Changing World

M any of the great accomplishments in art have developed in a period of great spiritual unrest, not at all unlike the present. The struggle itself has usually resulted in the birth of new ideas, in the development of new mate­rials and new methods, and in the beginning of an upward step in the prog­ress of humanity. Some of the drawing and painting on the walls of caverns in the Pyrenees Mountains made by Cro-Magnon men at least fifty thousand years ago have never been excelled in design and draftsmanship.211 They repre­sent drawing and painting under the most difficult conditions. It is interest­ing to note that in style they are as modern as any drawings being made to-day. The technical struggle of the men in achieving that startling sim­plicity of thought and form must have been tremendous, and I believe that the directness of the result was brought about to a great extent by their difficulties.

It was during the period of greatest turmoil that the Greeks developed their column-and-beam construction system and their work achieved its maximum vigor and simplicity.2 But time, life and thought never stand still.

Having carried their idea to its highest point of development by the elimination of every­thing not essential to the com­plete design, they proved themselves completely human. Relaxing after their struggle, having more time at their dis­posal, unable to leave well enough alone, they began to " refine ” and elaborate their art. Its decline was simultane­ous with the deterioration of Greek civilization.

With equal intelligence, greater resources, plus all the

214 • RHEIMS CATHEDRAL DESIGNER U N KNO WN 1212 . , , ^ , .

experience of the Greeks and Etruscans, the Romans never succeeded in equalling in quality what had gone before. Although the Romans adopted the column and beam of the Greeks, and the arched vault and dome of the Etruscans, their greatest ability mani­fested itself in construction, and their chief contribution was the introduc­tion of concrete.

Then, genius in architecture burst forth again in what we speak of as the Gothic.214 A new combination of principles disclosed ways of creating new, inspiring forms. In combination with columns, they took sections of the walls and turned them at right angles to the wall line, forming buttresses, and they filled in the space between with great glass windows.215 Color reached its most exalted expression in the thirteenth century through stained glass.

And now, hundreds of years later, we are at the beginning of another period that will rank with these others. But we are only at the beginning. One indication that this contempo­rary period is a beginning, and not a culmination, is to be found in the way we use steel. All the buildings built of steel to-day are mere preliminary models of the crudest sort by comparison with ultimate examples that will be achieved be­fore the development of the steel structure reaches its maxi­mum expression and starts downhill. We have but scratched the surface of the uses of this metal.

Many persons are under the impression that the progres­sive changes in design, commonly referred to as the modern style, which is so rapidly changing our environment for the better, is the result of an impetus that has developed within the past five years. This impetus has been under way for the past two generations. A graph-line would show its regular progress, with the single exception of the interval immediately 2,5 ‘ RHEIMS CATHEDRAL: PLAN

or J DESIGNER UNKNOWN 1212

affected by the World War. Only now have the examples of this new expres­sion accumulated in sufficient quantity to make themselves felt in various parts of the world. This is particularly true of the building media, archi­tecture, sculpture, engineering.

This expression, the so-called modern style, was not the result of an attempt to be different nor was it a decorative movement. Serious people, whether they are artists or business men, do not think in such terms. It was a develop­ment that came as the result of fundamental thinking in terms of purpose, form and color.

For a very simple reason, this expression first manifested itself in painting, which for the last few hundred years has outsped the other arts. The differ-

ence in cost between the materials required for ex­perimenting with an idea on canvas and those re­quired for the execution of an idea in the form of a building is considerable. The painter paints without commission. For him to test his experiment it is not necessary that he first have a contract signed and a client in the state of mind to spend thousands of dol­lars. The opposite is the case

2.6 • RHEIMS CATHEDRAL: ROSE WINDOW DESIGNER UNKNOWN.2.2 ^ archiact> sculp_

tor, or engineer. The most that adventurous spirits can do in these fields is to visualize their ideas and develop them in the form of miniature models. There are all too few in a position even to carry their ideas that far, for again the cost involved is considerable.

Owing to the fact that one constantly hears design in its present-day as­pect referred to as something of very recent origin, I have been curious to compare the earliest work I did in the theater with my latest work. My first designs for the stage (1913) and the photographs of my first production (1916) show clearly that, although cruder in execution than work I do to­day, it is just as direct and modern in its simplicity as anything I have done since. And there were others a long time ahead of me. Frank Lloyd Wright, for instance, has been working for forty years in terms of what is now spoken

of as modern. He stands alone to-day as the most creative artist architecture has produced in America.

During the World War, each of two neutral coun­tries produced a young ar­chitect, both of whom, due to the head start they got during those several years wasted by the rest of the world, have had a major influence upon architec­ture immediately follow­ing the war. One was a young Swiss painter, Jean – 217 • lycoming airplane motor designed by val cronsted 1929

neret, whom the world now knows as Le Corbusier. The other was J. J. P.

Oud of Holland.

In support of my belief that all the common objects of our everyday life will continue to undergo vast changes as a result of the impetus toward de­sign, facts of aesthetic and economic significance can be cited almost without limit. There is every indication that the mass of people have a deep-rooted craving for satisfaction from the appearance of the things around them. Year by year, the public judgment in such matters improves; and the reason is that the public is becoming more and more desirous of eliminating the uncouth.

Take the automobile, as an example. The mass point of view for the selection of what might fairly be considered the best-looking motor car at the annual automobile show would be almost as dependable as the judgment of a care-

fully chosen committee of three out of this mass. This situation arises from the fact that the motor car is a thing of our own genera­tion. If the same public were shown examples of furniture of three hundred years ago, or sculpture, they would have much more trouble in arriving at a similar decision. In the latter case, they would be bothered about right and wrong, and beauty, and what other people think, and many other considera­tions all beside the point. But a still more important factor should be stressed. Regardless of their individ­ual judgment in such mat­ters, the desire and craving for objects of good design is increasing rapidly in the mass of the people. Already conscious of the tendency, they are becoming more

and more sensitive to the elements of design in things about them. There are many proofs of this.

Not many years ago, practically all store fronts and store interiors followed one general style. In the hansom days, Fifth Avenue was decidedly this way. To-day it is different. Each store, large or small, endeavors to impress buyers with its individuality. They are aware of the consumers’ increasing visual consciousness. Women are to-day buying four times as many pairs of shoes each year as their mothers bought at the same age. The shoes that the woman of to-day buys may not be so good as those her mother bought, but in her opinion they are smarter. She knows that if, instead of buying four pairs of shoes a year, she spent the same amount of money and bought one good pair, the one good pair would last more than a year. Also she knows that if she did this, she would look out-of-date, which is another way of saying that she is design conscious.

At the rate of more than ten million people daily, the American public throngs to moving-picture theaters. There they see people like themselves in surroundings with which, for the most part, they themselves are unfamiliar. They see how people in the other nine tenths of the world live. People in Kan­sas see how people not so unlike themselves live on Park Avenue, in London, in Tahiti. They see how these other people dress, what their dining rooms and their sleeping rooms are like, and they are influenced visually. They are be­coming more design conscious. This same public reads popular magazines. These magazines are profusely illustrated, not only in the text, but in the advertisements concerning commodities in which the visual element is pre­dominant. This again is profound proof of the public’s interest in design. The same might be said of the latest ships launched by the French and North German Lloyd lines, which are, in their interior design, distinctly different in style from any ships previously built.

Furthermore, the satisfaction that arises from appreciation of good de­sign is something that, once started, lasts forever. There is no end to it. If there were, persons who know a great deal about design would toss it aside as a boring matter having no further interest or value. The result is just the opposite. The more people know of this subject, the more interesting it be­comes, the more it means to their daily life and the more they want to know. This is another reason why, year by year, the public’s sensitiveness to design is increasing.

This craving to behold and to possess objects of good design is of course far more pronounced with a certain limited minority. Men with creative minds are exceedingly susceptible to the things around them. It is as natural for them to think of these objects in terms of improvements as for cream to rise to the surface of milk. For the artist, it is essential that he should be an ex­plorer and delve into the future, both spiritually and materially; and if he works in the ideas and materials of his own age, he inevitably stamps his per­sonality, sensitiveness, and ideas upon the world. The outstanding artists, many of whose names we do not know, but whose work defies time, are those who battered down the limitations of the then new materials and ideas of their time. It is so in terms of business men and it is so in terms of scientists, philosophers, writers and teachers.

Man has one outstanding failing — he limits his horizon to what his eyes see. He is too likely to be influenced in a transaction by the immediate conse­quences than to see it in perspective as a part of his life as a whole. He allows the obvious to offset his imagination. In the last five years the world has gone through a terrific change. Things are not the same as they were. To-day is no time for petty plans. The demand for leadership is dominant — whatever field you are thinking in. There are few limitations placed upon man other than those of his own making. It is up to him whether he broadens his viewpoint or

transportation conveyances, airplanes, motor cars, railway trains, and ships.

I anticipate that railroad, steamship and motor-car companies will not long continue to follow the design precedents they have followed in the past because they now realize that it is easy to improve their conveyances from the point of view of comfort and appearance and make them far more invit­ing to the traveling public. Eventually, these companies will employ only the best designers to solve the problems involving visual appearance, and for a very obvious reason. A good man who solves the problem is an economy in the long run, no matter what the original cost. He is a parallel to the lawyer who wins his case and the surgeon who saves a life. There is no middle ground.

Changes in household and office furniture will come more slowly than changes in automobiles. There are two fundamental reasons why it is easier to accept a marked change in the design of an automobile than a similar change in the design of furniture. First, we are naturally averse to change in objects that are part of our daily living habits; second, in purchasing furni­ture we usually add to what we have and consequently seek to buy something to go with it. As regards the automobile, our habits of thought are not so fixed as they are with regard to furniture. When we change cars, it is a mat­ter of replacement at one stroke, and when we buy a new one we naturally select one that we believe to be better looking than the old one.

As to the form that motor buses will eventually take, I believe it will be that described elsewhere in these pages. My expectation is that buses of this form will be in general use on long runs in the very near future. Desirable changes in railway cars will come more slowly, since really effective changes will require the railroads and builders to discard present equipment. In the case of steamships, the process will require still longer. Nothing changes more slowly than ships of the sea.

Momentous changes in architecture are immediately ahead, particularly in

domestic architecture. The house as we know it to-day is obsolete. In indus­trial architecture, the visual attractiveness of nearly every office building and factory has been achieved in a purely artificial manner. Where good design exists, it has come about mainly through attention to other things than the organic development of the basic form. Some of the most striking examples of architecture designed in this age are the grain elevators in the north­west.2" Some may say this is not architecture. However, they are among the most honest examples of architectural design that have been originated since the pyramids. The Great Pyramid of Egypt is not only the world’s most famous tomb, it is also one of the finest examples in architecture of designing to a purpose. Embodying the most intricate ideas, it succeeds in expressing them in the simplest of visual forms. In new forms, such as the pyramids were in their day, and as the grain elevators are in ours, it is easiest to break away from tradition and design organically. An outstanding example of de­signing for and in the spirit of our times are the twin dirigible hangars at Orly, France.2"

The most fascinating change that is coming over the world to-day is the result of man’s struggle to realize his vision of more congenial living condi­tions. In consequence of this vision and this struggle, many new developments are to be anticipated. The progress of the world from the earliest times up to the present has been towards the broader understanding of human welfare and relationship. In this connection consider the changing status of city planning. The scientifically designed mass-production house that can be fabricated in a factory, shipped anywhere and erected with all its facilities of lighting, heating, plumbing is yet to be realized. Present strides indicate that the solution is not far off.

There is said to be a law of nature that higher forms must, before maturity, pass through all the stages of evolution of their predecessors. This seems to

hold true for the modern art of building. Mankind has had to re-experience the architectural development of the Egyptians,1 the Greeks,2 through the Gothic,214 the Renaissance141 and the Baroque, before it could express its own time in its own terms. Engineers and architects now seek to free city-planning conceptions from past influences, approaching the problem of municipal de­velopment from the viewpoint of its major considerations: first, problems involved in economies of space, material and labor; second, problems of intercourse and transportation; third, problems of public service, water, gas and electric supply, of sewage, and of labor-saving devices; fourth, problems of air and sunlight, of larger windows and of park areas; fifth, problems of housing the laboring forces of great industries.

Architects of the nineteenth century did not concern themselves with or­ganizing the city as a center of production, but mainly with the develop­ment of residential quarters. They had their city halls, churches, banks, and museums and these were located wherever it was thought that they looked best. Wherever there was a plot of ground that was too small for a building, a monument was erected.1 Washington and Paris are good examples of this sort of planning. But this is not the kind of planning that we are going to see in the future. As impractical as it may sound at the moment, cities of the future will be laid out and planned as a new industrial plant is — to achieve the utmost utility from all standpoints of the city problem.

Municipal governments will not eternally consist of and be ruled by politi­cians. We shall awake to the fact that our present political system is medieval and more out-moded than anything else we haye. Municipal organizations of the future are going to govern for the benefit of the municipality, its living and its business. The most capable people in the municipality will run it in the same way that the best brains in a business manage it. Imagine the success that a large manufacturing plant would have if it were operated by a popular

vote of all the people working in the plant? To-morrow, municipal govern­ments embodying the brains of the community will plan their cities in the light of the city’s needs.

By looking into the future and using a little imagination, vision and cour­age, we can attain results that will mean untold savings for future genera­tions. The intelligent plan will be based upon the extreme of ultimate pos­sible developments a good many years ahead. Then, by stepping the plan back in stages, we will reach the attainable objective for yearly periods. Nearly every large city has its plan for to-morrow, but these plans are of the vaguest sort and are based too much upon present conditions. I am speaking of such plans as the regional plan of New York City.

To-day, we know that a modern municipality is not to be regarded merely as a consuming center, but chiefly as a producing center with industry and commerce as the vital forces of its life. We can understand what it really is and should be only if we understand its economic functions, its labor divi­sions, and its labor associations. To-morrow’s city planning will not com­mence with the secondary matter of residential districts, but with the pri­mary object of establishing the production of the locality and of utilizing these possibilities to the fullest extent. It will, of course, consider residential necessities as a part of the whole and this will throw new emphasis and a new light upon the use and value of the tall building. Most people, in thinking of New York, think of the tall building sectors,74 while actually the tall build­ings occupy a very small proportion of the total area.220

The great value of the tall building in a city is that it towers high, fur­nishes its inhabitants with more and better air, sunshine, and space than they could possibly get otherwise in an equally populated section. Let us assume that the average height of all the buildings covering one entire block in lower Manhattan is ten stories. It is considerably less than this. Take fifteen blocks

as a unit, each being ten stories in height.221 Concentrate the floor space of all the buildings in these fifteen blocks into one tower covering one block. Such a tower might be one hundred and fifty stories high.

Within this one structure, occupying one block, we would have the same capacity as all the ten-story buildings covering the fifteen blocks. As a result, fourteen blocks are released for use as open country, or park, or airport, and we have a superior organism as far as an intercommunicating business system is concerned. The business of fifteen blocks is concentrated in one block and intercommunicating by vertical and horizontal transit systems. Multiply this principle by three, and we span the width of Manhattan. The space between each building is greater in width than the width of Central Park.

Such a development as this, although simple in itself, is sufficiently differ-

ent from present-day conditions to require considerable foresight and plan­ning on the part of business and municipal authorities. Real estate operators would not be very happy and could hardly be expected to flourish under such conditions. The property owners of all fifteen blocks would pool their inter­ests and receive their proportionate dividends from the single building, the rest of the space being opened up for non-building purposes.

If the Empire State Building, instead of covering merely a quarter of a block, covered the whole block, and went as much higher as necessary, it would accommodate all the people now working within the surrounding half dozen blocks and accommodate them more comfortably than they are ac­commodated at the present moment. It would release these half dozen blocks for use as parks. Such a building would have the population of a fair-sized

221 • NEW YORK CITY BLOCKS

city and contain every element that such a city would need to function, — its own fire department, hospital and police department. Obviously, these would be mere sub-stations of the metropolitan force.

In a building of this size, new problems will naturally arise. Transit prob­lems within the building will be different. To-day even in our largest build­ings only vertical transportation is provided. In the buildings of the future, problems of horizontal transportation will have to be solved, possibly by means of moving sidewalks in the nature of escalators.

The public at large thinks of skyscraper architecture as applying only to large cities. There are many arguments for its application to the small town. All the merchants in a town of five thousand persons will some day pool their interests. Instead of putting up numerous little three-story and four-story buildings of their own, they will build one tower-type building in the center of the town. This tower will not need to be very high, yet it will make life much easier for the whole community. Mrs. Jones will find it more conven­ient for her shopping, especially in rainy, hot or cold weather. In rainy weather she will be dry from the time she enters the building until she com­pletes her errands. In hot weather, the building will be cooled by conditioned air, and in cold weather, heated. She will not be going from one draft temper­ature to another and slipping on icy pavements. The doctor, the movie and the butcher will all be under one roof, along with the commercial and gov­ernmental activities of the town, including the theater and the mayor’s office.

For a community such as Greenwich, Connecticut, for instance, there is a particular advantage in this plan. The one building, occupying at the most a block, would release several blocks of valuable land, now used for business purposes, to enhance the comfort and charm of the community.

The architectural concentration just described might be looked upon as a symbol of similar developments in all phases of life, except that the symbol, instead of preceding the other phases, will undoubtedly follow it. Indus­trial organization is gradually changing from the free competition of inde­pendent companies, which in the past has been considered the protection of the consumer, toward a unification of these independent companies cooperat­ing with each other towards a common purpose. Just as the forty-eight States of the United States can accomplish more as a united group, so can business institutions do the same. In so doing, these business institutions become a monopoly and the problem that is yet to be worked out is how to safeguard the public’s interest. By organizing on such a scale, the output would be con­trolled, the cost of competition would be eliminated, and the evils of fluctua­tion in industrial activity would be greatly reduced. The heart of the plan should be a self-adjusting, economic mechanism.

As we progress, we will combine, which means we will work with the other person’s interest in mind. To-morrow, we will recognize that in many respects progress and combination are synonymous. Civilization is as much the product of cooperation as of individualism. Behind us are generations of rampant individualists; ahead, I believe, lies an era of rational cooperation.

Some forms of industry will organize in much larger units than we know to-day. This tendency has already appeared in connection with the attempt of the railroads to solve their present difficulties. At first, the railroads in any one section of the country, as in New England, for instance, will operate as a unit. Eventually, all the roads in every section will comprise a single organism, as they did during the War. Other industries will follow this example as the method proves more economical, profitable and stable.

One of the greatest experiments the world has ever known is now in prog­ress in Soviet Russia. Here is a government that is trying to run its affairs like a business. They are treating each separate undertaking, industry, art, or whatever it is, as though each were a subsidiary of the holding company.

222 • STILL LIFE

PHOTOGRAPH BY FRANCIS BRUGIERE 1927

Each business is a single large combine, a great trust, if you wish to call it that, except that it is not run for purposes of personal or commercial profit for individuals. Of course unforeseen complications appear and great mis­takes are made. This is the story of every experiment, large or small, and this is the largest the world has ever known. I am not expecting it to succeed in all phases, but I do foresee its success to an extent far beyond the present expec­tations of the American people.

The basic idea which differentiates the way the Russian Government undertakes to organize and operate its affairs from the way other govern­ments try to run theirs is that they have a definite plan. They try at least to look ahead and see where they are going. A business that undertakes to oper­ate on any other basis has little chance of success. A five-year plan that is only partially successful is better than a month to month plan or no plan at all.

In the United States, business is tending more and more towards organiz­ing itself into larger units. What is happening in Russia is merely the maxi­mum attempt, to date, of this tendency. Not so far in the future, the Amer­ican people will be actively experimenting with further applications of a principle which originated on this side of the Atlantic. I refer to the principle of the huge industrial organism. One direct result of the new industrialized regime in the United States will be the inauguration of far-seeing plans for economies and efficiency in terms of future developments. Attention will be focussed upon the economic structure of the combine and its contribution to society. Directly and indirectly, this evolution will stimulate all the tenden­cies toward design that I have previously indicated.

Meanwhile, between various industries and between various enterprises within a given industry, there will be a more intensive rivalry to gain the confidence of the public for particular products. This will cause industry to concentrate upon quality as well as quantity of output, and it will bring into

greater prominence than ever distinctions due to qualities of workmanship and design. The public will benefit. Their confidence and buying power will go to those industries which incorporate good design in their products, whether these industries sell things in packages, or, as in the case of railroads and motor-car makers, passenger miles.

This rivalry and competition for public favor, with concentration on qual­ity as the first result, will have three other important and inevitable conse­quences. New materials and new methods will be developed to make the con­ditions of life more convenient, comfortable and agreeable. We shall acquire an adequate machine craftsmanship. As between industry and the artist, their common interests will be further consolidated.

Progressive business means new ideas, and new ideas invariably stimulate progress in design; progress in design brings technical progress. The three go hand in hand. Very little has been accomplished as yet in the constructive exploitation of new metals and alloys. We may anticipate that miracles will be performed by the chemist and metallurgist with rare metals such as tan­talum and molybdenum. A new alloy, thin as paper, and impermeable to hy­drogen and helium, will make possible the all-metal dirigible. Transportation by air will develop rapidly in the new era. The latest generation has been born to the air, as others of us have been born to the railroad, steamship and auto­mobile. This new generation will live to see mass production airplanes in daily use by the thousands. These machines will be as easily handled as the auto­mobile. New devices will make it possible to fly blind in all weather. Planes will be stamped out by mass production methods. Engines will be made largely of some light-weight alloy, such as beryllium. Probably, the engines will approximate the turbine principle. Television may be a commonplace within a decade. Art will be achieved by the machine — inspirationally and technically.

Artists are fast mastering the camera, which is purely a machine. The cam­era will develop into the perfect instrument for the artist. It automat­ically attends to the obvious and literal for him. It reacts instantly to his sensitiveness and creative imagination.2” But it is a foreign tool to the artist. Not much technique has been developed for it as yet. The pencil or brush is a simple thing to master. The camera is intricate. The same applies to the artist in industry.

Of one thing we can be sure. All the industrial design we have had in the United States, as yet, is comparable in effect to a pebble dropped in a pond. The circles that have agitated the surface will continue to widen and spread with an ever-increasing sphere of influence. By the middle of the present cen­tury, I anticipate that we shall have begun consciously to achieve that com­plete mastery of the machine which is to-day a more or less unconscious goal. By that time, it will be one of the profoundest facts of our existence. It will make for our greater peace and contentment and yield not only purely physical but aesthetic and spiritual satisfaction.

But at the moment, we still are thinking too much in grooves. We are too much inclined to believe, because things have long been done a certain way, that that is the best way to do them. Following old grooves of thought is one method of playing safe. But it deprives one of initiative and takes too long. It sacrifices the value of the element of surprise. At times, the only thing to do is to cut loose and do the unexpected! It takes more even than imagination to be progressive. It takes vision and courage.

[1] • AIR LINER NUMBER 4: DECK 9 DESIGNED BY NORMAN BEL GEDDES 1929 AERONAUTICAL ENG’NEER OTTO ROLLER

[2] Garage

[3] • TEMPLE OF MUSIC: ENTRANCE FLOOR PLAN DESIGNED BY NORMAN BEL GEDDES 1929

[4] • THREE COMBINATIONS OF BLOCK UNITS