Saturday, 15 May 2010

The Genius of Wally Byam

Last night I was already enjoying The Genius of Design on BBC2 but got very excited towards the end when the subject became Wally Byam, the designer of the very first Airstream trailers and the founder of the Airstream company.

The programme was about 20s and 30s design innovators and the birth of modernism. It showed the explosion of creative invention going hand in hand with the development of industrial materials, a move towards minimal and functional style as a reaction against the overly-decorated. One of the principles was that good design can be more affordable and democratic if it isn't laden with unnecessary adornment. The story went from Bauhaus to Habitat via Le Corbusier, Henry Dreyfuss and Wally Byam. Those kinds of leaps in creativity make my heart flutter. And the paring down and simplification are like a whiff of eucalyptus to me.

The narrator described the Airstream style of the thirties as "folk modernism", "Le Corbusier meets Henry Dreyfuss from a designer who probably never heard of either of them." I guess that puts Wally in a school of his own then. I know that the best thing you can ever see in your rear-view mirror is an Airstream. That's just one of the many reasons why we live and travel in ours full-time. Like the Airstreamers on The Genius of Design said, it's self-contained, has all the comforts of home and if you don't like the view you can just move on.

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