Norman Bel Geddes (American, 1893–1958)
The years throughout the Great Depression were overwhelming and very painful for all that had to suffer through them. Therefore, designers of this time period focused mainly on things that were optimistic, to take people’s minds of what was happening around them.
Norman Bel Geddes was one of America’s most prolific and influential industrial designers of the 1930’s and early ‘40s. Geddes wanted to promote both American technology and culture, thereby helping to bolster national pride during the difficult years of the Great Depression. He designed the “Patriot” radio of 1939 that is encased with a patriotic stars-and-stripes motif that is meant to be an optimistic and useful emblem of American technology, industry, and identity.
The “Patriot” radio is a very simplistic design. It’s a rectangular form with geometrical features for the station and volume controls. Either side of the radio is not identical, but there is visual symmetry and balance when you look at it. The patriotic lines make up one side of the radio for the speaker, and the circular dials and controls make up the other side, making visual weight balance between either side.
Geddes’s design can be compared to many geometrical designs, but I thought a good comparison would be Le Corbusier’s Petit Loveseat LC2. Other than this structure being a couch and not a radio, there are many similarities between the two. Both of these forms are very geometrical. The main form of the love seat is a rectangle with about the same proportions as the radio. The stainless steel frame that holds up the couch is also very geometrical. The frame can be compared to the geometrical controls on the radio. Other than geometry, both of these designs are very simple. There is no extra décor; it is simply for function, not aesthetics.
In contrast to Gedde’s geometrical, simplistic design of the “Patriot” radio, John H. Belter’s Sofa from 1850-1860 is the complete opposite. Belter is known for his high-style furnishings and luxury market in the 19th century. Belter’s sofa is made from richly carved rosewood and naturalistic blooms. This form has been intricately carved and has become this beautiful piece of furniture; it is anything but simplistic. The radio is similar to Corbusier’s loveseat in that they both have smooth textures. Belter’s sofa definitely has texture to it. The carved wood adds a rough texture to the soft velvet cushions on the seat.
In all of these artifacts you can see similarities and differences, but some are stronger and easier to see than others. When thinking about it, each of these designs has been inspired by one another in some way.