• Steven Heller

Wasn’t the Future Fascistic (I Mean Fantastic)?

1934. The world was spinning from recent economic catastrophes. Capitalism was at its nadir. Communism was in free-fall. Fascism was rising as curiously populist yet iron-fisted alternative. Each system was vying for hegemony. Each system borrowed tactics and strategies of the other to seduce its citizenry and citizens of the world.

Design played a huge role in that allure. Architecture, products and graphics were employed as manipulative components intended to pique loyalty and passion. 1934 was the year that in Chicago, American industry celebrated “A Century of Progress”—a period when corporate America lead the economics and politics of the nation.

The 1934 World’s Fair was an imposing display of corporate might and futuristic projection. It was designed, like any showing of power, to dwarf the average person while extolling the virtues of a corporate state. And while triggering excitement for the future, in retrospect the American designs echo those in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Below are a few that could be construed as authoritarian futurism.

Avenue of Flags. Banners waving in conformist lines suggesting the flag-filled rallies of Hitler and Mussolini.

Routine structures, like this entry gate, gave an impression of power.

The United States Government Building exudes an air of anonymity, suggesting bureaucracy.

General Motors as temple of progress. White, windowless and imperial.

The Home Planning Hall suggests the future big box stores and standardization of goods.

The Sears Roebuck Building, the essence of streamline aesthetics that looms at the end of the Avenue of Flags.

The Italian Pavilion features a “gleaming giant airplane wing” over the entrance, and something more …

… the tower is an architectural fasci, the symbol of the Italian Fascists and all the repression it represents.

The Travel and Transport Building reveals the “first important application of the suspension bridge principle to architecture.”

The Chrysler Building “is erected in the form of a great Maltese Cross with four pylons, 125 feet wide and an open center.”

The fair grounds as the angular city of the future.

The Enchanted Island is a respite for children of all ages, packed with games and entertainment and advertising galore.

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