



SUBJECT: Extending the scope and methodology of Ekistic theory and practice –

         Part 2(b): Contemporaries

AUTHOR:   Sharmila Jagadisan[1] and TW Fookes[2]


Extending the scope and methodology of Ekistic theory and practice:

A Research Memorandum Series


This study on extending the scope and methodology of Ekistic theory and practice involved three steps.


Step A: A two part process which:

     1) Reviewed ekistic methodology in the light of the current state of Planning knowledge and

         ideas; and

     2) Explored a selection of identifiable influences (Antecedents and Contemporaries (Peers)) to see  

         how some major theoretical and philosophical underpinnings encouraged Doxiadis to

 invent this discipline: presented as (a) Antecedents; (b) Contemporaries (Peers); and (c)Other  


Step B: A review of the work of three WSE members covering the fields of Environment

            Behaviour Research, Community Sociology, and Phenomenology as a contribution to a

            dialogue on a Research Agenda for the WSE.

Step C: A proposal for a Research Agenda for the WSE as a basis for a dialogue on extending and

            modifying Ekistic theory and practice.



This Research Memorandum is topic (b) in the second part of Step A; that is explore a selection of contemporaries (peers)) to see how some of their theoretical and philosophical underpinnings encouraged developments in the discipline of Ekistics.


2(b) The influences from the selected ideas of Contemporaries (Peers) to the thinking of Doxiadis


An example of how a study of the work of Doxiadis’ contemporaries can assist our understanding of influences on ekistic theory and practice is provided by Buckminster Fuller.  With the assistance of the Doxiadis Archives in Athens it has been possible to review the interaction between Doxiadis and Buckminster Fuller.

From this it has been possible to identify some analogous thoughts and ideas between Doxiadis and Buckminster Fuller. His correspondence with Doxiadis over several years demonstrates how Buckminster Fuller, as a contemporary scholar, might have influenced Doxiadis in his later stages of his ekistics thinking.  In addition the information identified from a literature review of Buckminster Fuller’s writing suggested that he was an appropriate person to select as an example of a contemporary (or peer) influence.


Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), popularly known as “Bucky” was one of the high achievers and original thinkers of the 20th century. Being a famous “talkathon” he influenced people around the globe through his inventions in a wide variety of fields, including industrial design, science, arts and architecture. One of his most famous concepts apart from the geodesic dome was his “Dymaxion Car” which was derived from the words  'dynamic' and 'maximum efficiency'. The design was based upon the modern movement concept of finding effective and practical solutions from the least amount of materials.  It is understood that  Buckminster Fuller was the first person to coin the phrase 'Spaceship Earth'. He strongly believed that the vast advancement in technology and the ingenious capacity of humankind and their design-led solutions would create a positive future. It is significant to note that Buckminster Fuller was the President of the World Society for Ekistics from 1975-1977 and, as noted above, maintained frequent exchange of ideas through letters to and from Doxiadis3.

A concept pertinent to Ekistics is Ephemeralization, a term coined by Buckminster Fuller as he anticipated how to solve the humanity’s problem by providing more and more life supports with less and less resources (Buckminster Fuller, 1938, p-279; 1966, p-17). In his thinking he pre-dated Schumacher with his concept of “Small is Beautiful” (1973). He began to apply this principle in a series of his revolutionary structures, which is explained in detail in the following paragraph. Similarly, for Doxiadis minimization of effort is one of the five spatial principles that guide individuals (anthropos) in relation to the way they develop space. He believed that anthropos always tried to achieve maximum benefit which consumes minimum effort, cost and time when living in human settlements (e.g. when a person encounters a physical obstacle like mountain he does not cross it by the most difficult route (Doxiadis, 1974, p-15)).


In his lectures he frequently spoke about the relationship of weight, energy and performance – about doing more with the least – and that has consistently been the story of technological advancement miniaturizing from the earliest computers to the modern cellular phones. For example his famous geodesic dome was designed to cover a maximum space with a minimum of materials, lightweight and inexpensive. From his words:

Another demonstration of the trend toward ephemeralization is apparent in the fact that the sewing machine of this year weighs one half the sewing machine’s weight yesterday and yet has greater rate, precision and versatility ability (Buckminster Fuller, 1938, p-272).

Ephemeralization can be applied to the ekistic concept of a desirable urban structure - which is one where human settlements exist to provide services at the lowest possible cost and with the minimum possible effort exerted by anthropos. According to Doxiadis it would be beneficial both for the better health of anthropos and for the overall economy of all human settlements if facilities offering services needed daily (central facilities of community IV) which could be reached by walking, and all others services by any other means of transportation in the shortest possible time. He believed this would result in a tremendous saving of time and fuel spent for the overall daily trips of populations.

There is another connection between Buckminster Fuller’s concept of ephemeralization and Doxiadis’ proposal of five spatial principles. Buckminster Fuller’s area of interest was focused on materials applied to a range of his inventions (Dymaxion car, Geodesic dome) which led him to thoughts of economic construction and the economy of building, whereas Doxiadis’ concern was on the broad spatial organization of human settlements or we can say on the formation of space. As noted above one of the principles was the minimization of effort. This is not a principle that he considered only at the theoretical level. As Doxiadis believed in supporting his theory with research and practice he used a research-oriented project (“HUCO project” which means Human Community) where he proved this statement. His HUCO project showed how the community levels (e.g Community Class (CC) III, IV, V etc.) are co-ordinated in a progressive hierarchical continuum within a metropolitan area (such as Athens). He discovered that the entire form, structure and layout of the HUCO’s (at all levels from CCIII to CCVIII) obey the law of “minimization of energy” in the movement of all inhabitants in the Athens Metropolitan Area (Papaioannou, 1987, p-230).

The expression “human” in the title of the project refers to the fact that up to the level of “Class IV” (with an average population ranging from 7000-9000 (Area - 0.9 to 1.2 the physical dimensions of these ekistic units are such that an average resident can move on foot from one end to another in about ten minutes. This means that use of the car or other vehicles is generally unnecessary for movement within this unit, whereas in the larger units (Class V, VI and up) some form of mechanized transportation becomes necessary. The main objective in this project was not only to understand the nature of the Class IV unit but also to clarify its structure, its operation, its evolution and also its position in the broader hierarchical system of Athens Metropolitan Area.

From this account it seems that Buckminster Fuller and Doxiadis have been dedicated to the economic activity of the world. Both of them seemed always ahead of their time. Their anticipation of the future was visionary and imaginative. They both designed and built so their respective positions were not utopian.

One of the common things we can see through these great thinkers was their synthesis of knowledge as the underlying principle, which is “To achieve a comprehensive and overall perspective of the subject”. With this principle we are reminded of Patrick Geddes (ERU-Akl 09/2).  There appears to be a continuum of ideas between Geddes, Doxiadis and Buckminster Fuller.

We know that Patrick Geddes always had a quest to classify knowledge across areas of specialization when he tried to understand the social evolution of the city. This interest was reflected in his Outlook tower where one can begin a journey (as explained in the earlier theme) from the top of the tower viewing the Edinburgh landscape first in its entirety then separately as a geologist, geographer, botanist, historian, architect etc, viewing everything in greater detail. One of the greatest needs what we have today is to encourage everyone to see the “big picture”.

It is important here to remember that Geddes was a holist. He saw education as a coming together of experiences and ideas to create an integrated system much greater than its parts. He explained this as starting with sympathy or understanding of ones fellow man and the environment, followed by the coalescing (synergy) of disciplines of learning and finally a building up (synthesis) into a connected whole narrow specialization. He inscribed the motto “ vivendo discimus “ meaning “By creating we think and by living we learn”. From Geddes words:

Education is not merely by and for the sake of action. Just as the man of science must think and experiment alternately so too must artist, author and scholar alternate creation or study with participation in the life around them. For it is only by thinking things out as one lives them, and living things out as one thinks them, that a man or a society can really be said to think or even live at all – Patrick Geddes (cited by Boardman, 1944, p-159).

He also added:

I have already hammered the point that all higher education is dominated by the cult of specialism, and I shall keep on hammering until some change is made. Our whole world presents one vast picture of disjointed and fragmented knowledge….I contend such a state of affairs is merely the chaos preceding the coming age of true learning, the age of synthesis of all our scattered knowledge; the new era that will bring the linking of separate subjects one to the other and the relating of all to human life- Geddes (ibid, p-149).

Buckminster Fuller however developed his concept of synthesis in terms of a transcendental or a priori 4 approach, which he referred to as “synergy” or “synergetics”. The naval training that he had undergone in his earlier days of his career was the key responsible for this comprehensive perspective (Sieden, 2000, p-52). In other words we can say he was an integrator, synthesizer - one who brought together all the diverse strands of specialized knowledge to progress. He felt that the tragedy that dominates our Universities is specialized study. Buckminster Fuller believed that man is a comprehensive co-coordinator who could solve the universal affairs. He also stated that other than man all other living creatures are designed for highly specialized tasks. He said:

What nature needed man to be was adaptive in many if not any direction; wherefore she gave man a mind as well as a coordinating switchboard brain. Mind apprehends and comprehends the general principles governing flight and deep sea diving, and man puts on his wings or his lungs, and then takes them off when not using them. The specialist bird is greatly impeded by its wings when trying to walk. The fish cannot come out of the sea and walk upon land, for birds and fish are specialists (Buckminster Fuller, 1969, p-14)

He also added that:

Our failures are a consequence of many factors, but possibly one of the most important is the fact that society operates on the theory that specialization is the key to success, not realizing that specialization precludes comprehensive thinking (ibid, p-13).

He argues that the purpose of education is to provide students with a system where they can organize and integrate the information and to make more sense of the world, for themselves and others.

Doxiadis emphasized that man has the ability to synthesize all efforts for the creation of human settlements. He used four vital aspects namely: knowledge, beliefs, experience and creative will. This was recognized by Posvar (1971) who viewed Ekistics as an evolving notion concerning humankind in settlements beginning as “….a point of view which has developed techniques or approaches to the study of settlements drawing from all fields of knowledge of settlements, and he concluded that ekistics aspires to become a discipline containing an organized and coherent body of knowledge, bound together by certain principles and providing a potential basis for the formulation of theory” (Fookes, 1987, p-218).

An example of this thinking is provided by the Anthropocosmos Model (Doxiadis, 1975, p.55).  The Anthropocosmos Model is a systematic framework, which Doxiadis developed, represents various components like elements, approaches, disciplines etc, and helps us to reach a holistic (global) view of the problems.  Doxiadis fulfilled the words of the Finnish geographer Johannes Gabriel Grano who said:

Intelligent is not one who has traveled but one who has been able to see much (cited by Jauhiainen, 2005, p-196).

All of the above persons tried to give an individual and overarching framework, encompassing the disciplines, filling the gaps between them, providing perspective, displaying the whole that the disciplines illuminate in part. It was Doxiadis alone who took the anthropocosmos model and the inclusion of synthesis into his writing (refer to his book Ekistics, An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements, chapter 9). The major strength of Ekistics is this established classification system of human settlements, and its theoretical model of the elements, and development characteristics, so that all of these can be summarized as a synthesis or overview.

Though Buckminster Fuller was considered to be an original thinker one point about which there is little disagreement is the difficulty of understanding him. "It was great! What did he say?" is the oft-repeated joke, describing the reaction of a typical enraptured listener after one of his lectures. The concept of synergetics has become a sort of Fuller proving ground, into which only a few scientific-minded types dare to venture (Edmondson, 1987, p-xix). On the other hand Patrick Geddes concept of synthesis stayed only at the educational level of how to encourage the students to develop as a generalist rather than specialists while analyzing the problems. He also used the terms synthesis and synergy in his methodology of the thinking machine, but he was unable to persuade others to follow what he hoped. Therefore no one else however could be inspired, because the structure and development of each “chart” or “graph” was entirely personal to Geddes and his particular experience and knowledge.

But when we compare the approach of Doxiadis with respect to synthesis we can clearly say that he was very much driven by this word synthesis in every aspect of his thinking. He said the characteristic of Ekistics is “synthesis” where all the hypotheses will be transformed into a law during the process of action. In his book “Ekistics: An introduction to the science of human settlements”(1968) therefore, he selected some abstract morphological cases from ancient settlements and tried to apply a new synthesis corresponding to new conditions based on the knowledge, beliefs and experience he had gained. Doxiadis’ philosophy of Ekistics with simple words and clarity in expressing his ideas is the highlight of his books. He did his best to engage the interest and emotions of his readers with a level of practical application not always present in the literature. The concept of the Delos Symposia is also proof of his holistic thinking where he invited people who were active in various fields to share their valuable thoughts and ideas with the broadly based approach to the issues that concerned him.

Conclusion (for Research Memos 09/2 and 09/3)

Consequently from the themes identified from the study of antecedents and contemporaries to Ekistics it is possible to conclude that, while influenced to some degree, by them Doxiadis’ work offers a different approach when compared to others who came before him or during the early part of his life. His ability to build innovatively from the base of existing knowledge has been misinterpreted by some detractors, as suggested by an architect’s review about Doxiadis:

These detractors will point out that many of his ideas are not new – whose are? Knowledge is a cumulative thing. However many of his ideas are new and his [Doxiadis] application of many old ideas are new (Deane, 1965, p-139).

The contribution of Parts 2(a) and (b) was not to analyze whether Doxiadis drew on the ideas of others. It is to see how he transformed the ideas that others were suggesting to form part of his ekistic theory and practice. The place of the ekistic grid and the anthropocosmos model in ekistic theory and practice supports the conclusion that his contribution was innovative because he drew on a wide range of ideas and he treated the models as more than an end in themselves. It can be further observed that what Doxiadis provided in Ekistics is a new philosophy of Planning education- where knowledge came through a multi- disciplinary, open ended, direct participation approach with research central in this process. In this way the student’s enquiry through research created its own direction for learning. He maintained that this knowledge was, in some deep way, holistic and interrelated. He tried to combine all his ideas together for the first time in a very logical fashion so that his theories could be passed on to others through ekistic education.


Boardman, Philip, (1944), Patrick Geddes, Maker of the Future, The University of North Carolina Press.

Deane, Philip, (1965), Constantinos Doxiadis, Master Builder for Free Man, Oceana Publications.

Doxiadis.C. A., (1968), Ekistics : An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements, Hutchison & Co., (Publishers) Ltd.

Doxiadis. C. A., (1974), Anthropopolis City for Human Development, Athens Publishing Center.

Doxiadis, C.A., (1975), Building Eutopia, Athens Publishing Center.

Fookes, T. W., (1987), “Ekistics: An example of Innovation in Human Settlements Planning” Ekistics Journal, Vol.54, No.325/326/327, Athens Center of Ekistics, pp. 218-227.

Fuller, Buckminster, (1938), Nine Chains to the Moon, Southern Illinois Press, Carbondale, Illinois.

Fuller, Buckminster, (1969), Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, Southern Illinois University Press, U.S.A.

Hall, E. Twitchell, (1966), The Hidden Dimension, Garden City, New York, Doubleday.

Jauhiainen, Jussi, (2005), “Edgar Kant and the rise of modern geography”, Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, Vo. 87, No.3 Blackwell Publishing, pp.193-203.

Mairet, Philip, (1957), Pioneer of Sociology: The Life and Letters of Patrick Geddes, Lund Humpries, London.

Papaioannou,G.John, (1987), Ekistics Research: Its relevance for the Present and the Future, Ekistics Journal, Vol.54, No.325/326/327, Athens Center of Ekistics, pp.228-241.

Sieden, S. Lloyd, (2000), Buckminster Fuller’s Universe, Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Tyrwhitt, Jacqueline, (1978), Background to Ekistics and Ecology, Ekistics Journal, Vol. 45, No. 266, Athens Centre of Ekistics, pp.12-19.

Web sites

Allen, John, (1996),, “Buckminster Fuller's 
Synergetic Algorithm and 
Challenges of the Twenty-First Century” (accessed on 24th august, 2007).





[1] Sharmila Jagadisan completed her PhD at the School of Architecture and Planning in 2009, University of Auckland (UOA), New Zealand and she is currently working as a GraduateTeaching Assistant (UOA).

[2]  T.W. Fookes (DPhil) is an Associate Professor at the School of Architecture and Planning, University of Auckland, New Zealand

3 Doxiadis appears to have begun his correspondence with Buckminster Fuller in the year 1963.

4 Meaning of transcendental- relating to a spiritual realm / presupposed in and necessary to experiences: a priori / going beyond the limits of human knowledge, experience or reason (Dictionary meanings).


Buckminster Fuller developed this transcendental approach to contemporary relevance with the concept synergy or synergetics. He further developed a vigorous practical algorithm for utilizing the idea and mathematics of Synergy, meaning working together, which has as its underlying proposition that the whole has properties not only greater than but unpredictable from the sum of the properties of its parts (website: Allen, 1996).