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The Democratisation of Design in Northern Europe - Part 1

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The 1950s-70s was a time of unparalleled creativity in Northern Europe. The war was over and there was an understandable sense of relief that turned into optimism and hope for a better future.

There was an urgent requirement for many parts of Europe to undertake a huge re-building programme with whole cities turned to rubble, and this was part-funded by the Marshall Plan. Often this led to speedily, cheaply constructed buildings that lacked aesthetic appeal. But as necessity is the mother of invention, it also led to new construction techniques and design ideas with the aim of not just rebuilding cities but of improving them. Where bombs had flattened old, sometimes medieval, areas that lacked modern amenities, the new buildings would provide inhabitants with 'all mod cons'.

But it wasn't just the bricks and mortar and physical appearance of towns and cities that was changing.

Necessity had also led women into vital roles during the war such as the women who flew Spitfires from the factory to the Battle of Britain airfields, there just weren't enough male pilots at the time to undertake this key task. There were women involved in war-planning, in transport, in agriculture, in resistance movements, and of course in maintaining the 'home front' in difficult circumstances. And many enjoyed this new freedom, and that little glimpse of equality, and didn't want it to disappear when peace returned.  

The 1950s saw the rise of rock and roll and the teenager, which was particularly influenced by affluent America which had escaped the devastation of war on its own soil. Young people increasingly wanted to express their own identities and wanted their own music and fashions.

Into the 1960s and rock and roll led to the emergence of the Beatles et al. There was student rebellion in Europe, anti-Vietnam War protests and racial equality movements in the USA. The women's rights agenda progressed, backed by the freedoms that technological advances such as the domestic washing machine and the pill facilitated. The hippie and peace movement spread from San Francisco around the western world, peaking at the Woodstock festival of 1969. And, talking of hippies, we shouldn't forget the increase in consumption of recreational drugs. 

All these huge social developments were taking place against the backdrop of the cold war (Cuba, Berlin) and the momentous technological advances of the space race culminating with the US sending men to the moon.

These were unprecedented times and they led to a surge of artistic creativity that, unlike previous times, was not restricted to the privileged classes or luxury and heirloom items (often received by a couple at their wedding) that were reserved for 'best' (special occasions).


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