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New Materials in Postwar California
The period immediately following the end of the second world war represented a period of unrivalled experimentation in industrial process and application. Although President Rooseveldt's New Deal of 1933-38 had done much to stimulate post-Depression production in America's factories, it was not until the concerted push of the war effort that processes of mass-production and standardisation were refined. Based upon the need to initiate high volume production and distribution, American industry was, by 1945, in a position to transfer perfected technique to the market of domestic products.
Amongst the first to adapt wartime technology to household goods were the Eameses, whose wartime contracts for moulded plywood provided technology that transferred to large-scale furniture production, often based upon the interchangeability of components. The Eameses house, Pacific Palisades, California, built 1945-49 as part of the celebrated Case Study programme organised by the magazine Arts & Architecture for the stimulation of contemporary architecture, was itself an assemblage of pre-fabricated, factory-issue components.
Plywood, fibreglass, steel rod, nylon, aluminium, rubber and clear acrylic plastic were all materials, often synthetic, that had been perfected in the aircraft factories of southern California. Postwar, the new materials were in many cases barely modified for the production of furnishings, upholstery, luggage, and other household utensils. Melamine, for example, used by Russel Wright for his 'Meladur' and 'Residential' dinner services, had been originally designed to fulfil the US Navy's requirement for unbreakable tableware. The new materials, when fashioned into stylish modern products, served to underline America's progressive identity into the 1950s and 60s.
However, the intelligent development and re-application of these materials could not have been resolved without the highly trained creative elite that had begun to congregate in California from the 1920s onwards, attracting European emigrés such as Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra, as well as American designers attracted by an environment that was conduisive to progressive experimentation. It was this timely convergence of personality and opportunity that yielded some of the most stimulating developments in accessible modern product design and architecture.