Sunday, February 14, 2010

Star Trek and Sixties Design, #18: An Interesting Plainness

"An interesting plainness is the most difficult and precious thing to achieve."
— Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969), German/American architect

Below, left: Kirk in his quarters;
Below, right: Barcelona Couch, designed by Mies van der Rohe *
Mies actually designed the couch in 1930, but his modernist design was a huge force in post-WWII United States.

[Depending on your computer screen, these photos will line up so the end of Kirk's bed meets with the edge of the reddish piece of furniture in the Mies room.]


Why do I care about Star Trek design?

Nothing so high-minded as a pure interest in the physical manifestation of social philosophy:
it really all comes down to that guy lying with his boots on the bed, cutting his eyes at us.

(Which reminds me: Happy Valentine's Day!)

Mies van der Rohe is representative of the "logos" (rational) design philosophy I see in Star Trek:
he was one of the prime innovators of
"a completely new architectural design process guided by rational problem-solving using modern materials...
while dismissing the eclectic and cluttered classical... as irrelevant to the modern zeitgeist."
--from Wikipedia article on LMVDR

Turns out, Mies was inspired, too, by Frank Lloyd Wright (architect of the Guggenheim).

What's interesting to me is that the design of Star Trek seems to reflect this earlier zeitgeist (Mies was part of the Bauhaus, too, mentioned in an earlier post) than any of the more "eclectic and cluttered" spirit of its own place and age.

Star Trek design seems to me to be perched right on the edge of the rift between the Modern and the Postmodern world view, --a rift which becomes evident, I'd say, with the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945 and becomes progressively and gradually wider and wider through events such as JFK's assassination in 1963, etc.

Not that these design movements are clearly divided,
of course, any more than anything humans do is.

A further DISCLAIMER: you know, I speak as an American,
and one who has not formally studied design history--all this stuff about Star Trek & design is pretty much me Scotch-taping ideas and images together with the personal impressions of someone born in the Midwest in 1961 (that would be me).
(Not that that invalidates anything I'm saying,
I just wanted somewhere in this series to make clear where I'm coming from.)
* Mies designed this couch after the Barcelona Chair he designed for the German Pavilion (which he also designed, now called the Barcelona Pavilion) at the 1929 Barcelona Exposition. The couch is still manufactured by Knoll.

My friends Cathy & Brad's white Barcelona Couch turns up in my movie Orestes and the Fly--it's the couch Queen Clytemnestra, played by Maura, falls and dies on.
As always, Star Trek screencaps from


ArtSparker said...

There could be a connection between 60s design and Star Trek in the notion that simply cleaning things up would make for a better world - I also see leaving the earth and being in a spaceship as divorcing the body from the mind (Yes, Kirk compensated, some would say, overcompensated).

Fresca said...

Oooh, yes, great point SPARKY:
the impulse to clean up the world is a big one!
And the show is practically Manichean in its duality and in privileging the mind over the body.

Yes, Kirk over/compensated for that tidy-minded impulse (thankgod).
Shatner physical hamminess-- along with Nimoy's ability to imbue Spock with emotional tension--saved the show from unbearable prissiness, I'd say.

ArtSparker said...

Imbue - what a great word. Just saying.

Margaret said...

Interesting (and somewhat unexpected) contrast to Spock's quarters, which are not so tidy:

Both feature the color red. I don't pretend to know what any of this signifies, (if it signifies anything). I'm just throwing it out there.

Fresca said...

Thanks, Margaret!
I'd thought too of how interesting it is that Mr Logical's quarters are actually quite sensual--way more so than playboy Kirk's.
(In fact, I never bought that Kirk's quarters WOULD look the way they are presented in the show.)

I think Nimoy helped design Spock's quarters?

The sensuality of Vulcan mysticism seems to make up for their extreme rationality in every other realm (except mating).

That deserves its own post (or series of).