Still from 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968 Stanley Kubrick, © MGM/Photofest.

Post-World War II Design, Optimism, Technology, and Anxiety

Messerschmitt Kabinenroller KR200, 1955 Fritz Fend, © Die Neue Sammlung (A. Laurenzo).

Scarf to commemorate the World Festival of Youth and Students for Peace, Berlin, August 1951 Pablo Picasso, © ADAP, Paris and DACS, London 2008.

Fashion photograph, 1960s John French, © V&A Images.

Jested Tower, 1968-73 Karel Huvacek, © Jiri Jiroutek.


Victoria & Albert Museum
Cromwell Road
+ 44 (0)20 7942 2000
Cold War Modern:
Design 1945-70

September 25, 2008-
January 11, 2009

Cold War Modern: Design 1945-70, is the first exhibition to examine contemporary design, architecture, film and popular culture on both sides of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War era. It brings together over 300 exhibits from a Sputnik and an Apollo Mission space suit to films by Stanley Kubrick, paintings by Robert Rauschenberg and Gerhard Richter, fashion by Paco Rabanne, designs by Charles and Ray Eames and Dieter Rams, architecture by Le Corbusier, Richard Buckminster Fuller and Archigram, and vehicles including a Messerschmidt micro-car.

The period after the Second World War was one of anxiety and tension but also one of great optimism and unprecedented technological development. The exhibition examines how design was shaped by the Cold War period against the backdrop of the battle between communism and capitalism, the advances of the space race, and the international competition to be modern.

Concentrating on the years from 1945 to 1970, the exhibition displays objects from around the world including the USA, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Italy, France, East and West Germany, Cuba and the UK.

Highlights include:
• Classic Eames designs made of ‘modern’ materials such as fibreglass;
• Furniture inspired by space such as Eero Aarnio’s Globe Chair and the Garden Egg Chair by Peter Ghyczy;
• Dieter Ram’s designs for Braun including his T1000 Radio world receiver;
• Previously unseen Eastern bloc architecture, furniture, textiles, graphics and glass;
• Futuristic fashion by designers including Paco Rabanne and Pierre Cardin;
• New post-war forms of transport including the P70 Coupé (an early version of the plastic Trabant), the micro car Messerschmitt Kabinenroller and the Vespa motorscooter;
• Films which shaped the popular imagination such as Goldfinger, The Ipcress File, Dr. Strangelove, and 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as original set design drawings by Kenneth Adam;
• Works by Pablo Picasso, Richard Hamilton, Gerhard Richter, Lucio Fontana and Robert Rauschenberg illustrating the way artists responded to the dominant political and social ideas of the time;
• Propaganda and anti-nuclear posters, photography and sculpture from both East and West;
• Imagined futuristic architecture schemes for cities and dwellings by Hans Hollein, Archigram and Superstudio;
• Experimental designs for inflatable buildings, including a full-scale reconstruction of a key work by Haus-Rucker-Co.

The exhibition starts in the immediate post-war period showing differing visions for rebuilding devastated cities and competing ideas of modern life. It looks at new industrial products and building methods from the West as well as socialist realist art and architecture from the USSR. It focuses on rival architectural visions in East and West Berlin: the monumental "Stalinallee" in the Eastern Sector, and the Modernist housing schemes of "Interbau" in the West designed by architects including Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Oskar Niemeyer.

Cold War Modern examines how the competition to be modern entered the domestic sphere, exemplified by the famous 1959 "Kitchen Debate" between Nixon and Khrushchev which took place at the American National Exhibition staged in Moscow, amid displays of the latest American household goods.

During this period, images of destruction haunted the collective imagination. The nuclear threat, and the response to it, are seen through graphics, art, film and imaginary schemes such as Buckminster Fuller’s 1962 geodesic Dome over Manhattan.

A section on the space race and hi-tech triumphs highlights the first space mission by Yuri Gagarin aboard a Vostok space capsule. On display are designs of interiors for NASA space craft by Raymond Loewy, experimental spacesuits as well as many examples of furniture, architecture, art and fashion inspired by the space race. Amongst the many technological achievements of the period, a new and distinctive form of architecture emerged, the telecommunications tower, including the Post Office Tower in London and Moscow’s Ostankino Tower.

Under the theme of "Revolution," the exhibition considers forms of protest and rebellion, including the tumultuous events of 1968 in Paris and Prague, looking at them through posters, film, photography and art.

The final section looks at how Cold War technologies were used by architects and designers to create imagined utopias, a world of inflatable, mobile and expendable habitats by groups such as Superstudio and Archigram. There is a full scale reconstruction of Oasis No. 7, a giant inflatable environment containing a small "beach" with palm tree, designed by Viennese architects Haus-Rucker-Co. It also displays other critical views of the future such as Arata Isozaki’s photomontage Re-Ruined Hiroshima.

The exhibition ends with the first photographs of Earth taken from space, which inspired artists and designers in their utopian imaginings and acted as a catalyst to a new environmental awareness of the fragility of the planet.


Garden Egg Chair, 1967-8, Peter Ghyczy , © V&A Images.