Modelling > 1920s/1930s GB or Between the Wars GB

Inspiration - 1920s/1930s GB or Between the Wars GB

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(De)Signs of the Time

In the aftermath of WWI, Art Nouveau/Jugendstil was over and Arts and Crafts suddenly seemed naïve and outdated. The up and comer was arts décoratifs - although no-one used the term Art Deco at the time. In industrial design, Deco led to Streamline Moderne which dominated Western Europe and North America. In fascist Italy, Futurismo held on (although with its earlier 'rejection of the past' cant toned down). Design in Nazi Germany leaned towards grandiose brutalism with bold graphics partly negated by sentimental kitsch (despite which, German dirigibles became high icons of Streamline Moderne). In the Soviet Union, Proletkult (proletarskaya kultura) of the 1920s dominated until the emergence of Socialist Realism after 1932.

And isn't all of that a rich brew to splash about in!

Between the wars, industrial designers of quotidian consumer goods revelled in modern technology and new materials. And why not? The use of plastics (eg: Bakelite), formerly-rare metals like aluminum, etc., was in widespread use for the first time. Styles like  Streamline Moderne were associated with luxury oceanliner interiors (indeed, in French, this form was actually known as Style paquebot). Suddenly, everything from steam trains to toaster had to be 'streamlined'. Chrome-plated horizontal 'speed lines' were applied to everything from autos to lamp stands.

Many consider this to be the high-point industrial design - with 'stars' like Norman Belle Geddes, Raymond Loewy, and Henry Dreyfuss. We'll get to some of their concepts but I'll end with two designs that epitomize Streamline Moderne for me: Lurelle Guild's sleigh-footed 1937 Electrolux model 30 vacuum cleaner and Paul Jaray's iconic 1934 Tatra 77 rear-engined streamliner car.

Much of the design of the '20s and '30s was about luxury - or a 'swelligent' pastische of seeming elegance (think: streamlined Bakelite-cased radios for the masses). Fortunately for us, Streamline Moderne was taken to ridiculous lengths. For me, the contrasts come out best with ship design. Supreme elegance (for those that could afford it) came in the stylish interiors of the SS Normandie, Conte di Savoia, or Queen Mary. Apply streamlining concepts to the exterior of ships and things get delightfully weird.

Evidence? I submit Norman Bel Geddes' streamlined 'whale oceanliner' concept and the Black Ball Line's extra-roundy ferry, the MV Kalakala.

Of course, not everything was streamlined in the 1920s and '30s. In some cases, where streamlining might have really helped, it was nowhere in evidence. Case in point, some the earlier large airliners with their blunt forms and/or profusion of drag-inducing struts. Truly built-in head winds! You can't make this stuff up ... but we can try  >:D

Here, as case studies, I present the Farman F.121 Jabiru and Short L.17 Scylla.

Where designers of the day really shone was with trains. If the 1930s was a 'Golden Age' for aviation, it must've been an age of platinum and diamonds for locomotives. Somehow these multi-ton lumps of cast-iron got transmogrified into svelte ambassadors of progress through speed. Streamlined claddings (sometimes retrofits) made these trains look fast while standing still at station-side.

My examples bring up point that could stretch this GB. In the US, Streamline Moderne lasted well into the '40s. Strictly speaking, our GB only covers the 1920s and 1930s but the style of that era continued on into the next decade.

What do you think? Are stylistic influences from '40s Streamline Moderne valid for this GB?

Attached are two examples from 1940: Lurelle Guild's forward-cab streamlined train concept and the Black Diamond Express (sleekly reclad flagship of the Lehigh Valley Railroad).

We touched on Streamline Moderne auto design in the first post. This was the era of Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion car, the McQuay-Norris Streamliner, Chrysler's Airflow production type, Greyhound buses, etc. To this mix, we must add Count Alexis De Sakhnoffsky's swoopy Labatt's beer trucks!

Sure, Labatt's watery lager wouldn't have tasted any better. But, damn, did it arrive in style!


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