|ISSUE 58 AUTUMN 2008
Cold War Modern: Design 1945-70
- in memoriam
Many Cold War concerns of the 1960s mirror those of our own time; none more so than the concern for the fragility of the planet. Forty years ago, experimental architects and designers were drawn to these questions – the designers of today may have to find the answers.
I might have seen the poster that appears at the entrance of the exhibition when it was originally plastered on walls but was too young to appreciate it. Here is an image of satisfied soviet soldiers lounging on their tank having just liberated Czechoslovakia which perfidious Albion swapped for a piece of paper from Hitler a few years earlier. No doubt a time of relief and hope but it was short lives as Stalin’s heavy hand settled over the country and weight it down with a massive 15 m tall statue of him in Prague. So hated was the statue by the public that the sculptor committed suicide three weeks before the unveiling. Following Khrushchev denunciation of Stalin the statue became and embarrassment and 800kg of explosive reduced it to rubble.
The exhibition explores how art and design were drawn into the contest between east and west. Some artists allied themselves with a sense of ideological purpose, eager to contribute to the creation of a new society
and design became a weapon in the cultural arsenal of the US.
The exhibition ranges from art, through architecture and technology to revolutionary and utopian ideas. In his 1969 Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth Buckminster Fuller asked his readers to imaging the planet from space. ‘Spaceship earth,’ he wrote ‘as an integrally designed machine which to be persistently successful must be comprehended and serviced in total.’ This ‘machine’ was not supplied with an inexhaustible supply of fuel. These observations followed the publication of the first pictures of the earth as seen from the moon taken by US astronauts who beat the Soviet Union to the moon. Don’t miss this intelligent and stimulating exhibition. JM
science and war
Cold War Hot Science will not feature in the best seller list and is definitely not everyone’s bedtime reading but it is a rare book that throws some light at the secretive institutions that form Britain’s military R&D. It aims to put the applied science of the military sector in its technological, military and social context.
The book is a painful reminded of the misjudgements resulting from a narrow view of the world all be it at a time of tensions and uncertainties.
Major electronic companies such as GEC were concerned that their wartime emphasis on radar had meant that it had fallen behind the US competitors in telecommunication and were reluctant to take on more government military work. Pressure from the government eventually overcame their reluctance. Governments anxiety at this can be gleaned from the 1958 Ministry of Supply Memorandum which explained, ‘the aim must also be to ensure… a fund of scientific knowledge and resources is built up which will be adequate for the development of future generation of weapons, even though their precise nature cannot yet be foreseen.’
It’s obvious when you think about it but still a little starling to see it in black and white. Despite a fortune spent on the development of torpedoes, only one single use was made in war in half a century. It sunk the Belgrano and killed some 1000 conscripts.
While we are aware of the arms race - the competition between states for ever bigger, louder weapons; less well known is the way this also happens within R&D establishments and how the high level of investment in western military research and development stimulated further research to nullify its consequences. Welcome to the mad world of the weapon makers.
Cold War, Hot Science: Applied Research in Britain's Defence Laboratories 1945-1990