Andrew Michael Shanken. 194X: Architecture, Planning, and Consumer Culture on the American Home Front. University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

Shanken, like May, describes a moment when larger discourse seeped its way into the very personal areas of American lives in mid-century America. Instead of focusing on containment, like May, Shanken focuses on “planning,” as this architectural term seeped its way into American institutions: the American Birth Control League changed its name to Planned Parenthood, psychologist Erik Erikson promoted a plan for society’s mental hygiene while, and the concept of planning spread across the country through magazines such as Pencil Point and The Saturday Evening Post which advertised the preferred whiskey of “men who plan beyond tomorrow.” Shanken focus this emphasis on “planning” around Architectural Forum’s 1943 coinage of the term “194X” – a moment when planners could finally be set free to design America’s homes, towns, and cities, and the cultural anticipation that consumed architects and the general public alike during World War II. While Castillo argues that the “kitchen debates” began long before 1959, Shanken argues that modernism has too often been misunderstood as a postwar phenomenon tied to the arrival of European émigrés. But 194X was a full-fledged attempt to assimilate the modernism of European reformist ideals long before any Europeans arrived on shore.


Advertising factored heavily in this ploy by planners and architects as they tried to counter the New Deal’s suspicon of advertising as an unnecessary cost of production. Businesses tied to war commissions and unable to continue their domestic production used advertising as a way to maintain a public face. With the help of government incentives, many of these companies, especially in the building industry, hired architects to draw plans for the future and publish them in magazines and pamphlets. Some companies, such as General Electric, John Aluminum, U.S. Gypsum, and Revere Copper and Glass eagerly inserted the ways their products would be used in the postwar world, while others such as Monsanto or Pittsburgh Plate Glass just showed support for the planners’ vision of curing “sick” and blighted cities (Walter Gropius’s term).


This construction and ideological effort relied on Alvin Hansen’s take on Kensyian economics. Hansen dubbed the United States a “mature economy” and argued that the United States had lost much of its vigor after the closing of its frontier at the turn of the century, causing the Great Depression. Consumption drove Production, Keynes argued (in opposition to “Say’s Law of Markets” of classical economics). The National Resource Planning Board helped remove planning’s ties to authoritarianism and centralization and instead bolstered local democratic plans with citizen involvement. But this thinking suffered a backlash, as Keynes was met with classical economists like Friedrich A. Von Hayek and 194X, and the NRPB faltered with the conservative congressional wins of 1942. With a growing distaste for all things Communists, unfavorable compassions to Soviet projects did not help the field of planning and businesses and magazines shied away from futuristic designs and instead promoted more conservative or practical product and changes. Magazines such as Fortune, once a citadel of laissez-faire capitalism before 1943, reverted back to advertisements “forgetting miracle houses” of modernist architects.