Designs for Different Futures

At its core, design is an inherently futurist medium. In the 1960s, as the writer Maggie Gram has noted, key figures in the Modern design movement often used the word “design” indistinguishably from the word “planning.” This isn’t surprising: Design, like planning, was the profession most concerned with the future. Today is not so different, but what we mean by “the future,” a utopian ideal, is largely influenced by designs dating back to the early- mid 20th century.

Lines were kept clean. Few design elements were featured (and if they were, they were kept subtle). Furniture – especially designer chairs – came to resemble sculptures. Borrowing from the Art Deco movement, geometric shapes remained important influences. However, in contrast, it was asymmetry that came to signify the future.

Modernist furniture embraced modern materials – chrome, formica and vinyl. But modernist designers also adopted industrial machinery to churn out mass-produced items.

Like many of the greatest movements and figures in art, what may be most impressive about Modernism is how fertile and wide-ranging it is. Like the buildings of ancient Greece and Rome, or the pictures of Michelangelo and Titian, Modernism doesn’t so much provide powerfully final answers and definitive take-home messages as offer an almost unending set of novel alternatives and optimistic possibilities.

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