April 21, 2006

"Bullet and teardrop shapes and parallel 'speed lines'..."

Streamlining -- "the paring down of shape until it presents the least possible resistance to the flow of air or water" -- is a modernistic design trend that belongs to the 1930s and 40s. Do you love the futurism of the past? Or does it make you feel sad? If you get a bad twinge from it, is it nostalgia or disappointment? That is, that we live in this place that was once called the future, and we see that it doesn't have that exciting futuristic look we once imagined? We got tired of the future before it ever arrived, and we decided to preserve the look of past, except that part of the past that was the futuristic vision.


CB said...

It's worth noting that the original meaning of nostalgia was not just negative, but pathological. It was a diagnosis of severe melancholia caused by being away from home for a prolonged time.

Henry said...

No pictures!

But here's a nice set of examples at the Georgia Museum of Art:


It makes me feel happy. What nice stuff. And move back and laterally in design time and you find art deco, art nouveau, arts & crafts, all sorts of lovely movements.

Go back far enough and you get to the egyptians, they with their streamlined profiles and sinuous outfits.

Truly said...

The futurism of the early 20th century is certainly more aesthetically pleasing than that of the 1960s. Lots of buildings that look like they're made of Tinker Toys offset by concrete boxes, and so on. Many university campuses are afflicted with this kind of architecture--when I was at Rochester, we pointed to SUNY Binghampton as a prime example. They don't call it "Moonbase 9" for nothing.

KCFleming said...

Few things are as old and sad as yesterday's future. It whispers of defeat and loss and promises unkept, and evinces a state of ennui, wistful for an innocent but mistaken optimism.

"Stopped and awful as a photograph of somebody laughing
But ten years dead."

Sylvia Plath

Scott W. Somerville said...

"Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" is a beautiful example of this, whatever we call it.

I was struck by the intersection of law and architecture when I was a student at Harvard Law School. Walking from my apartment to class was like taking an architectural "core sample," with every kind of building from colonial to Bauhaus in my path. I read through Lochner v. New York and noted the Greek Revival buildings on campus, with their attitude of timeless perfection. I read "Legal Realism" cases which abandoned the quest for justice, and noted the Bauhaus buildings that traded beauty in for function.

Perhaps I was just projecting my own attitudes on the law and the architecture, but it sure SEEMED like the "Zeitgeist" affected both...

Andrew said...

Disappointment. I want my flying car, darn it!

More seriously, I think it's a mix. On the one hand, I'm certainly terribly disappointed that Pan Am isn't making flights to a space station in high Earth orbit daily a la 2001, on the other I think that the unexpected improvements in our daily lives are a lot more impressive than those who dream of the future in the 1930s could ever have imagined.

Pat Patterson said...

Do we really want teenagers to have the keys to dad's Toyota hybrid flying car anytime in the future. Look to the skys!

BrianOfAtlanta said...

When my daughter was younger, we were at Disney and she asked me why Future World looked so dumb. She was incredulous when I told her that this was what people back in the '50s and '60s thought we would want to live in. I don't think I helped the case for respecting your elders.

KCFleming said...

[coffee consumed, more awake]

What'd I say? Feh.
Just count me nostalgic for the future that never was. Cool pictures, like at Lileks.

SippicanCottage said...
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Wombat Rampant said...

There's a haunting story by William Gibson about the future that never was, "The Gernsback Continuum". Very much worth reading, if only for his cynical take on the assumptions underlying a future illustrated by Frank R. Paul, among others.

Ron said...

So? Let's make a future, right now, today! Who cares if people in the actual future make fun of it, diss it, etc. They're going to do that anyway, so joke 'em if they can't take a fug!

Why do it? Because it makes it ours. We don't just bumble into it, or accept whatever comes down the hill fatalistically; We Made It Ourselves! Even if it turns out that we don't.

vbspurs said...

Talking about cynical assumptions, these futuristic visions are part sad, part accurate, part ludicrous, aren't they?

Let me skew the topic a bit.

Here is one British man's vision of the year 2050 in the UK and the US.

Amongst the predictions:

- First "Latino" president in 2030. There will also be an absolute Hispanic majority in both Congress and the Senate.

- The US will become a pseudo-Roman Catholic state, which ironically will have a lot in common, he says, with its Puritan forebears.

- The US will break up into regions, North/South/East/West. This will spark a "Water War" as water becomes more valuable a commodity, than petroleum crude oil. British Columbia (those dern Canadians again), will be the Sarajevo, and the South will attack Washington State's water pipelines during the "hot" summer of 2026.

- Complete US withdrawal of troops in Japan will make the Japanese militarised again. Bonzai!

Finally, this cheery message:

Was it worth it?

In 2001 it was thought that after 600 years since the Portugese began to roam the oceans- new technology, advances in health programmes and science as well as the ubiqity of the web, creating English as a world language, it would lead to a kind of global pax Romana. But the reality of 2050, is that the world is divided into four unstable power zones, Oceania-Sino-Japan, North and South America, Eurozone and the Middle-East collective. Each are gazing at their own navels, strained by ever growing numbers, unable to focus on anything other than self-preservation. In effect, the world is in retreat from the age of discovery and the sound we can hear is of minds closing everywhere.


Ever since man began ruminating on a time which may not include him, he's thought the world would be more catastrophic than it is now.

For all the cheery visions of a streamlined world, with "Homes of the Future", we get this claptrap up top.

Doomsday predictions were the lesson of Malthus, and like Malthus, they're always wrong.


Joseph said...

Here is some evidence of this kind of streamlining coming back in modern architecture.

CB said...

"Future events such as these will affect you in the future."

-Plan 9 From Outer Space

Balfegor said...

The style is as frozen in time as any other, and yet, it's always called "modern."

Odd, yes. But what is odder to me still (in its way) is how old some aspects of the style are. While visiting Vienna a few years ago, I saw an exhibition of Imperial silveware in one of the museums (the Kunsthistorisches Museum, I think) by Theresienplatz or whatever it's called. There were a number of items -- teapots, plates, etc. -- all very plain, simple, streamlined, polished, and modern. They looked like they came from machine processes in the 1950's or so. They were from 1820.

SippicanCottage said...
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Gordon Freece said...

balfegor - Yes. And type design has changed less than you might think since 1476.

JOE - I think those curvy buildings are fantastic. I'm all for the unexpected in architecture, as long as it's not soul-crushingly, nightmarishly ugly.

SippicanCottage said...

P Froward- That was an interesting page you linked to. I noticed Cicero's Treatise on Old Age published by our old Althouse friend, Benjamin Franklin. Magnificent.

As far as the Gehry stuff-- hangin's too good fer 'em, we should make him live in one of those buildings. Check that. Make him live across the street from those monstrosities.

It's amazing how many people are fooled by guys like Gehry, thinking they're cutting edge. What's cutting edge about a carnival funhouse married to Doctor Cagliari's Cabinet?

Unknown said...

Flying cars don't have any place to store the wings for when you land. You need a truck follow you around. A friend has a Bugati, with the boat tail, still is the coolest car on the road. People are looking for something new and post modern, they aren't going to find it in any gallery, it was made in the 13th century by a couple of monks making Bibles. Donald Jackson claims his bible is post modern, it was at the V&A, my Bible is just plain modern, I am not into this post stuff.

Maxine Weiss said...

Too confusing---all these labels....

Mid-century modern vs. Post Modern vs. Neo-Classic

Sippican, help!

All I know is that I like something that has charm and warmth. Nothing too too too busy or exhausting (ahem), yet not too minimalist, or cold either.

Balance,warmth, and symmetry.

I don't like that.... Jetsons/ (A-Spaceship-Has-Landed) look either.

Peace, Maxine

XWL said...

Regarding the Gehry haters (of which I'm one, with the exception being Disney Hall, that actually does kick-ass)

He DOES live in a butt-ugly house of his own design here in Santa Monica.

Maxine Weiss said...

The Eichler homes are the best. Mid-century modern with an open floor plan, and lots of plants:

In my dreams: http://www.milehimodern.com/images/1815SJerseyExt.jpg

Peace, Maxine

Tibore said...

I was once streamlined and aerodynamic. But then I discovered the pleasure of fried foods and red meat.

Mmmmm... chinese Orange Beef... deep fried red meat... the best of both worlds...

I was trying to come up with something more relevant, but another poster beat me to the Sky Captain movie, so I'm stuck with this.

"T, you look like a Flash Gordon rocket: Tiny pointed top, wide middle, fiery gas coming out the end..."

Abraham said...

JOE: Aaggh! Those buildings! I agree with the article - they are horrible. Large buildings are supposed to be soaring, mathematic, and awe-inspiring, not twisted, random, and organic. I would like nothing more than a comeback of the old "curvy" styles, but I had something more like this in mind.