An Exploration into the Space Age
Modern historians consider Sputnik’s launch in 1957 as the beginning of the Space Age in the United States, and it lasted a while. In 1969, the U.S. was considered the lead in the Space Race when the first astronauts to walk the moon were America’s very own astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin.
In the late-fifties and through much of the sixties, architecture, automobile design, and fashion took on a space age-inspired appearance. The Space Age inspired even comic books, TV programs, and furniture, which borrowed elements from science fiction. The trendiness of the aesthetic both stimulated and exploited Americans’ enthusiasm for the future, culminating into a quick turnover for consumer products and a greater movement toward materialism. In retrospect, all of these designs reflect a collective 1950s and 1960s confidence about America’s dazzling future as a leader in space flight and economic prosperity. The Space Age aesthetic was the future as it was imagined during the middle of the 1900s, that is, until the United State involvement in the Vietnam war peaked in 1968, when the future stopped looking so bright and hopeful.
The shiny cars rolling off the assembly lines of Detroit’s Big Three automakers were among the most memorable symbols of the future as it was imagined during the 1950s. Their elongated tailfins, hoods that looked like they could impale a person, and cockpit-like windshields drew inspiration from the U.S. space program and the aesthetics of jet aircraft, evoking the idealized lifestyle promised to Americans by Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors. Automobile designers envisioned a sleeker future, in which drivers traveled effortlessly and comfortably to their destinations. Their innovations took shape against the backdrop of the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States, set into motion by the October 1957 launch of the Sputnik satellite and culminating in the 1969 Apollo moon landing. (Source)
Fashion also reflected the new streamlined sleekness of technology. Fashion designers of the day were experimental, and technologically advanced materials were used for a flight into the future. Bored with traditional fabrics, designers looked to other materials for inspiration like metal, plastic, paper, and even vinyl.
American astronaut John Glenn orbited the Earth in 1962, and Major Ed White performed the first spacewalk in 1965. These feats inspired designer Pierre Cardin, in his Cosmos collection, which was released in 1965. His line featured geometric-cut tunics worn over body stockings and tights, worn with bubble hats and cut-away helmets. Cardin propelled the body-conscious fit that would influence space age style for years to come.
Andre Courreges, the quintessential space age designer, turned futuristic when he created go-go boots and vinyl cutouts on clothes. His lines were sleek, sharp, and geometric. He practiced architecture and engineering in his clothes, and even created Cosmonaut costumes for daily wear. (Source)
During the Space Age, businesses lured customers by incorporating futuristic elements in their buildings. Upswept roofs, parabolas, and sharp, bold angles appeared on buildings, which suggest the aerodynamic features of a rocket ship. Also, at the time, the unique architecture was a form of architectural expressionism, as rockets were technological novelties at the time.
This style of architecture of modern architecture, sometimes known as Googie, is a subdivision of futurist architecture influenced by car culture, the Space Age, and the Atomic Age. Originating in Southern California during the late 1940s and continuing approximately into the mid-1960s, Googie-themed architecture was popular among motels, coffee houses and gas stations. As with the Art Deco style of the 1930s, Googie became less valued as time passed, and many buildings in this style have been destroyed.
The prosperous 1950s, however, celebrated its affluence with optimistic designs. The development of nuclear power and the reality of spaceflight captivated the public’s imagination of the future. Googie architecture exploited this trend by incorporating energy into its design with elements such as the boomerang, diagonals, atomic bursts and bright colors. Commercial architecture was thought to be influenced by the desires of the mass audience. Since the public was captivated by rocket ships and nuclear energy, architects used these as motifs in their work to draw the public’s attention. Buildings had been used to catch the attention of motorists since the invention of the car, but during the 1950s the style became more widespread. (Source)
Photo Sources (from top to bottom): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19