May 1, 2007
by Rachel Schauer

Event: Book Launch/Beatriz Colomina
Location: Labyrinth Books, 04.05.07
Speaker: Beatriz Colomina — professor of history and theory, Director of Graduate Studies, Ph.D. Program, Founding Director, Program in Media and Modernity, Princeton University, & author, Domesticity at War (MIT Press)
Moderator: Rachel Schauer — contributor, e-OCULUS
Organizer: Labyrinth Books

Domesticity at War

Domesticity at War, by Beatriz Colomina.

Holding up her recently published book, Domesticity at War, professor and theorist Beatriz Colomina explained that the cover image of a quaint, 1950s suburban living room, complete with fireplace and television, is actually a fallout shelter. This is exemplary of the impact of war on domesticity. From the Eameses’ use of plywood military products to the “dial-a-view” window scenes for underground shelters, Colomina’s new work explores the relationship between American architecture and war culture during and following World War II.

War propaganda encouraged Americans to celebrate their country by saving face in the public realm. A key symbol of patriotism was the suburban lawn, whose maintenance became a civic duty for those on the home front. Featured in advertisements at the time as a green paradise, the lawn was a form of therapy promoting hygiene, happiness, and health. However, lurking below its surface was a battlefield — a site of full-fledged attack on moles, worms, and other insects potentially devastating perfectly manicured blades of grass. Homeowners, in an effort to protect the lawn from infection or invasion, were told to use weaponry more common to war than the household. How do you get rid of that pesky mole? Knock it out with your spade, or better yet, gas it!

As warfare tactics transformed from WWII to the Cold War, so too did the obsession with health. The home’s interior came to reflect a new focus on the psychological, rather than physical, well-being of the family, offering refuge from hostile tensions on the outside. Where once it was a sanitary problem, the kitchen now served as a prime laboratory to cure mental woes. An ad in House Beautiful magazine exclaimed: “It wasn’t a psychiatrist Mother wanted — it was a new kitchen!”

While the changing definitions of public and private space are nothing new, Domesticity at War takes this relationship to the next level by tracing how it has been and will be influenced directly by war. As Colomina says in the closing of her book, “War does not end. It evolves, and architecture with it.”

Rachel Schauer is concentrating her studies on architecture and communications at New York University Gallatin School. She also is e-OCULUS’ graphic designer.

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