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Michael Webb
writes on modern architecture, design, and travel. He is the author of 26 books, most recently Modernist Paradise: Niemeyer House, Boyd Collection (Rizzoli) and Venice CA: Art +Architecture in a Maverick Community (Abrams). He travels widely in search of new and classic modern architecture and contributes to magazines around the world. Michael lives in the Neutra apartment that Charles and Ray Eames once called home.

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Michael Webb

Entries in Museum of the City of New York (1)

Thursday
Jan102013

Book Review: A New Look at a 20th-Century Titan of Design

Norman Bel Geddes Designs America. Edited by Donald Albrecht (Abrams, $65)

Most Americans lost their faith in the future in the 1960s and are unlikely to regain it any time soon. That makes this handsome survey of work by a great American designer a time capsule of a vanished era, for it chronicles the decades, from the 1920s through the 1950s, when the US was a beacon of hope and progress for the rest of the world. This is the companion book for an exhibition that will soon be on view at the Museum of the City of New York.Image courtesy of Abrams Books

Geddes (1893-1958) shaped the future, and the context of contemporary living. Albrecht describes him as a visionary and a pragmatist; a self-taught polymath of unfettered imagination, “who was equally comfortable in the realms of fact and fantasy.” All of his concerns—for architecture and urban planning, automobiles and new technologies—came together in his Futurama exhibit for the General Motors Pavilion at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair. Drawing on his experience of designing immersive theater productions, Geddes put spectators into moving sound cars that glided through a vast model of America and its cities as he imagined they might be in 1960. His vision has been realized in part; sadly it doesn’t provide the effortless mobility he anticipated.

Other expert essays and a plethora of imagery explore his designs for stage and screen, homes and offices, transportation and advertising. Like his contemporaries, Raymond Loewy and Henry Dreyfuss, Geddes was a giant who deserves to be remembered, for his achievements and his dreams.