Don’t press us on the sordid details, but we happen to be in the interesting and privileged position of sitting on documents that contain Arne Jacobsen drawings called ‘House of the Future’. Produced in 1932, a few years after the original House of the Future was designed, these documents display comprehensive drawings of what we’re quite certain has to be the world’s first flat screen TV.
As you can tell from the amazing, 78-year-old design sketch by the distinguished design duo, Arne Jacobsen and Flemming Lassen, the flat screen TV is actually an idea that’s been out there for quite a while. If you examine the left of the sketch, you’ll see a square shape that the designers call ‘fjernsynsplade’. The direct translation of this is ‘television plate’, and it undoubtedly bears a remarkable resemblance to the electronic device that’s come to be the focal point of so many modern-day households. The figures are lounging around on what appears to be some sort of beanbag chair and they’re watching a bit of television plate, as it were. There’s even a hint of cyber-technology in the text that says:’ Pictures on walls are transmitted via radio from painting collections to the television plate and can be changed according to preference.’ Holy William Gibson. And did we mention that this fictitious setting is, in fact, conceived in 1932? Once again, we’re alerted to the undisputable fact that old man Jacobsen is indeed the man. Sadly, we can’t claim exclusivity to this story as Louisiana Magazine already published the sketches in 2003. But that doesn’t mean we can’t claim internet exclusivity, however fleeting and immaterial that may sound. Consider it claimed.
So there you have it; the ubiquitous thin screen that most of us still consider quite modern is, in fact, an age-old invention. Or at the very least an age-old idea. Quite clearly, the design was fully actualised. What they didn’t have was the technology (microchips and so on) that could store large amounts of information and facilitate complex technological processes within a small space (i.e a television).
War of the Pads
In the wake of the recent debate about the aesthetic origins of the iPad, this interwar period flat screen design we dare say is not an insignificant find. The increasingly heated case of Apple vs. Samsung has seen Apple sue Samsung for copying the iPad and there’s currently an ongoing war over who has the rights to what and, more importantly, who’s been copying what. Interestingly, Samsung defended itself in August stating the following:
"Attached hereto as Exhibit D is a true and correct copy of a still image taken from Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film "2001: A Space Odyssey." In a clip from that film lasting about one minute, two astronauts are eating and at the same time using personal tablet computers. The clip can be downloaded online at YouTube. As with the design claimed by the D'889 Patent, the tablet disclosed in the clip has an overall rectangular shape with a dominant display screen, narrow borders, a predominately flat front surface, a flat back surface (which is evident because the tablets are lying flat on the table's surface), and a thin form factor."
What’s more, if you’re a nerd (like some of us here at AIAIAI), you might remember the electronic device that Jean-Luc Picard fooled around with in his private quarters of the starship the Enterprise in the late 1980s/early 90s sci-fi series, ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’. That particular object was designed 24 years ago.
We won’t pretend to know the ins and out of copyright law and yet, we find it somewhat hard not to comment on such a delectably interesting topic. Moreover, the above Arne Jacobsen sketches add weight to the question of whether or not you can copyright a geometric shape and draws attention to the past achievements and relativity of design history itself. Ultimately, it’s a nice, little reminder that our ancestors are not as stuffy and old-fashioned as it’s easy to think they are. Clearly that’s far from being the case. They were, however, quite dissimilar in a number of ways.
Back to the Future
1929 was in so many ways a very different time to 2011. In terms of sensibilities, perception and outlook, the thinkers, artists and designers were almost all of them bent on looking to the future. There was a certain thrust towards the unknown. A drive that propelled creatives and intellectuals into a realm of open-ended possibility rather than the critical distance and retrospective, analytical methodologies that pervade the creative mindset of postmodern cultural engineers. In simpler terms: we tend to take the past into account when erecting a building, designing a dress or building a TV, a dynamic you could argue has its restrictions. Maybe that's what Mike Skinner was talking about when he uttered the famous words: 'Let's push things Forward'? On the other hand, the early twentieth century’s unbridled fascination with the new wasn’t solely a good thing. When strong-willed people engage in big, novel ideas, shit has been known to hit the fan.
But luckily we Danes tend to be of a less hot-blooded stock. As you can tell from the drawings, the racy futurism that still saturated culture at that time is very apparent, albeit in a much more subdued, stylised, and modernist manner than that of for example Italian Futurism. If there was a Danish Futurist movement within the arts, it concerned itself with the form end of the spectrum rather than the conflict-inducing, poetic end. And by all accounts, that’s the way it’s been ever since. All of a sudden, we can’t help being extra proud of being a part of the Danish design heritage. Not that we weren’t been before, mind you. This is yet more proof of how forward-thinking the old, Danish masters really were - in their own calm and collected way, of course.