I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America is a
landmark exhibition exploring the career of one of the twentieth
century's foremost theatrical and industrial designers. This book
will explore the career of this complex and influential man through
approximately fifty projects, bringing together never
beforeexhibited drawings, models, photographs and films. The
exhibition will be curated by Donald Albrecht, the Museum of the
City of New York's Curator of Architecture and Design, who will
also serve as the book's editor. In addition to Donald Albrecht,
who will contribute the Introduction to the book, seventeen
scholars will contribute essays. Norman Bel Geddes (1893 1958) was
an innovative stage designer, director, producer, architect,
industrial designer, futurist and urban planner, to name a few of
his many talents. Bel Geddes's professional credo was to simplify,
to unify, to use form to communicate (and, at times, shape)
function and to question the status quo. His research based
approach to problem solving followed by his complete re imagining
of a design problem, as if starting from scratch, resulted in the
creation of a new, ideal product. Throughout his multi faceted
career, Bel Geddes was a paradoxical figure made up of equal parts
visionary and pragmatist, naturalist and industrialist, democrat
and egoist. A number of products and practices now taken for
granted can be traced directly back to Bel Geddes. His impact on
the American landscape ranges from the U.S. federal highway system
to all weather sports stadiums, revolving restaurants, modular
domestic appliances and stylish home entertainment systems. In
society at large, he played a seminal role in shaping the
expectations and behavior of consumers. Bel Geddes helped transform
both the industrial design and theatre design professions into the
modern businesses they are today, while his theatre productions,
which seamlessly fused sound, light and visual spectacle, set the
stage for such immersive audience experiences as rock concerts. In
addition to these real accomplishments, Bel Geddes, more than any
designer of his era, created and promoted a dynamic vision of the
future; streamlined, technocratic and optimistic. Believing that
communication was the key factor shaping the modern world, Bel
Geddes popularised this vision through drawings, models and
photographs of spectacular vehicles, buildings and products
featured in books with poetic titles like Horizons and Magic
Motorways. His most notable effort in this regard, however, was his
Futurama display for the General Motors "Highways and Horizons"
exhibit at the New York World's Fair of 1939/40, which adopted the
motto "I Have Seen the Future." Futurama's giant model of an
American city in 1960, complete with glass clad skyscrapers and
multi level super highways gave Depressionera Americans genuine
hope for a better future within their lifetimes. Today, as seen in
the "retro futurist" looks of theme parks and animated television
programs, Bel Geddes's vision of the future remains central to the
twenty first century American imagination.
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