Star Trek: Designing the Final Frontier–New book looks at 1960s futuristic sci-fi design

Star Trek Designing the Future cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

For nearly 55 years sci-fi fans have been watching and re-watching Star Trek’s original series and rebuilding futuristic components from the show in their own homes.  In the 1960s it was easier, as many of the components that defined the early look of Star Trek were simply “found objects”–items existing in the real world that could be repurposed to create a vision of the future.  Midcentury Modernism was the artistic movement that coincided with the inception of the worldbuilding for Star Trek, and fans Dan Chavkin and Brian McGuire chronicled some of the Star Trek creators’ use of those designs in their new coffee table book, Star Trek: Designing the Future–How Midcentury Modernism Shaped Our View of the Future Take a look at a preview of this introduction to the artistic movement and the early Star Trek design aesthetic below, courtesy of publisher Insight Editions.

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Chavkin and McGuire, a photographer and a novice design enthusiast who first saw Star Trek as part of binge-viewing, start readers off at the right spot–the Burke chair.  No other chair is as iconic and screams Star Trek more than this variety, painted eggshell blue with an added vinyl cushion and the era’s triangle design attached to the back to try to mask the then-common chair (remember these at bus depots through the early 1980s?) for its Earth of the 2260s setting.  The best of the text comes from later Treks’ Oscar and Emmy award-winning designer Doug Drexler, who takes readers to the source of the inspiration for the Midcentury Modern for Star Trek.  

The book consists of synopses of Star Trek episodes (six for the first season and three for the other two seasons) that included key art pieces–furniture, set decoration, props, and architecture primarily via matte paintings.  The authors identify with photos what the source of the materials appear to be, with a description of the firm or designer that created the piece.  A smaller component is devoted to fashion, props beyond Midcentury Modern that the authors located in the series, and newspaper advertising of the style from the period.

Key Star Trek art directors and set designers get encyclopedia-style biography pages, including Matt Jefferies, Rolland Brooks, Carl Biddiscombe, Marvin March, matte artist Albert Whitlock, set decorators John Dwyer and Joseph Stone, and property master Irving Feinberg.  The book includes an appendix and index.

Here’s a look inside:

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It’s not a scholarly look or a comprehensive look at either original series Star Trek design or the Midcentury Modernist movement, but it may get readers interested in both, and for anyone who hasn’t already embarked on a voyage into the details in the corners of the frame of the original Star Trek series, they may find they won’t look at the show the same way again.

Fun and informational for both the passing fan and the diehard Trekker or Trekkie, Star Trek: Designing the Future–How Midcentury Modernism Shaped Our View of the Future is available now in a colorful hardcover edition from Insight Editions.  Order it here at Amazon or find it at your local book store.

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