The aviator's (re)vision of the world : an aesthetics of ascension in Norman Bel Geddes's Futurama
Author(s)Morshed, Adnan Zillur
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Architecture.
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This dissertation considers a new ontology of vision brought on by the advent of human flight. It focuses on the project that best reflects this new vision: the Futurama, an exhibit designed by the American industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes for the 1939 New York World's Fair. The Futurama's status as the cause celebre of the 1939 World's Fair derived largely from its theatrical technique of seeing: spectators literally gazed down upon an American utopia as if they were aviators in a low-flying airplane. My analysis contextualizes Bel Geddes's Futurama within a utopian vision prevalent among urbanists, architects, artists, novelists, and science-fiction writers during the 1920s and 1930s. This "golden age" of American aviation was marked by the fantasy that the vision of the world from above would usher in new spatial dynamics from which would emerge the city of the future. I argue that Bel Geddes's method of seeing the Futurama from a simulated airplane revealed as much about a culturally valorized aviator hero as it did about the utopia itself. By demonstrating how the Futurama spectator's aerial viewing became enmeshed in broader 20th-century modernist visuality, my study reveals the crucial presence of an aesthetics of ascension in the avant-garde imagination. The Futurama was one of those modernist utopias that ideologues like Nietzsche, Wells, and arch-modernist Le Corbusier visualized through the eyes of an ascending protagonist. Histories of modernism have often overlooked the exalted presence of this protagonist in favor of focusing on the aesthetic object itself.(cont.) This protagonist's aesthetic experience of altitude appealed to the encyclopedic ambition of modernist planners, particularly in light of modernism's prescriptions of rationality, clarity, and order as a panacea for human problems. The Futurama's aesthetics of ascension offers a new context for understanding interwar modernism's redemptive aspirations. On one hand, an innocent self-assurance tinged the Futurama and the grand (re)vision of America that it promised to its spectators. On the other hand, the Futurama was a crucial cultural artifact that revealed a surprising affiliation between aviation and modernism's logic of looking at the world. The self-aggrandizing, detached gaze of the modernist planner masquerading as the Futurama's spectator worked to dispel the anxieties of the 1930s; at the same time, this gaze also rendered most effective the fantasy of an ideal world of tomorrow. The heightened expectations that underpinned the Futurama's heroic gaze offered a populist analogue to modernist promises of cultural renewal.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Architecture, February 2002.Includes bibliographical references (leaves 279-288).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Architecture.; Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Architecture
Massachusetts Institute of Technology