What comes to mind when you hear the words "space age"? An old scifi show like Star Trek or the cartoon The Jetsons? Or maybe you think of the curvy, futuristic designs in the 60s and 70s, like the egg chair, the Panton chair or the colorful groovy designs of wallpaper in that era.
This week, (and actually over the next month over at the Omaha Modernism Guild) I wanted to delve into the history of Space Age Design. I would love to hear about what you might enjoy or have from this era!
A fascination with space and science occurred worldwide, but we are going to mainly focus on what occurred here in the United States. It was the United States' race to space against the Soviet Union during the cold war that prompted the nation to focus on and promote science and the exploration of space. Products emerged that were aimed at young people, so that they would be encouraged to consider careers in science to aid the cause.
There was even a World's Fair in Seattle, Washington in 1962 where a monumental building was erected in honor of the nation's scientific aspirations. The fair was also known as the Century 21 Exposition. Thirty member nations along with businesses, artists and scientists all had the goal to show what would be possible in the future. The Seattle Space Needle was the brain child of the organizers of the World's Fair, hoping to draw even more people to Seattle's exhibition on space. The Space Needle was over 600 feet tall and it was one of many edifices built for the 6 month long fair with a total attendance of 10 million that put Seattle on the map.
An attraction that left a lasting impression on fairgoers was the Bubbleator that the rode to the land of tomorrow.
Image from Spaceagedesign.org
Interestingly, it was reportedly at this same fair that the Broyhill furniture company presented their new designs for the Brasilia furniture line! So does that make Broyhill Brasilia space age? Read on below to find out more about space age furniture.
There was also a science centered fair in New York City a few years later in 1964. According to spaceagedesign.org the New York fair was had more extravagant futuristic commercial buildings that did not last long after the fair.
Just look at this Coca Cola building! Image from spaceagedesign.org
I really thought that the way that companies embraced space age design for their exhibits and designs at these fairs illustrated how top of mind space was to the American people in the 60s.
Space Age and Industry
After World War II, manufacturers and designers started to utilize plastic and synthetic materials more. Which makes sense, when you consider the innovations that NASA was making in their space program.
Many industries, including the automotive, fashion and furniture industries took notice of the world's new interest in space. It was actually fashion designer, Pierre Cardin, who coined the phrase "Space Age". As a side note, why do we not learn these types of things in history class? Pierre Cardin passed away in 2020, at 98 years of age!
Image or Pierre Cardin's Space Age Collection from irenebrination.com
Space Age Furniture
Now you likely came to this site for furniture and we are going to end our deep dive with a look at space age furniture designs. A hallmark of space age furniture was the use of synthetic materials, like plastic. The top designs that I saw mentioned again and again online were:
1. The Panton Chair
Image from Holger Elgaard Wikimedia commons
Designed by Danish designer Verner Panton and manufactured by Vitra. This was a groundbreaking design, as it stretched the limits of plastic technology due to its dramatically curving shape.
The ball chair, designed by Finnish designer, Eero Arnio was presented at the Cologne Furniture Fair in 1966. It is constructed of fiberglass.
3. Tulip Chair - Eero Saarinen
Image from Holger Elgaard Wikimedia Commons
The Eero Saarinen Tulip Chair and accompanying dining set is on many MCM enthusiasts' bucket list. Eero Saarinen was an architect and designer. He designed the tulip table and chairs to "solve the problem of chair legs". How'd he do?
American furniture manufacturers came up with their interpretations with offerings like:
1. Chromcraft Sculpta Chairs (Also called Star Trek Chairs)
Image from Star Trek Design
Chromcraft based in Senotobia, Missouri is actually still in business. One of their most memorable designs was the Sculpta chair that was used on the set of Star Trek, the original series, in 1966.
2. Broyhill Chapter One
Image courtesy of Golden Garage Vintage
Retrorenovation has an awesome archive of photos of this groovy Broyhill offering, as well as the full catalog! Constructed in plastic and laminate in true space age fashion, the Chapter One pieces feature bright colors and curvy edges.
3. Lighting designs by Robert Sonneman
Image courtesy of midmod_mommy and is currently for sale!
Robert Sonneman designed sleek modernist lighting using the principles of Bauhaus design beginning in the 1960s and he is still active today!
If you use Instagram, please tag @omahamodernismguild or use the hashtag #omahamodernismguild to share your favorite space age era designs (even if you aren't in Omaha, we'd love to hear from you). We also have a community page on Facebook where you can share on the discussion tab.
I will link a documentary on the fair here from YouTube: