March 21, 2005
by Canadian Architect
Chicago architecture, design, and their contributions to everyday life during the decade of the 1940s are subjects of a new exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago. 1945: Creativity and Crisis: Chicago Architecture and Design of the World War II Era – on view May 7, 2005 through January 8, 2006 in the Kisho Kurokawa Gallery of Architecture – presents a unique opportunity to view mid-American architecture and design of the war years and the plans for reconstruction immediately thereafter. These artifacts and drawings, drawn from the Art Institute’s extensive permanent collection and created by mostly Chicago-area practitioners, visually tell the story of how architects and designers developed clever solutions to help win the war and then contributed to the changing postwar environment with renewed creativity. Well-known architects and designers such as Mies van der Rohe, L. Morgan Yost, Bertrand Goldberg, Bruce Goff, Henry P. Glass, and Richard Ten Eyck are featured in the exhibition. The approximately 100 works on display are installed within a special exhibition environment created by architect Stanley Tigerman that sets the stage with popular materials of the era, such as bent plywood and Pirelli rubber flooring. The exhibition also coincides with the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.
The 1940s have been labeled as a “neglected decade in architectural history,” when compared with the wealth of materials that exist on the Machine Age 1920s and ’30s or the International Style 1950s. 1945 was a pivotal year for that decade: it marked the end of the Second World War as well as the end of an era that encompassed the boom decade of the 1920s and the hiatus in construction during the Great Depression of the 1930s. With America’s entry into the war after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the country mobilized against the Axis powers, and the United States became a giant factory, producing material to support the war effort. Examples of these newly built industrial facilities were located throughout Chicago and its environs.
Chicago architects, like architects throughout America and abroad, participated in designing and building structures as part of the war effort. Some architects, like Bruce Goff, served in the military and used their talents as designers to transform non-essential materials into buildings on and off military bases. Others, like Bertrand Goldberg, developed ideas about prefabrication and standardized construction into a method for both military and civilian production.
This exhibition illustrates how visual arts professionals utilized their creative solutions developed during the war to address design problems in postwar peacetime, and set the stage for what transpired in architecture and design in the 1950s and ’60s. Chicago was the site of many transformations during the 1940s, including the development of the Interstate highway system, the growth of the aviation industry, and the conversion of wartime factories – such as Albert Kahn’s Amertorp torpedo plant in Forest Park, Illinois – into peacetime facilities (in this case, a shopping centre). One of the most dramatic changes that occurred after the war, however, was the spectacular growth of the suburbs and the increasing demand for consumer goods. The Chicagoland Homes Competition of 1945, sponsored by the Chicago Tribune, is one example of the quest for postwar dream homes in the suburbs. Several drawings from this competition, including prize-winning entries by Carl L. Cedarstrand and Raymond W. Garbe, are featured in this exhibition. Drawings of small residences by L. Morgan Yost are also presented as evidence of the desire for affordable homes for returning G.I.s and their families.
In conjunction with the exhibition 1945: Creativity and Crisis: Chicago Architecture and Design of the World War II Era, the Art Institute is publishing an illustrated catalogue of the same title. The catalogue features an essay by former Art Institute curator John Zukowsky and additional texts on individual, notable architects and designers. Numbering 40 pages, this softcover book features full-color plates/illustrations and sells for $9.95. It will be available in May 2005 at The Museum Shop of the Art Institute of Chicago. For those wishing to make a purchase online, visit www.artinstituteshop.org.
1945: Creativity and Crisis: Chicago Architecture and Design of the World War II Era is funded by the Fellows of the Department of Architecture. Ongoing support is provided by the Architecture & Design Society. Educational programs are supported by The Albert Pick, Jr. Fund. The exhibition is curated by Martha Thorne, Associate Curator of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago.