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Looking back on Chicago’s role in the midcentury design movement

Designers from different domains discuss design at midcentury and its lessons for the future

By Andrew Connor

On Thursday, December 10, at 5pm, ID partners with IIT College of Architecture and the Design Museum of Chicago for Chicagoland: A Laboratory for 20th Century Design Innovation. The event will reflect on the midcentury era of design in Chicago, and how the city and its designers and architects have shaped its built and designed environments.

Observing their own surroundings amidst this Zoom discussion, registrants will discover the important influence of Chicago design in the domestic spaces and products that we have all come to spend so much time with during the pandemic. 

The evening will feature Martin Thaler, an ID studio professor and product design expert. Thaler provides his students with in-depth real-world experience designing products for a multitude of clients, and his deep knowledge of product design contributed to ID’s collaborative research project with Fortune magazine, “100 Great Designs of Modern Times,” which undertakes Jay Doblin’s original study 60 years later.

Postwar Chicago was a center for industry, marketing, and design, fueling the growth of a consumer society. Design firms such as Unimark, Raymond Loewy Associates, Latham Tyler Jensen, and Robert Podall and Associates worked on products for every room in the house. Consumers learned about these products at Sears Roebuck, the Amazon of its time. Designers today marvel at their predecessors' optimism, inventiveness, visual language, and sheer ability to get the work done without computers, but we also see that unlimited choice and mass consumption lead to diminished meaning and environmental damage, so we have new ways of thinking about and designing products for a circular and social equity-based economy.
—Martin Thaler

Also featured is Michelangelo Sabatino, professor at the IIT College of Architecture and historian specializing in the Midwest’s history of Modernist architecture and design. He is also the co-author of Modern in the Middle, a survey of modernist suburban architecture in the greater Chicago area, many designed by IIT Architecture alumni.

Chicago’s most impactful twentieth-century architects and designers have worked collaboratively to solve pressing design issues,” says Sabatino. “We hope that by highlighting the accomplishments of the past, architects and designers today might be inspired to find new forms of dialogue.
—Michelangelo Sabatino

They will be joined by award-winning Chicago-born interior designer and artist Marcia Weese, known for her rug and furniture design, as well as Bud Rodecker, founder and design director at SPAN, where he designed Modern in the Middle. The evening will be moderated by Aamena Ansari (MDes 2021), an ID student with a background in communication and culture studies from Indiana University. 

This online event is free, but registration—which can be completed here—is required to attend.

*Image courtesy Chicago History Museum, Hedrich-Blessing.

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