Patterns: Atomic (sputnik, fallout, cosmic, googie)

Pronunciation: ə-ˈtä-mik

Usage: referred to as “Sputnik”, "Fallout", "Cosmic", or "Googie"

History: July 16, 1945

Pattern type: Geometric

On July 16, 1945, America tested the first atomic bomb (which overshadowed the Bikini that debuted in Paris, pool-side none the less, on July 6, 1945 by  Louis Réard) and was a fast and furious time. Over the next few years, the threat of nuclear attacks fatigued humanity (ironically) and like everything that has ever been, art and design responded to this first - but this time they were inspired by science. All this atom cracking, nuclear fission, and space exploration dominated our visual landscapes so heavily and we were absolutely fascinated. It was pretty much the iPad of 1950's.

The Atomic Age emerged squarely in the middle of the nuclear threats during the Mid-Century Modern movement. The new innovations, such as plastics like Tupperware and modeled plywood, certainly influenced us with their own spin with new innovations in production. The overall shapes and styles of the atomic patterns were heavily influenced by organic shapes, or a return to nature, called Biomorphism. Pedro Ponce summed up the expression and feeling of the style in his essay Fallout: Art and Design in the Atomic Age:

In the arts, the style of the period was known as “organic,” borrowing from the rounded shapes of living organisms. The trend was seen by some as a search for meaning at a time when conventional values were being called into question, when the technology that would win a war held the threat of mass annihilation.

Pretty heavy stuff, but it proves to be so connected to that lost-euphoric feeling, the feeling of space being the final frontier. Ponce continues to elaborate on the innovation of the times:

Faith in the machine persisted during the war, with the production of mass numbers of bombers, aircraft carriers, and tanks. Amid aus-terity at home, advertisers tantalized the public with visions of new consumer products that would be available once the war was over. In American Plastic: A Cultural History, Jeffrey L. Meikle describes a 1942 ad in which General Electric predicts the postwar future of a seven-year-old girl: “Wearing plastic shoes instead of glass slippers, enjoying the labor of electric servants, and flying a plane ‘as readily as you would drive a car,’ she would inhabit a ‘fairyland’ made possi-ble by ‘new materials like plastics, new developments like television, new sciences like electronics.’ To make sure it would all come true, ‘today’s job is fighting for a better world.’”

Shapes became softened, angular but not harsh like the robotic sharp dominance of the Arts & Crafts / Mid-Century Modern cross-overs. Starbursts appear prevalent and they cosmic-like shapes that dominate the overall motif of an atomic pattern. From there appears Formica's Boomerang and the softened, less angular shapes of the atomic age. Take the Atomic Coffee Machine by La Sorrentina (left) as an example, which the most notable stylized atomic-age designs in my opinion.

I have merely glossed the surface of this pattern, but have more examples of this style on my Pintrest Atomic Board if you're so inclined to take a gander - it's growing in size every day. The book [amazon_link id="1423600029" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Atomic Ranch[/amazon_link] is also a great resource. Below are further examples of Atomic Barkcloth Fabrics (courtesy Atomic Splendor and notably from Bradbury & Bradbury) to further illustrate the atomic pattern.

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So what are your impressions of this style? Do some of you have examples of this in your designs or homes that are worth a mention? Drop me a comment below or Tweet me @coreyklassen.