Born out of the imagination of futurist architect Jacque Fresco, the Venus Project is the promise of a moneyless, urbanized society.
Apple Park is not yet finished, but its 12,000 employees are already starting to take over the new offices in Cupertino, California. In a few months, the move will be complete.
Steve Jobs’ last grand project, Apple Park’s most obvious feature is its circular form, which stretches 2.8 million square feet. Designed by architect Norman Foster, it cost $5 billion. Most of its energy comes from rooftop solar panels, and 80% of the campus is covered in trees and plants.
Once complete, Apple Park will feel like a utopian vision, drawing plenty of parallels to architect Jacque Fresco’s imagined circular cities. Fresco died on May 18 at the age of 101. Often labeled a “dreamer”–many called him a charlatan—he believed that thanks to the progress of science and technology, a world without money was possible. And he spent his extraordinarily long life trying to prove it. His work, rewarded by the United Nations in July 2016, attracted various personalities.
The Venus Project
Borders have been eliminated. Money, too. As a result, poverty and violence are no more. Laws are no longer necessary. Human beings, no longer forced to work to satisfy basic needs, focus their energy and creativity on art, creativity, and study. They live once again in harmony with nature. Yet they still have quality living spaces, means of transport, education, and medical care. This is Jacque Fresco’s world.
Zoltan Istvan, founder of the Transhumanist Party, met Fresco in his Florida research and experimentation center in 2016. The Venus Project, named after a nearby town, was built at the end of the 1970’s. It’s accessed via a cracked and empty street. A 20-acre park is enclosed by a white wall of tropical trees that shelter raccoons, crocodiles, and little half-spherical constructions. On the inside, Jacque Fresco’s work appears.
“I saw much amazing art work and models of futurist cities,” Zoltan Istvan says. “I instantly became a fan of his. Jacque is very, very nice human being. It’s not that easy to really say many humans are deep down good people, but Jacque is one of them. He really wants the best for humanity.”
And nothing could be better for humanity, according to Fresco, than a “resource-based economy.” Developed over years of conferences, seminars, articles, and books, the model is the cornerstone of Jacque Fresco’s philosophy. It relies on the idea that, even if we don’t have enough money to feed ourselves, house ourselves, care for ourselves, and educate everyone, we do have the resources. It advocates the redistribution of resources in an efficient and equitable manner without using money, bartering, credit, or labor. In a system that works like a public library, all goods and services are freely available to all. Property becomes obsolete, and thereby so does theft.
Resource abundance is a key factor. And that, Jacque Fresco said, is where science and technology step in. “When we use our technology to produce abundance, goods become too cheap to monetize,” says his colleague Roxanne Meadows. “There is only a price on things that are scarce. For instance, air is a necessity but we don’t monitor or charge for the amount of breaths we can take. Air is abundant. If apple trees grew everywhere and were abundant, you couldn’t sell apples.” But the air and the apples still have to be good quality, hence the need for preserving the environment and developing clean energy.
And so it is humanity alone that can overcome the problems of humanity—climate change, pollution, famine, sickness, war, and territorial disputes. “There are no ethnic problems, religious or any other kind. There are only human problems,” said Jacque Fresco, who believed in the dissolution of all nations and free movement of all peoples. “If you want an end to war, you have to declare Earth to be a common inheritance,” he insists in Roxanne Meadows’ documentary Paradise and Oblivion.
For the entrepreneur Jonathan Kolber, the system is intriguing, but it doesn’t say how capitalism would transition into a resource-based economy. “Capitalism is completing itself by automating more and more of the jobs upon which consumption depends,” he writes. “There is no stopping or even slowing of this process.”
Zoltan Istvan himself says that “is a novel idea, but it would take many decades to try to implement.”
“However,” he adds, “a resource-based economy takes more robot power and automation than we have today, but it will come soon.
A Self-Taught Man
Born in Brooklyn in 1916, Jacque Fresco was always interested in what we put aside as “the future.” At 8, he started drawing his vision of it, finding inspiration in the sci-fi film Metropolis. “It paints the future as a highly regimented system, which was totally unacceptable. But the architecture was interesting, as were the robotics,” he explains in William Gazecki’s documentary Future By Design. The young boy envisioned underwater houses, runways on post office roofs, ships, and planes. Later, as a talented student, he showed his designs to an engineer who, highly impressed, introduced him to the well-known futurist architect Richard Buckminster Fuller.
At around the same time, Fresco chanced upon Albert Einstein leaving a New York cinema. He begged Einstein for an interview, and the mathematician agreed to meet him at Princeton. Questioned about his economic and social vision, he placed a drop of water under a microscope and let the boy watch the complex, merciless fight taking place among the organisms inside it.
“This is how nature works,” Einstein said. “And it’s how society works, too.”
Jacque Fresco told him he disagreed.
The stock market crash of 1929 traumatized Fresco. “Overnight, he found himself surrounded by misery and suffering,” William Gazecki says. “People’s resources, infrastructure, and skills hadn’t changed. And yet they’d lost everything, and Jacque Fresco could not handle their suffering.” Now persuaded that capitalism was a sham, he sought alternatives in communism and socialism before finally deciding that any system under these ideologies was doomed to fail.
Jacque Fresco quit school at a young age to travel the world. He was awestruck by the diversity of cultures, mores, and values in the world—and became convinced that human beings were shaped by their social environment. “Imagine a family in ancient Rome that takes their children to see Christians fed to lions, and the children say: ‘Papa, can we come back next week to see the Christians eaten by lions?’ Are these children sick? No! It’s their system of values that is deformed. I’m only interested in the environment in which these people are raised. If their environment is inadequate, their behavior will be, too.”
Upon returning to the US, Jacque Fresco worked for the aircraft builder Douglas Aircraft Company. When Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, he enlisted in the Air Force. World War II left the US with overproduction and a lack of housing. Fresco designed a low-cost, easy-to-build house entirely of glass and aluminum. A group of 10 men could complete one in eight hours. Known as a Trend Home, it was mass produced, and it made a professional name for Jacque Fresco.
But his architectural ambitions did not stop at housing. In the 1970’s, he designed an entire city and showcased it on radio and TV. Around the same time, he founded a small company, Sociocyberneering Inc, and met Roxanne Meadows. Together, they searched for a plot of land in Florida where they could build a futurist research center. They ended up in a tomato plantation near Venus.
The Circular City
The circular city that Jacque Fresco envisioned and modeled was organized around a powerful computer that would control the air and water quality, as well as maintain security and environmental equilibrium. A massive dome housing the computer would also contain goods and services available to all: food, medical equipment, treatment, education. And the circular shape was not a random choice. According to Fresco, who used numerous models to demonstrate his vision, this brought every neighborhood close to the central dome.
The Venus Project’s stated objective is to make the models into reality, proving to the world that Jacque Fresco’s resource-based economy is not a utopia, at least not on a city scale. The research and experimentation center itself is supposed to represent the surroundings of Fresco’s ideal city, showing that nature and technology can live in harmony. Surrounded by tropical trees and wild animals, one building in the park is invisible from another. The Venus Project also gave Jacque Fresco the freedom to develop other city models, such as aquatic cities, which would reduce population pressure on earth and help preserve the oceans by encouraging the study of them.
“The idea of an experimental city is realistic,” Zoltan Istvan assures. “Knowing whether the whole world would embrace the theory of a resource-based economy, that’s another thing. But an experimental city could show the way and partially answer the question.” But even an experimental city would require considerable investment, primarily by means of donations. Hence the importance for Jacque Fresco and Roxanne Meadows to promote their work with documentaries. Meadows’ film, Paradise or Oblivion, has 2.5 million views on YouTube.
The call for donations has drawn criticism. There’s a bit of irony in asking for money to create a world without money. But William Gazecki doesn’t see any foul play on Fresco’s part. “He was not interested in power or material possessions, and he led a very simple life,” he says. He and Meadows were simply being pragmatic. They’d long financed their work by producing models for architectural and medical equipment firms. Those wishing to visit the Venus Project, which is managed by Meadows since Fresco’s death, must pay a $200 fee. At 67 years old, Meadows is determined to see Fresco’s’ project through, and she says she can count on help from several people.
“As co-founder of The Venus Project, I will now devote more of my time and energy to carrying it forward as Jacque and I have always planned,” she wrote in an open letter on the Venus Project’s site. “Many others want to help bring this work into fruition and there is a very dedicated group of people who are doing just that.
“The Venus Project will go on towards our aims and proposals and as Jacque and I always say, ‘If you want a better world you have to work towards it. If you do nothing, nothing will happen.'”