Issuu on Google+





























Tailfins, Saran Wrap, ball point pens, Slinky toys, Tupperware, highways, aluminum, Hula Hoops, food blenders, plastics, Barbie dolls, dishwashers, credit cards, office systems, picture windows, bikinis, fast food, TV dinners, drive-in cinemas, play rooms, window air conditioners, satellites, missiles, bomb-shelters, tranquilizers. . . : the artifacts of Cold War America. By-products of the war effort, they represent the period as if in a constellation, the result of an atomic explosion, each one of them a fragment for detached analysis or speculation, able to bring light into the period; as if an archeological dig where a piece of a jug may help to understand an entire culture, its habits, degree of development, artistic tendencies and so on. By looking closely at some of these remnants we see the cold war period in all its complexity. An archeology of our own period, a time that still haunts us. This collection of fragments is not complete, and how could it ever be? It is simply an assemblage of pieces picked up for analysis by a group of doctoral candidates at a series of seminars and workshops at the School of Architecture at Princeton University, conducted between 2000 and 2002. The theme of the seminars was postwar America, a subject neglected in architectural research until recent years, when several conferences, exhibitions, and articles started to open up the field. At the time, my own research on the period had focused on the impact of World War II on architectural discourse, the new roles played by architects who had been intimately involved in the war effort and the recycling of military technologies, materials, and attitudes to the reorganization of postwar


Tupperware products displayed on a highway

space and lifestyle: in other words, the redefinition of the architect and architectural design by the war.1 This research was used to launch the seminar “Cold War/Hot Houses� in the fall of 2000, but participants were then encouraged to come up with their own topics of study. The new topics tended to be less about the work of architects and more about the wide-ranging transformation of space in the postwar years. Instead of talking about designers, buildings, architectural details, designer furniture, master plans, professional publications, and the like, the research paid close attention to popular magazines and books, advertisements, movies and television programs, governmental initiatives, and developers schemes. The seminar tested the idea that the postwar period no longer celebrated the heroic figure of the architect transforming the spatial order, even though most architects were still modeling themselves as heroic. The real changes were going on elsewhere. Objects of everyday life involved more radical transformations of space than the most extreme architectural proposals. Indeed, the most radical architects were those who were able to understand and respond to these cultural and technological shifts.




In that sense the Cold War itself was a hothouse, breeding new species of space, a new organizational matrix. Hence the title Cold War Hothouses, meaning not simply the effect of the Cold War on house design but all of the new forms of domesticity that emerged during the period and that in many ways we still occupy today.2 The initial seminar focused on domesticity: children, beds, bomb shelters, lawns, TV sets, picture windows, glass houses, appliances, plastics, toys, food, etc. The following year we expanded to the urban and territorial scale: drive-in theaters, shopping malls, highways, standardized IQ testing, the national park system, the office cubicle, etc. Soon we realized that scales had become conflated, that everything in the postwar age was domestic. The drive-in cinema, for example, turned out to be as domestic a space as the suburban home, with the car acting as a new kind of living room on wheels, where teenagers made out, the housewife carried out domestic chores such as sewing or snapping peas, children played, babies slept, the convalescents rested, the family ate . . . all within the confines of the automobile, while looking at a screen that, to make the point literal, sometimes had the shape of a gigantic TV set. As David Snyder demonstrated in his seminar paper, the drive-in was promoted as a living-room, bedroom, and kitchen, where you could take the kids, dress as you wish, have a conversation, smoke, make noise, seduce, and perhaps watch a film.3 Public space could only be sold by offering it as a form of domestic privacy not so different from that experienced in the suburbs, where each living room was exposed through a picture window, and houses sat side by side with almost identical ones, all tuned to the same TV program; as Jack Kerouac put it in his 1958 The Dharma Bums, Rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television sets in each living room with everybody looking at the same thing and thinking the same thing at the same time . . . . House after house on both sides of the street with the lamplight of the living room, shining golden, and inside the little blue square of the television.4

Even the monumental national park system was understood as an extension of domestic space. As Jeannie Kim argues, it was


Snapping peas at the drive-in, circa 1950

designed to be experienced by the family within the interior of the car or on trails specifically designed to accommodate women in high heels. The visitor centers, with their open plans and flat roofs, had the architecture of a modern suburban house, and the drive-in camping sites resembled the lay-out of a suburban neighborhood, complete with cul-de-sacs. The great outdoors was transformed into a comforting domestic interior, a reassuring space, with dependable trails, labels, narratives, photo opportunities, and orientation movies (in fact, the whole thing was experienced like a film, a highly controlled outdoor museum). If the nineteenth-century park offered a respite from the ills of urban life, the national park system, experienced on wheels in the containment of the family unit, reproduced the suburban life common to most visitors. The experience was offered as a kind of group therapy for a still-traumatized nation. The vast space of the highway also turns out to be a domestic enclave. The Beat Generation, “on the road,� tracing and retracing the U.S. highway system, moved the fulcrum of literature, as Roy Kozlovsky argues, from time and history to space. Kerouac made a calculated decision to leave home and hit the road in order to write. For him, writing equaled driving and the car, the vehicle of the




twentieth-century novel. And yet the movement across the U.S. recorded in his epic 1957 novel On the Road is always punctuated by houses: the interiors they depart from, the stops along the way, are organized by multiple interiors and domestic scenes, no matter how unconventional. There is hardly ever a description of public spaces, with the exception of some bars, and little TV or film. The car itself is once again an interior on wheels, a space to eat and sleep and have sex, the TV set replaced by the ever-changing view through its windshield. The trips, crossing and recrossing America, it could even be argued, have the structure of TV reruns of prime-time soap operas and situation comedies, with the character of Dean Moriarty endlessly falling in and out of relationships with multiple girlfriends, and multiple wives, with friends, with his lost father, and with his companion Sal Paradise, who keeps waiting for his aunt to wire him money. Dean and Sal don’t move to find new people but to find the same ones again and again. If this mobility and homelessness is, as Kozlovsky argues, the alternative to suburban boredom in On the Road, written on a long scroll of architectural drafting paper, Kerouac, who had worked for the construction of the Pentagon and whose trip is being paid for by the GI Bill, creates a space as domestic as the suburban house he is trying to escape. Indeed, the whole highway system becomes one small domestic world. If public space was privatized, domestic space was publicized, not just on view (TV was already advertised during World War II as the “biggest window in the world”) but on the move, mobilized: the TV set was placed on wheels, the walls became partitions, and the housewife seemed to be always in a hurry with a barrage of conveniences, push button devices, and appliances, designed to save her time: quick mixes, fast food, Tupperware, blenders, dishwashers, washing machines. . . . This new kind of mobility and efficiency had to do with the war. Not only was her “push button” equipment coming from the same factories that made guided missiles,5 but the house itself was defending the nation. The housewife had become a soldier on the home front; the kitchen, the command post from where she not only controlled the domain of her living space but was


The Bride’s House of 1956 “The Bride’s House of 1956,” House Beautiful, May 1956, back cover




Tupperware home party, Sarasota, Fla., 1958 (left); Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev, with plastic bowls handed out as souvenirs at the American National Exhibition in Moscow, 1959 (right)

purported to defend the nation. The suburban house, equipped with every imaginable appliance, projected the image of the “Good Life,” of the lifestyle of prosperity and excess that was the main weapon in the Cold War. This became evident in the 1959 “Kitchen Debates” between American Vice President Richard Nixon and USSR premier Nikita Khrushchev, when appliances rather than missiles were identified as the sign of strength of a nation. Politics had moved to the domestic space—or, more specifically, to the kitchen of a suburban house put up by a Long Island builder and furnished by Macy’s for the American National Exhibition in Moscow’s Sokolniki Park. Their debate was broadcast to the world. For Nixon, American superiority rested on the ideal of the suburban home, complete with modern appliances and distinct gender roles. He proclaimed that this suburban home, with its “many different kinds of washing machines” to choose from, represented nothing less than American freedom.6 The organization of the domestic space during the Cold War years and even the language used to describe it echo this movement of military logic into the private sphere. The all-plastic Monsanto House of the Future, displayed at Disneyland between 1957 and 1968, and here analyzed by Stephen Phillips, had a “control tower” in the kitchen where the housewife could not only operate everything in the house by push button but where she could, in the words of a


reporter, “maintain surveillance over three of the four rooms in the house.” Sent to the World’s Fair in Brussels in 1958 as part of the “Face of America” Pavilion, the Monsanto project constitutes one of the multiple examples of an American house deployed as weapon in the Cold War. The face of America during the Cold War was a hot house. Communism fought with washing machines and food mixers. The conflation of public and private had become evident in the official policies of the period. McCarthy, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the fear of Communism turned everybody into a spy of everybody else, particularly neighbors and coworkers. Official investigations obsessed mainly on who was meeting in whose house to discuss what with whom. In the 1954 McCarthy hearings, secrets were exposed (or kept) live for thirty-six days in front of a TV audience of 20 million. Two years later, Playboy exposed a different kind of private secret for a mass audience. While the magazine thought of itself as poised against conventional domesticity—a “pornotopia,” in Beatriz Preciado’s analysis, an escape from the stifling suburbia of 1956—in fact, it represented another form of domesticity. In some ways, with its designer furniture, its mobile elements, its radical transparency, it was the exacerbation of the postwar house fantasy, a very hot house indeed. Playboy endlessly presented hyper-designed domestic interiors and ideal scenarios for bachelors, making it acceptable for men to be interested in architecture and interior decoration. Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion became identified as the paradigmatic playboy house. As Hefner himself put it when interviewed years later, he wanted the mansion to be a “dream house.”7 Its mid-century modern interior architecture and furniture included glass walls, Saarinen chairs, light partitions, and every single appliance imaginable. The entire space was controlled by push button, from a central control panel—not so different from the push button fantasies of futuristic houses at world’s fairs. If prostitution is urban and depends on the streets of the city, Playboy is domestic and designed for the age of the green-lawn suburbia. Playboy played in a domestic space for a domestic audience.




The houses Hefner created and circulated through his magazine were even broadcast on TV. Erotica in the age of suburbia is the fantasy of the girl next door, delivered to one’s bedroom through the media. Symptomatically, the dually domestic and public realm of the Playboy mansion is also Hefner’s office. Most of the furniture and partitions came from the office world, acting as flexible props that can be endlessly reorganized to sustain multiple scenarios. Domestic space absorbs the new logic of office space, which in turn came from the military. As Branden Hookway demonstrates, the military strategy of endlessly rearrangable scenarios infiltrated the postwar office environment; or rather, the office space with its systems furniture was of military design. The logic of the cockpit simply became the logic of the cubicle. The mentality of tactical operations, of rapidly reorganizing resources to confront ever-changing scenarios, became the most effective business strategy. The office worker fused dynamically with the office space in a new mode of active intelligence that pervaded the postwar landscape. Take the FORECAST program of the American Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), for example, which enlisted some of the most talented designers and architects of the period in its attempt to convert aluminum to peacetime use after World War II. The commission was not simply to create products using the material, but as AnnMarie Brennan has analyzed, to “forecast”—in the military sense of anticipating a situation—possible scenarios for its use. With the help of famous fashion photographers, the campaign consisted of a series of advertisements featuring new products and envisioning scenarios for their use. Not surprisingly, the products tended to be not just domestic (tables, picnic shelters, vacation houses), but folding, collapsible, portable, nomadic spaces. Lightweight and compact, as the material was touted, the aluminum house was the postwar soldier’s house—demountable, temporary, on the go. Even toys were military. Charles and Ray Eames’s 1951 invention called The Toy had, as Tamar Zinguer argues, similarities with kites used during World War II, both as part of rescue kits and as tar-


gets used for gunners’ practice. The 1949 Eames House itself was understood as a kite—a gigantic, lightweight, colorful, rearrangable toy, constructed of machined, off-the-shelf parts, remnants of the war industry. The Toy, a set of colored geometric panels designed for the amusement of adults and children alike, created “A Light, Bright, Expandable World Large Enough to Play In and Around,” according to the label. A house, a world; The Toy was all scales, from domestic to planetary, collapsed into one open system. The Eames’s idea of design turns on the continuous arrangement and rearrangement of a limited kit of parts. Almost everything they produced can be rearranged; no layout is ever fixed. Not only The Toy but also the famous plywood cabinets, the House of Cards, the Revell Toy House, and the Kwikset House are all infinitely rearrangable. The Eames House provides a good example: not only was it produced out of the same structural components as the utterly different Entenza House (designed around the same time by Charles Eames with Eero Saarinen), but it was itself a rearrangement of an earlier version. After the steel had been delivered to the site, the Eameses decided to redesign the house by putting the same set of steel parts together in a completely different way than they had planned.8 As Peter Smithson put it, “In the Eames house in Santa Monica, at the point the decision was made to use the same steel in a different way, that part of Eames’ mind which worked best, directworking assembly, took-over.”9 Kits of parts were an integral part of the postwar culture. Could it be that the arranging and rearranging of fragments to make new forms and spatial structures had also to do with the war? Not just in the sense that the structures built that way are like military equipment—lightweight, demountable, engineered for rapid deployment, collapsible and able to adapt to any set of circumstances and uses— but because the very idea of putting together again and again a world out of a set of small fragments may have given people a sense of control over their environments in a world threatening to explode any minute. Play as therapy; architecture as “re-orientator” and “‘shock absorber’”: this is what the Eameses argued was the role of




“Family Utopia,” from Life magazine, November 25, 1946

the house, a definition that is hard to conceive without thinking about the war: “The house must make no insistent demands for itself, but rather aid as a background for life in work . . . and as re-orientator and ‘shock absorber.’”10 If, according to the Eameses, “a good toy contained in it clues to the era in which it was produced,”11 postwar playthings are symptomatic of the atomic era. The entire Cold War culture blurs the distinction between work and play, business and entertainment, appliances and toys, buildings and dollhouses. Real estate companies used to give customers toy house sets to play with and envision the multiple possible arrangements of their future house. Manufacturing developed reconfigurable systems rather than fixed suites of furniture. The consumer was treated as an intelligent and playfully creative decision maker. In fact, every postwar artifact is a kind of toy, from Tupperware to the Space Program. American culture and its playthings: each one of them, seemingly unimportant, even frivolous, but each offering clues to the wider, darker era that produced them. Gathered together here like archeological finds, these minor objects


of daily life construct a new kind of portrait of the Cold War. Each toy sets up a different kind of defensive play—play not as the escape from Cold War tension but as its very modus operandi. The seminar out of which these studies grew was itself a hothouse for ideas, a kind of playground for serious play. The writers combined archival documents in new ways, playing with our assumptions to reconsider architect’s role in a crucial historical period. This collection represents the thinking of an emerging generation of young scholars whose interests are already different from those of the generation before them and will no doubt change in the future. The work is exploratory, asking questions rather than answering them. By focusing on the spatial effects of some of the seemingly mundane products of the Cold War, it aims to open up both new ways of thinking about architecture and new ways of thinking about a period characterized by major infrastructural transformation in American life, a period that we may still be within, a hothouse we still occupy.


Cold War Hot Houses