In the midst of the Great Depression, tens of millions of visitors flocked to worlds fairs in Chicago, San Diego, Cleveland, Dallas, San Diego, and New York where they encountered visions of a modern, technological tomorrow unlike anything seen before. Architects and industrial designers like Raymond Loewy, Norman Bel Geddes, Henry Dreyfuss, and Walter Dorwin Teague collaborated with businesses like General Motors and Westinghouse to present a golden future complete with highways, televisions, all-electric kitchens, and even robots. The National Building Museum
s new exhibition Designing Tomorrow: Americas World Fairs of the 1930s is the first-ever exhibition to consider the impact of all six American world fairs of the depression era on the popularization of modern design and the creation of a modern consumer culture. On display from October 2, 2010 through July 10, 2011, Designing Tomorrow brings together more than 200 never-before-assembled artifacts from the six fairs. The exhibition further explores how the 1930s worlds fairs were used by leading corporations and the federal government as laboratories for experimenting with innovative display and public relations techniques, and as grand platforms for the introduction of new products and ideas to the American public.
Designing Tomorrow is organized into seven thematic galleries: Welcome to the Fairs, A Fair-going Nation, Building a Better Tomorrow, Better Ways to Move, Better Ways to Live, Better Times, and Legacies. The first gallery Welcome to the Fairs answers the question: What is a worlds fair? There visitors will discover promotional memorabilia for the fairs of the 1930s and be introduced to the industrial designers who helped shape the fair landscape. Visitors then move onto A Fair-going Nation where an oversized map of the U.S. shows the location of each of the 1930s fairs and wall displays showcase artifacts such as guidebooks, posters, and postcards from each of the fairs. The next gallery, Building a Better Tomorrow, focuses on the architecture and modern design of the fairs which included streamlined buildings, innovative display techniques, modernist murals, colored neon, and more. Travel and transportation pavilions and exhibits were some of the largest and most impressive at the fairs and are the focus of the next gallery Better Ways to Move. Visitors will view footage from the New York Fairs Futurama display designed by Norman Bel Geddes for General Motors, which took fairgoers on a narrated trip across a 35,000-sqaure-foot model of an imagined metropolis, and its surrounding countryside, of 1960. At the fairs, millions of visitors walked through model homes replete with innovative floor plans and modern furnishings. The Better Ways to Live gallery mimics this experience at the fairs with a space dedicated to innovative domestic architecture and furnishings from four model homes. Through original artifacts and interactive stations the Better Times gallery explores how fair exhibits translated the story of scientific advances in electronics and chemistry into a promise of better, more modern living to the public. The spread of home electrification in the 1930s meant that innovations displayed at the fairsfrom television to all-electric kitchenswere within reach, or soon would be. The architectural and design legacies of the 1930s worlds fairs are visible in American building and consumer culture of the past 50 years. The final gallery, Legacies, reveals how the fairs foretold much of what would become modern post-war Americafrom the national highway system to glass-walled skyscrapers and the spread of suburbia. This gallery will also answer questions such as: What happened to the fair sites? And how are the fairs remembered?