Norman Bel Geddes

Norman Bel Geddes car

Norman Bel Geddes [bel-ged-eez] (1893 – 1958) was an American theatrical and industrial designer who focused on aerodynamics. His book ‘Horizons’ (1932) had a significant impact: ‘By popularizing streamlining when only a few engineers were considering its functional use, he made possible the design style of the thirties.’

He designed the General Motors Pavilion, known as Futurama, for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. For that famous and enormously influential installation, Bel Geddes exploited his earlier work in the same vein: he had designed a “Metropolis City of 1960′ in 1936.

He began his career with set designs for Aline Barnsdall’s Los Angeles Little Theater in the 1916-1917 season, then in 1918 as the scene designer for the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He designed and directed various theatrical works, from ‘Arabesque’ and ‘The Five O’Clock Girl’ on Broadway to an ice show entitled ‘It Happened on Ice’ produced by Olympic ice skating champion Sonja Henie of Norway. He created set designs for the film ‘Feet of Clay’ (1924), directed by Cecil B. DeMille, designed costumes for Max Reinhardt, and created the sets for the Broadway production of Sidney Kingsley’s ‘Dead End’ (1935).

Bel Geddes opened an industrial-design studio in 1927, and designed a wide range of commercial products, from cocktail shakers to commemorative medallions to radio cabinets. His designs extended to unrealized futuristic concepts: a teardrop-shaped automobile, and an Art Deco House of Tomorrow. In 1929, he designed ‘Airliner Number 4,’ a 9-deck amphibian airliner that incorporated areas for deck-games, an orchestra, a gymnasium, a solarium, and two airplane hangars.

His book ‘Magic Motorways’ (1940) promoted advances in highway design and transportation, foreshadowing the Interstate Highway System (‘there should be no more reason for a motorist who is passing through a city to slow down than there is for an airplane which is passing over it’). His autobiography, ‘Miracle in the Evening,’ was published posthumously in 1960. The case for the 1944 Mark I computer was designed by Norman Bel Geddes. IBM’s Thomas Watson presented it to Harvard.

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