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.
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.
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.
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.