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Title: Designing the image of the practical visionary : Norman Bel Geddes, 1893-1958
Author: Maffei, Nicolas Paolo
ISNI:       0000 0004 2676 0489
Awarding Body: The Royal College of Art
Current Institution: Royal College of Art
Date of Award: 2001
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Norman Bel Geddes (1893-1958) was one of America's most prominent industrial designers working between 1927 and 1950. My study investigates his designs and rhetoric as rational and non-rational expressions of modernity. The aspects of modernity explored include: modernism, mass culture, consumption, production, identity and gender. The study investigates Bel Geddes's designs of stage sets, architecture, products, and world fair exhibits, and the rhetoric he used to promote such designs. Through such projects and their emphases on art, desire, intuition, spirituality, order, and science, Bel Geddes fashioned his image as a 'practical visionary'. Chapter one, 'Both Artist-Engineer and Practical Visionary: The Imaging of Industrial Design in Horizons (1932)', investigates how Bel Geddes sought to present the field of industrial design as one of logic and foresight, by promoting himself, and by proxy all industrial designers, as rational and imaginative artist-engineers. This dual discourse was offered in Bel Geddes's monograph Horizons -the central focus of this chapter. Chapter two, 'Shaping the Audiences of Dramatic Design', explores Bel Geddes's move from advertising and stage design in the 1910s and 1920s to architectural design, investigating in particular his designs (1928-1932) of theatres, window displays, an advertising agency auditorium, and a restaurant for the Chicago World's Fair of 1933. In the creation of these designs Bel Geddes was informed by his knowledge of drama, psychology and audience behaviour. Such architectural designs were meant to impress, excite and transform their audiences -to encourage emotional, psychological or ideological change. Chapter three, 'Industrial Architecture: The Factory, Petrol Station Design and the Mass Produced Home', explores the rhetoric and designs which expressed Bel Geddes's belief in the material benefits of industrial production and the symbolic value of the machine. The chapter looks at Bel Geddes's designs (1929-1945) of a factory development, a petrol station, and a mass production house. These designs were intended to promote Bel Geddes and his clients as progressive, modern and far-sighted, and presented the machine as both rational and non-rational, with the ability to both order society and provide it with a spiritual basis. Chapter four, 'Streamlining: Both a Mechanical and Organic Aesthetic', investigates Bel Geddes's streamlined designs (1928 -1950) of vehicles and other products and their accompanying rhetoric. The chapter explores Bel Geddes's flexible streamlined aesthetic, which alternately foregrounded mechanical and natural aspects, depending on the era and the requirements of the design. Chapter five, 'Consumer Research: Constructing the Ideal Consumer and a Popular and Modern Aesthetic, 1930-1945', investigates NBG & Company's consumer surveys and resulting design recommendations which sought to promote a modern, popular and technologically progressive style aimed at purchasers with average tastes and middle incomes. Chapter six, 'Futurama and the War Models Exhibit: The Production and Consumption of Model Worlds and Bel Geddes's Masculine Image', explores the creation and reception of three of Bel Geddes's miniature modelling projects, his futuristic model cities created for a Shell Oil advertising campaign (1937) and for the General Motors Futurama shown at the New York World's Fair (1939-40), and the models depicting World War II battles built and photographed for Life magazine (1942), and exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (1944). Such projects helped to create a masculine and prophetic image for Bel Geddes.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available