“Building Expectation” at Brown

From our review of “Building Expectation” at Brown University’s Bell Gallery:

One of the curious things about the future, as Nathaniel Robert Walker observes, is that “nearly everyone can recognize the place where no one has been.” It’s all clean, efficient, gleaming metal and glass skyscrapers; pervasive digital technology; and flying cars. And, it turns out, it’s a vision that has been with us for a century.

In the exhibit “Building Expectation: Past and Present Visions of Architectural Future” at Brown University’s Bell Gallery, Walker, a Brown doctoral student, rounds up photos, drawings, prints, and books of wondrous, vintage visions of the future from the late 19th century to today to mull what has been the effect of all this speculative dreaming. It’s one of the best and most intriguing exhibits of the year.

The turn of the 20th century was an era of rapid technological and social change. Between 1875 and 1930, telephones, electric lights, movies, radio, automobiles, airplanes, Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and penicillin were developed; Russians overthrew the Tsar; and American women got the vote. With this a Darwinian-inspired idea (his “On the Origin of Species” debuted in 1859) spread through Western society that technological innovation could evolve culture toward utopia — or something considerably closer to it.

The show begins with Robert Owen’s 1820s proposal to erect the community of New Harmony in Indiana and King Camp Gillette’s 1890s plan to build Metropolis at Niagara Falls. They’re steampunk for real. Owen, a successful British factory manager, hated how industry was transforming traditional British society, so he proposed a fortress-like factory town with communal living emphasizing equality, fraternity, and healthiness. It didn’t work out. Gillette suggested a city of uniform beehive skyscrapers for work, residences, entertainment, and public services. It never got off the ground; instead he became a shaving razor mogul.

Read the rest here.

“Building Expectation,” Brown University’s Bell Gallery, 64 College Street, Providence, Sept. 3 to Nov. 6, 2011.

Pictured at top: Margaret Bourke-White “Futurama Spectators,” ca. 1939, courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin.

King Camp Gillette “Plate V (‘a perspective view’)” from “The Human Drift,” 1894 book, courtesy of Brandeis University Library.

Robert Owen, author, and Stedman Whitwell, architect, “Engraving of [new buildings for the site of New Harmony]” from “The Co–operative Magazine and Monthly Herald,” January 1826, courtesy of Archives and Special Collections Library, Vassar College.

Hugo Gernsback, editor, and Frank R. Paul, artist, “The Glass Skyscraper” from “Everyday Science and Mechanics,” December 1931 magazine, courtesy of the Maison d’Ailleurs.

Grant E. Hamilton, “What We Are Coming To: Judge’s Combination Apartment–House of the Future” cartoon from Judge, February 16, 1895 magazine, courtesy of the Maison d’Ailleurs.

Echte Wagner Margarine, “Zukunftsfantasien: Eine neue Antriebskraft” [Future Fantasies: A New Driving Power], ca. 1932, trading cards, Private collection.

Les Ateliers A.B.C. for BYRRH Wine Tonic, “Gratte-Ciel Cylindrique avec Gare Aérienne” [Cylindrical Skyscraper with an Airport]” from “24 Regards Sur L’Avenir” [Twenty-Four Views of the Future],” 1920s trading cards, David Winton Bell Gallery.

Jack Binder for Seagram–Distillers Corporation, “Men Who Plan Beyond Tomorrow Like CANADIAN Whisky at its Glorious Best” (amphibious roads) advertisement, 1943, Courtesy of the Maison d’Ailleurs.

Arthur Radebaugh for Bohn Aluminum and Brass Corporation, “What Is This?” advertisement, 1945.

Hugo Gernsback, editor; H. Windfield Secor, author; and S. Laverne, artist, “The City of Tomorrow” (Le Corbusier) from “Science and Invention,” January 1930 magazine, Courtesy of Maison d’Ailleurs.

Jack Smalley, editor, “Endless Belt Trains for Future Cities” from “Modern Mechanix and Inventions,” November 1932 magazine, Private collection.

Hugo Gernsback, editor, “‘Depthscrapers’ Defy Earthquakes” from “Everyday Science and Mechanics,” November 1931 magazine, private collection.

Pippi Zornoza, “The Dirt Palace Façade,” 2011, stone, glass tile, rhinestones, fiberglass panel, paint, courtesy of the artist, funded in part by a grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.

Christian Waldvogel, “Globus Cassus,” 2003-2011, digital animation film, courtesy of the artist.

Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, “Drawings for Southlands, British Columbia,” digital composite print, from “Agrarian Urbanism” (forthcoming book), 2011, courtesy of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.

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