‘Both Natural and Mechanical: the Streamlined Designs of Norman Bel Geddes,' Journal of Transport History 30:2 (2009), pp. 141-167.

Maffei, Nicolas ‘Both Natural and Mechanical: the Streamlined Designs of Norman Bel Geddes,' Journal of Transport History 30:2 (2009), pp. 141-167.

Abstract

This article, published in the peer-reviewed ‘Journal of Transport History’, examines the work of Geddes as an early and significant exponent of streamlining, arguing that the style has been largely overlooked as an important modernist expression, containing within it a number of competing and contradictory meanings, following Andreas Huyssen’s (1986) exploration of a dialectical modernism which bridges the avant-garde and mass culture. It explores streamlining as originating – from the 1930s, when it first gained force as a styling fad, into the 1950s, when it had achieved widespread and longstanding popularity – within a cultural space created by seemingly irreconcilable philosophies: the organic and the mechanized. The article provides a cross-disciplinary model spanning histories of modernism, design, and transport. Extending the article research exploring the symbolic meanings of streamlining was developed for a conference presentation ‘Moving People and Products: Flow as a Metaphor in the Designs of Norman Bel Geddes, 1893-1958’, which was selected for Blocked Arteries: Circulation and Congestion in History, Institute of Historical Research, University of London (11.2010). Further developing this research was the article ‘“I Have Seen the Future”: Norman Bel Geddes’ “Futurama” as Immersive Design’, Design and Culture, Berg, 2012 part of the ‘Locating Design’ series, which presents the Futurama, Geddes’s blueprint for a streamlined future, as a pioneering form of immersive technology. The article was developed through Maffei’s invited lecture ‘The Streamlined Designs of Norman Bel Geddes: From Imagined Ideal to Commercial Reality’ presented at the University of York Institute of Railway Studies seminar series (05.2006, convened by Professor Colin Divall), with input from the business and transport historian Dr. Peter Lyth, University of Nottingham and Prof Tim Benton, Open University.

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