Retro-Future

Posted: May 7, 2008 in Future

Rare & Beautiful Vintage Visions of the Future

This
is the start of a new series, collection of the most inspiring &
hard-to-find retro-futuristic graphics. We will try to stay away from
the well-known American pulp & book cover illustrations and instead
will focus on the artwork from rather unlikely sources: Soviet &
Eastern Bloc "popular tech & science" magazines, German, Italian,
British fantastic illustrations and promotional literature – all from
the Golden Age of Retro-Future (from 1930s to 1970s). Click to enlarge
most images.

 


Part 1. Space never looked better… and perhaps never will

Retro-futuristic
art, in a way, is a double-fantasy: imaginary future wrapped in
imaginary past. Which makes this style doubly interesting, if not
doubly obsolete… In this part we will showcase rarely seen art, done
in 1930s to 1970s, mostly from "Teknika Molodezhi" (TM), Yuny Tekhnik,
DetGiz (Russia) and German retro-future sites.

Earth’s Orbit:





"Breaking a Space Traffic Jam" by Frank Tinsley, 1959

To the Moon!



"Lunar Unicycle" by Frank Tinsley, 1959




"Nuclear Rocketship" by Frank Tinsley, 1959

"Destination Moon" rare art, 1950

Bigger Moon base:





To Mars!



"Mars Snooper" by Frank Tinsley, 1959

To Venus!

Battling off the Communist astronaut invasion!


Interesting Planetary Vehicle:
(very strange flip-flop caterpillar style of moving)

To Saturn and beyond:

Other Worlds

Screens from the Russian science fiction movie "Planeta Bur" (The Planet of Storms) – 1959:


This is a collage with promotional art from this movie, made by o-vladimir:







Space Lift Concept
(from TM, Russia, 1971)

Retro-future Chart of Starships

"Socialist Space Workers" by Gennady Golobokov, 1973

Photon Starships in Deep Space:

When living in mega-cities was considered a privilege

That
gleaming Metropolis on the horizon? – Something to aspire to, the
glorious destination to dream about, to shape your life accordingly and
reach it as the utmost reward… Such ideas were popular in the infant
days of futurism, in fantastic literature on both sides of the
Atlantic.

Thankfully the "mega-urbanism" dream is replaced
today by quite the opposite idea of an affluent living in the country –
but frankly, both seem to be unattainable, clean-cut ideals that’s only
pretty to look at. And look at them we will – presenting again the
rarely-seen examples of urbanism and architecture, some from the
Eastern Bloc "popular science" publications and promotional literature.
Click to enlarge most images


(TM, 1967, Russia)


(illustration to works by A. Kazantsev, 1939-1956, Russia)


(art by Frank R. Paul, 1933)

The Dark Monumentality of Hugh Ferriss’ Gotham Style

First, let’s cover the basics. The whole "Gotham/Empire" style in architecture really took off after the conceptual work by High Ferriss. His 1929 book "The Metropolis of Tomorrow"
influenced the whole generation of architects, with its moody, colossal
projections, destined to forever haunt the dreams of would-be dictators
and power-mad superheroes:


His works are currently on exhibit, more info here.

Skyscraper Canyons as Reflection of State’s Power

Mega-urbanism
and colossal architectural dreams of the 1920s and 1930s, in my
opinion, reflect the general society’s drift toward collective ideals.
All Hail the Empire, ruled by (hopefully) benevolent tyrant and powered
by the mind-boggling feats of technology. The life of an individual in
these visions is indeed microscopic and not to be considered against
the backdrop of titanic activity of the masses.

Skyscraper canyons were obligatory part of urban visions from the 20s and 30s:


(Fritz Lang’s famous "Metropolis" movie, 1927)


(images from Futurama and "Things to Come" movie)


(image credit: Ryan Bliss, DigitalBlasphemy)

People’s Palaces of Socialist Bliss

Soviets had similar gigantic aspirations in architecture, as demonstrated by the well-known Palace of the Soviets design:


(cover TM, 1952, Russia)

That Lenin’s statue is proposed on a truly grandiose scale:

Large-scale architectural dreams and conquest of space are combined in this highly evocative Communist cover from 1954:


(cover TM, 1954, Russia)

America had very strange conception of Soviet’s architectural ambitions during the Cold War:

The Soviets, however, dreamed large:


(TM, 1970, Russia)


(TM, 1967, Russia)

Note the super-highways, this was definitely very popular transportation vision in the 50s-70s:


(art by Syd Mead, from his book "Sentinel")


(image credit: Klaus Burgle)

US Pavilion Design in the 60s:

An interesting concept for parking: rotating hexagonal cells for each car –


(TM, 1975, Russia)

Flying Cities
(as envisioned by Russians in 1971)


(TM, 1971, Russia)

More rosy urbanism to be found in the Western pulp and promotional literature:


(image credit: Klaus Burgle)


(image credit: Plan59)


(art by Arthur C. Radebaugh)


Illustration by Joe Tillotson, to "Robot: Unwanted" by Daniel Keyes
Other Worlds, June 1952

Bubble cities were a distinct feature of the 50s science fiction:


(cover, Urania 1959, Italy)

Urban Futuristic Interiors

So what’s inside cool apartments of the future? Sample Danish designer Verner Panton’s rad Sixties interiors:


(images credit: Joel Johnson)

Urbanism
turned out to be quite a different proposition than we imagined seventy
years ago. There are numerous reasons to stay away from soul-numbing
mega-city projects. Overpopulation, however, dictates its own rules,
and we are going to see many super-structures to be built in the world
in the coming years. Perhaps we’ll see the visions of Frank R. Paul
come to life, after all.

Next issue will cover retro-futuristic ideas for transportation.

Jetsons will be shocked to see this

Among the fascinating
concepts that appeared in the 1940s-60s magazines are some pretty good
ones that could even prompt interest in modern designers and
manufacturers. Other ideas, on the contrary, did not age well and may
appear nuttier than a drunk hamster on a treadmill.

Regardless
of their potential and practicality, these glorious glimpses into
transportation’s elusive future can speak to us on some deep level –
whispering perhaps to forsake that lumbering sport-utility for a slim
and mean aerocar, which will transport us in a blink of an eye to…
alas, the same old strip mall for groceries.

Picked mostly
from little-known Eastern Bloc publications, most of the concepts shown
here are the product of socialist and communist research, often as
unrealistic, as their leader’s plans for global utopia.

Soviet-dreamed Giant Catamaran – Supertanker – Icebreaker Hybrid:
(with parts of some nuclear submarine thrown in for good measure)


(art by TM, Russia 1974)

Fantastic Avionics

Russian concept of the rotor-plane, 1960:

Soviets also proposed to stick together a bunch of big airplanes to make a REALLY huge one. Kind of like a Lego dream come true:


(art by TM, Russia 1966)

This American concept shows the ultimate helicopter:
(at least the largest we’ve seen drawn on paper)


(art by Radebaugh)

An interesting helicopter also can be found inside this issue of Startling Stories, 1940:

Ekranoplans & Hydrofoils

Ahhh…
How can we not mention the "wing-in-ground-effect" liners? Russia was
crazy about ekranoplans and hydrofoils for some time. Here is an
ultimate replacement for a passenger airliner:
"The Glider" super hydrofoil, 1960

and a huge passenger/cargo ekranoplan:
(click to enlarge)


(art by TM, Russia 1965)

German version of water/highway transport system, more focused on personal transport:


(image credit: retro-futurismus.de)

Russian Spiral Vehicle

This
is a vehicle that literally "screws around a lot" to get somewhere.
Never mind the possibility of it being built (there was actually some
talk about prototypes spotted in the Russian Army), the vehicle like
this would need a lot of "personal space" while it moves. Nobody wants
to end up wrapped around the spirals like some kind of spaghetti.


(art by TM, Russia 1961)

Spirals/ screws were popular in the US, too. Witness "The Sea Slug" –

Russian climbing robot personal vehicle. Good to climb the walls of your office building when late for work:


(art by TM, Russia 1970)

American Dream produced some dreamy vehicles

America saw a lot of big and powerful cars in the 50s-60s (see some of them here).
But first, American Transportation Dream required a wide system of
interstates across the country. Here is a vision of the robotic highway-making machine, which would only require a single operator (from 1943):


(images credit: Transportation Futuristics)

Beautiful supertruck, imagined by the US Royal Tires:
(I had a toy like this once)


(image credit: retro-futurismus.de)

Strangely sinister-looking atomic truck. Raw Nuclear Power!

Artists dreamed of futuristic cars, hurtling down the highway:


(art by Adragna for Amazing, Sept 1964)


(art by Devon Francis, The New York Times Magazine, 1959)

Meet the Jetsons! Futuristic version of "yabba-dabba-doo" in the sky:


(image credit: Plan59)

This aerocar concept from 1967 looks just like my old trusty barbeque in the backyard, complete with the burners.


(art by Popular Science, July 1957)

Note
the bottom vehicle in this MAI Russian concept line-up from 1955. Seems
like some ideas can float in the air… and across the ocean:

Flying car, according to the Soviet designers, 1967:

and American Modern Mechanix version, much earlier:


(image credit: blog.modernmechanix.com)


(art by Radebaugh)

Bizarre Offerings

True Rollerball! "Trade you trouble for a bubble"?!
(gets my vote for the dumbest ad one-liner):


(image credit: David Zondy)

Octagonal Wheeled Watercraft from 1935 issue of Popular Science:

Strange wheel placement:


(image credit: Plan59)

Goofy-looking Modern Mechanix sphere-wheeled vehicles:

Huge
"navi-trucks" will traverse the Earth, according to this 1933 vision.
They will be able to penetrate the hardest terrain – the ultimate
off-road! And a biggest SUV to boot.

Flying
saucers continue to pop up in the minds of designers, bringing with
them little green ideas. This is a "Flying Saucer Bus":


(art by Science and Mechanics, December 1950)

Monorail Dreams

In
some extreme cases, we’d rather say – "monorail hallucinations"… A
concept proposed by Popular Science magazine for the World’s Fair in
1939:
(cars, passengers all cozy up together inside a cage in the sky)

This (almost) got made: (almost) realistic proposal for rapid transit in Washington, D.C. by D.C. Transit System, Inc., 1959:

Elements of "shark fin" car design can be traced in this 1962 Goodell Monorail:

This monorail is… unhappy:


(art by Popular Science, July 1952)

Russian version, 1973:

Another Russian concept: "Monorail SuperTrain". Double size everything:

Click to enlarge:


(art by TM, Russia 1974)

German version of a similar Super-Train:


(image credit: retro-futurismus.de)

Urban
tube train system. Looks good, but if it gets too complex, the maze of
tunnels might suddenly snap into the 4th dimension. Read A. J.
Deutsch’s story
"A Subway Called Moebius", where "the system becomes so tangled that it
turns into a Moebius strip, and trains start to disappear":

Not a monorail, but a super-size train nevertheless:


(image credit: retro-futurismus.de)

Bohn Designs from 1947

Finally, a series of classic concept transportation images from Bohn – aluminum & brass company from Michigan.


(image credit: plan59)

Yet nothing beats this steampunk "Flying Steam Liner". It can single-handedly cause a global warming, we’re sure:


(art by Michal Kwolek)

Comments
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