Futuristic Visions of Yesterday: Research Guide

Guther Uecker, abstract sculpture, 1966, b/w photograph, Contemporary Art Society 

Sculpture Exhibition, Archive’s code: SA/AT/26/48/10

This guide provides an introduction to the Birmingham City University Art and Design

Archives collection highlighting the number of sources waiting to be discovered and used in

art and curatorial practices, as well as placing artworks in a wider artistic and historical

context. The guide aims to encourage students to discover more. It may also be treated as

an example of a curatorial investigation leading to formulate topics for potential exhibition.

Futuristic Visions of Yesterday is a guide, which presents findings from a three-month

research period in the archives undertaken by Roma Piotrowska, a Contemporary Curatorial

Practice student. This project took place in 2012 as part of the Student Academic Partner

scheme. During this period Roma browsed through a section of the eleven different archives

and collections within the Archive, looking for interesting topics, that she could potentially

use to curate an exhibition. Her research has been narrowed down to artworks made

between the beginning of the 20th century and the 1980s. Finally she has distinguished a

theme Futuristic Visions of Yesterday that is repeatedly visible in one of the collections - BIAD

School of Art collection.

Futuristic Visions of Yesterday is an introduction to some of the drawings as well as fashion,

interior and object designs that pertain to a futuristic aesthetic and have been rediscovered

in the BIAD School of Art collection. Since the 19th century we have witnessed the rise of

visual representations that are commonly seen as ‘futuristic’. The way the future was

imagined in previous decades can be an important source of knowledge about the past.

The guide starts in the 1930s, and goes through the 1950s presenting works that can be

linked with futurism, the art movement. It goes further to the 1960s and 1970s when interest

in the future was characteristic to the Cold War era (1945-70) and the future gained political

connotations due to the space race. The Cold War had a huge impact on popular culture

and the way of thinking about the future on both sides of the Iron Curtain. In other words,

the sixties was the decade when artists and designers were highly influenced by space

exploration and indeed most of the ‘futuristic’ designs found in the Archives are from this

period of time.

Ralph G Baxendale, print of large industrial plant, 1931

Archive's code: SA/AT/26/16/15

An artefact found in the Archives is a print of large industrial plant prepared by Ralph

G. Baxendale from 1931, which fits into the futuristic aesthetic of the beginning of

the 20th century. Futurism was fascinated by industry, technology, dynamism, energy

and movement and all these elements are visible in the drawings. The factory is

depicted at night, lit up by reflectors with black silhouettes of workers visible in the

foreground. Presented forms are almost abstract, but still refer to reality. It is quite a

radical vision of architecture for that time and proves the author’s interest in

modernist art movements. Visual correspondence to the scenes from Metropolis

(1927), science-fiction film directed by Fritz Lang, is recognisable.

See Metropolis’ Factory Scene here:

John D. Mc Cann, watercolour and pencil on paper, 1955

Archive’s code: SA/AT/16/34/31

Another radical vision of architecture represented by a monochrome painting of a modernist

streetscape with GO and HALT signs. The painting is characterised by geometrical, simple

forms, strong diagonals and interlocking forms favoured by Constructivism. A combination

of widening letters and shapes resembles constructivist posters, with its directness of

messages. The Painting was prepared by John D. Mc Cann, one of the students of influential

B.P. Arnold, who taught industrial Design and photography in the School until the early

1960s. His influence and style is present in many other works prepared by various students

(i.e. Monochrome painting of detail form industrial machinery SA/AT/16/34/25; Monochrome

painting of a flight of stairs SA/AT/16/34/29

Photograph of young women in PVC cape and thigh-length boots, designer unknown,


Archive’s code: SA/AT/26/12/26


This photograph of young women in a PVC cape and go-go boots is one of the examples of

using synthetic materials typical for the 1960s. The Space Race introduced many

technological innovations and material developments that could be used in everyday life.

Designers started to experiment with a variety of materials like plastic, metal and leather, as

well as with shapes. Despite a remarkable optimism and believe in a bright future, the

fashion of the 1960s disclose a concern to protect the wearer, possibly against a nuclear

attack. Therefore helmet-like headgear and military plating present in this design.

Photograph of young woman in short raincoat with a hood and ankle - length boots,

designer unknown, 1963-69

Archive’s code: SA/AT/26/12/30

This photograph of a young woman in a short PVC raincoat with a hood, wide belt, metallic

plating and ankle - length boots represents the typical Space Age ‘look’. PVC, type of plastic

used to produce shower curtains and raincoats, in the 1960s started to be used in high

fashion. The design demonstrates concern to armour the body through headwear and metal


See a short clip showing futuristic fashion of the 1960's from designers like Pierre Cardin,

André Courrèges, Paco Rabanne:

Photograph of a ladies outfit, designer unknown, 1960-69

Archive’s code: SA/AT/22/03/39

Above photograph shows a lady wearing a knee-length coat with a high sculptural metallic

collar and a pointed hat, which gives evidence of the 1960s interest in juxtaposition of soft

skin and hard metal. It demonstrates a desire to make something beyond fashion, towards

architecture or sculpture.

Photograph of three dimensional form in plywood, Perspex and aluminium designed

by Roy Appleby, 1955-1960

Archive’s code: SA/AT/26/20/8

This spaceship-like object, in fact probably a toast rack, was created by one of the industrial

design students Roy Appleby.

G.L. Evans, Designs for a public bar, acrylic paint and ink on card, 1967-1970

Archive’s code: SA/AT/24/01/42

This design is a perfect example of a Space- Age interior, with vibrant colours: bright red,

red-violet, mustard yellow, black and white. Shapes became more organic and graphic. In

this design elongated chairs, and archways, contrast with circular ceiling panels. New

materials like plastic, fiberglass and Perspex started to be popular in manufacturing furniture

in the 1960s. In the above design fibreglass is proposed to be used to produce chairs, tables,

lamps and even wall panels. It was prepared by G.L. Evans a 20 year-old student of

Birmingham College of Art & Design, for an Industrial Design Bursary Competition,

organised by the Royal Society of Artists.

G.L. Evans, Designs for longue bar seating, 1967-70, acrylic paint, ink and pencil on

paper, fragment of rough design drawings and painted sketches on 5 sheets stapled


Archive’s code: SA/AT/24/01/43

The drawings show the evolution of designs for fibreglass formed furniture. Almost

everything is proposed to be made from fibreglass in this design: from chairs, through table,

lamp, to walls. Fiberglass, originally used in the production of radars, became a popular

material for everyday design in the 1960s. The chair resembles 1960s classic Ovalia Egg Chair

designed by Henrik Thor-Larsen or Eero Aarino Ball Chair which were also made from

fibreglass, painted white with rotating foot, contrasting cushions and the back.


Written by Roma Piotrowska, 2012


Further reading

Breward Christopher, Gilbert David, Lister Jenny (2006) Swinging Sixties, London: V&A


Hanks, David (2010), The Century of Modern Design: Selections from the Liliane and David M.

Stewart Collection, London: Flammarion

Pavitt, Jane (2008) Fear and Fashion in the Cold War, London: V&A Publishing

Pavitt, Jane, Crowley David (2008) Cold War Modern: Design 1945 – 70, London: V&A


Worsley, Harriet (2006) Decades of Fashion, London: Tashen

Every effort has been made to seek permission to reproduce those images whose copyrights

does not reside with Birmingham City University Art and Design Archives. Any omissions are

entirely unintentional, and if you have any objection or claim to usage rights of images

reproduced of this guide please contact Birmingham City University Art and Design Archives.


Contact us:

Birmingham City University Art and Design Archives

Margaret Street


B3 3BX

Telephone: +44 (0)121 331 6981