Groovy Space Age Design
The 1960s were known as the ‘Space Age’ for a number of reasons: the Space Race was underway; America and Russia were competing for supremacy in the cosmos; and the first moon landing occurred in 1969. The enthusiasm for all things futuristic gave rise to a Space Age style based on capsule and pod-shaped furniture. The space age look can best be described ‘far out’.
Designers made airports that looked like spaceports. For example, the Finnish designer Eero Saarinen created the TWA terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport. This consisted of bold, sculptural curves to create a fluid space, both organic and futuristic. Elsewhere, office and home interiors were reduced to clean, futuristic spaces with cool furniture made from moulded plastics.
The Ball Chair by Eero Aarnio was designed using one of the simplest geometric forms - the sphere. Aarnio described the Ball Chair as 'a room within a room'; it forms a protective cocoon with a calm atmosphere, blocking out external sound and giving a private space for relaxation. Like a planetary sphere, the chair could revolve on its own axis, allowing the user to vary the view of ‘outer space’.
An extension of this idea was Aarnio's Bubble Chair (1968). Aarnio said, ‘After I had made the Ball Chair I wanted to have the light inside it and so I had the idea of a transparent ball where light comes from all directions. The only suitable material is acrylic which is heated and blown into shape like a soap bubble.’ This spherical chair is suspended in space, while the transparent material simulates the sensation of zero-gravity weighlessness.
Designers were experimenting with new materials to create furniture in vivid colours and fluid shapes. Many raced to develop plastic stacking chairs. The Italian designer Joe Colombo was obsessed with making a chair from a single piece of material. After two years of struggle, he created the Universale Chair, made from injection moulded ABS plastic (1965-7). The chair was light, portable and easy to clean.
Colombo created radical propositions for 60s living, such as the Total Furnishing Unit, an incredibly novel design that had compartments for living, eating and sleeping.
The Danish designer Verner Panton created multi-purpose furniture in moulded plastic. He was inspired by the sight of plastic buckets stacked on top of each other. The Panton Chair (1968) is seductively sleek and curvaceous. This was the first cantilevered chair to be made from a single piece of plastic. The Panton Chair was unveiled in the Danish design journal Mobilia in August 1967 and caused a sensation. Equally memorable was its appearance in a 1970 issue of the British fashion magazine Nova in a shoot entitled ‘How to undress in front of your husband’.
Panton’s Phantasy Landscape was designed for the Visiona II exhibition (1970). This was an interior made from foam rubber in undulating organic shapes. Like the Ball Chair, it forms a uterine or womb-like space. Rooms are usually divided into floor, walls and ceiling. Here, Panton was consciously reacting against the restrictions of Euclidean geometry, dissolving the floor, walls and ceiling into an amorphous, psychedelic space. The effect resembles a zero-gravity environment and would indeed make an ideal interior on a space ship with astronauts bouncing around during downtime.
What kind of lifestyle does this lend itself to? It clearly doesn't support a materialist lifestyle since there is nowhere to put anything. Instead, the space seems to be intended for 60s dream of free love.
Panton designed a canteen for the Spiegel publishing house in Hamburg, Germany. The interior is a geometric, red cave with plastic stalactites hanging from the ceiling. The effect is multiplied by mirror lighting on walls and ceilings.
Panton also designed a swimming pool for the employees. This interior is dark, but charged with coloured light that reflected upon the moving surface of the water. Swimming here would have been a psychedelic experience, like swimming in light.