Automobile Culture : how it came to be

Let us continue where we left off in the last post, which was about art after the second world war.

World War II left off with the world divided into three major blocks: the western block, the eastern block, and the non-block countries. The western block countries included the countries that supported the United States. The eastern block included those who supported the Soviet Union. The non-block movement included the rest of the world, most of them post-colonialism countries, who refused to give support to neither their ex-colonialist, nor to the enemy of their ex-colonialist.

The division of the world into blocks created the Cold War, a cold war (which meant ‘I am your enemy’ in many ways) between the United States and the Soviet Union (the non-block movement will be left out, since they play no role in what I am about to discuss here). The Cold War resulted in heightened rivalry between these two countries that affected almost every part of their lives; but most of all, the tension was well seen in the aerospace and military fields.

This tension then helped shaping the automobile culture in the United States. While the automobile culture  flourished, the United States manufactured a great number of cars and transportation methods, regardless of the poverty caused to Europe by the World War II. (Although, in fact, I believe that this culture grew because of USA’s intentions to prove itself as the new center of the world, after the fall of Europe. This somehow means that the culture was not only a means of rivalry with the Soviet Union, but also as a means of propaganda to promote itself as the strongest country in the world)

File:Car of the Future 1950.jpg

An auto-related magazine from the 1950s – source

The automobile culture promoted the prolongation of space, from a domestic space into a moving space, from the house into a car. With the new engineering technologies discovered during the time (and the aerospace hype all over America, leading to their fulfilled ambition of landing a man on the moon), the culture promoted velocity in various aspects of life.

What are the various aspects I meant here? Velocity, during the time of this culture, applied not only to time (where we kept on moving faster and faster with the new transportation methods available) but also applied into the design of products (featuring curved lines, dynamic lines, non-bending lines, continuous lines.. you name it. Lines represent velocity).

But it was not only velocity that affected the design, but also geometry. With science blooming during the time, the designers were crazy about geometry and therefore used it in their designs.

The curved form and overall lines that form the car end up in one corner, but the car itself was a mix of lines that continue from front to end. Velocity is the concept.

Dynamic form, gradually changing from narrow to wide, featuring lines of different formation. The little circles on the body also form a line, and all these elements point to either the front or the back part of the object. Velocity is defined, once again, by lines in this product.

Chair by Klaus Wettergren

Curves form a continuous line, while the rest of the chair itself screams “geometry!”.

But why were objects designed like this? It was because that this trend happened after the Great Depression of America, and also right around after World War II, where people, who live in war-affected areas, were poorest and the market sales were low. Therefore, the designers had to think of an attractive design so as the sales would not keep on descending.

On a personal note, automobile culture was a movement that I quite liked. They affected all parts of life, but the effects on design were especially seen in design products. The products made during the time were, for me, cute yet functional, and also not exaggerating.


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