The 20th Century at a glance
by Quim Larrea
In the mid-19th Century, human technical development and the intellectual capacity to understand the world opened the gates to one of the most important revolutions that humanity had undergone since the appearance of agriculture: the Industrial Revolution.
This new production system allowed the manufacture of industrial goods using artificial means, machines, and devices. The manufacturing process and working class appeared and science became part of industry.
In the late 19th Century, William Morris, perhaps influenced by British Empire tradition, pointed out how dehumanised the new way of work was. It was lacking the very important factor of human warmth. In fact, a great abyss now yawned between the object and the framework necessary for producing it. Industrial systems had started reproducing craftsmanship.
Once into the 20th Century, John Ford developed the production line, which consolidated the system of industrial production and laid the foundations for its future. But just one look at the famous Ford Model T , with its display of fake goldsmithery and hand-printed textile patterns, shows that vehicles still resembled horse-drawn carriages.
Around the 1920s, the first concepts of industrial design began to appear. From the very first moment there were two radically opposed ways of dealing with the challenge of solving problems associated with creating products for mass production- the American and the European. While the Old World based its ideas on the conceptual, with the incomparable contribution of Bauhaus, the New World stepped on to the path of marketing.
In 1927 Walter Dorwin Teague designed the Eastman Kodak camera and the following year the B-32 chair- a typical Bauhaus product, designed by Marcel Breuer and produced by Thonet- went into production. Both products are paradigmatic. The former took photography into the American family and meant the birth of the Kodak empire, and the latter, which went out of production before the Second World War and was only reissued in the mid-'seventies, is today one of the best-known and most-copied chairs in the world; a supranational milestone.
The pre-war years saw the arrival of Scandinavian designs that emphasised aesthetics linked with a craftsman's techniques; techniques that encouraged the design of objects with the most logical and simple of forms. After the War, this kind of design was consolidated by figures like Arne Jacobsen. The migration of intellectuals to the United States that resulted from the European conflict also contributed to the arrival of new products.
Frenchman Raymond Loewy, who emigrated to America in 1938, stated repeatedly that "between two objects with the same function and price, the more beautiful of the two will always sell more." He created the concept of styling, applying it to hundreds of products and interiors.
As the century marched on, the two ways of understanding design gradually converged, reaching points as interesting as the work done by the Eames's for Herman Miller, with extremely high calibre items such as the Aluminium Chair Collection or the chair lounge, which were designed for movie director Billy Wilder.
The 1970s saw the arrival of the great Italian designers who, with the support of their industries, made Italian design a concept of creative quality. Personalities like Castiglioni, Sottsass, Giugiaro, Mendini and Colombo have turned design around, giving it warmth and creating what we call the bel design; but this success is also due in part to the firms that produced their designs: Flos, Zanotta, Driade, B&B, Simon Internacional, Alessi...
In the 1960s the first solid examples of Spanish industrial design appeared. Some of the most outstanding items from this era are Marquina's cruet set, the TMC lamp by Milà and the various perfume and cologne bottles by Ricard.
The 1980s and '90s were a time for internationalisation. Thus it is normal to find work by Spanish designers for Italian, German and, as in Lluscà's case, American firms, and viceversa. The current situation shows clearly that now is the time of the individual designer: pieces are recognised by the name of their creators, which represent an additional value for the product. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is Philippe Starck, who has generated a highly personal style and made his name into a brand in itself, applied to dozens of products in a short period of time. And Starck is not alone- we could add to the list British designer Ron Arad, with his markedly brutalist style, the German designer Ingo Maurer, characterised by his poetic elegance, or the colourful creativity of Italian Alessandro Mendini.
So what can we expect from the next millennium? Although a large part of the products of the 21st Century have already been born and become part of our lives, there will doubtless be new items for new needs and some replacements for the old. Objects like the chair Thonet B32, also known as Cesca, have their passport into the future signed and sealed.
But these new products that have yet to appear will, as the latest from Alessi already demonstrates, have a noticeable leaning towards the fetish. The design of the future, having survived the industrial revolution and in the midst of the cybernetic age, will be very affectionate.
back to the newstand
Stackable ashtrays Copenhague.
André Ricard (1965)
Tamago, by Alberto Liévore (1998)
Crue Set, Rafael Marquina (1961-90)
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