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Cold War on the Home Front

The Soft Power of Midcentury Design

2009
Author:

Greg Castillo

Cold War on the Home Front

An illustrated history of the persuasive impact of model homes, appliances, and furniture in cold war propaganda

The first in-depth history of how domestic environments were exploited to promote the superiority of either capitalism or socialism on both sides of the Iron Curtain, Cold War on the Home Front reveals the tactics used by the American government to seduce citizens of the Soviet bloc with state-of-the-art consumer goods and the reactions of the Communist Party.

A fascinating story about East and West at the start of the cold war. The scholarship is excellent, at once tightly focused and broadly inquisitive, and Castillo’s lyrical writing captures the surprise and the drama in this powerful narrative. While focusing on official decisions about architecture, Cold War on the Home Front skillfully juxtaposes the two sides of the international conflict over Berlin, bringing the conflict alive and capturing the fullness of its meaning.

Gwendolyn Wright, author of USA: Modern Architectures in History

Amid a display of sunshine-yellow electric appliances in a model home at the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon squared off on the merits of their respective economic systems. One of the signature events of the cold war, the impromptu Kitchen Debate has been widely viewed as the opening skirmish in a propaganda war over which superpower could provide a better standard of living for its citizens. However, as Greg Castillo shows in Cold War on the Home Front, this debate and the American National Exhibition itself were, in fact, the culmination of a decade-long ideological battle fought with refrigerators, televisions, living room suites, and prefab homes.

The first in-depth history of how domestic environments were exploited to promote the superiority of either capitalism or socialism on both sides of the Iron Curtain, Cold War on the Home Front reveals the tactics used by the American government to seduce citizens of the Soviet bloc with state-of-the-art consumer goods and the reactions of the Communist Party. Beginning in 1950, the U.S. State Department sponsored home expositions in West Berlin that were specifically designed to attract residents of East Berlin, featuring dream homes with modernist furnishings that presented an idealized vision of the lifestyle enjoyed by the consumer-citizen in the West. In response, Party authorities in East Germany staged socialist home expositions intended to evoke the domestic ideal of a cultured proletariat.

Castillo closely follows the course of this escalating rivalry between competing consumer cultures through the 1950s, concluding that the Soviet bloc’s inability to make good on the claim that it could emulate goods and living standards offered by the West was a contributing factor in communism’s eventual demise. Using a mosaic of sources ranging from recently declassified government documents to homemaking journals and popular fiction, Cold War on the Home Front contributes an engaging new perspective on midcentury modernist style and its political uses at the dawn of the cold war.

Cold War on the Home Front

Greg Castillo is associate professor at the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley, and is a research associate at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

Cold War on the Home Front

A fascinating story about East and West at the start of the cold war. The scholarship is excellent, at once tightly focused and broadly inquisitive, and Castillo’s lyrical writing captures the surprise and the drama in this powerful narrative. While focusing on official decisions about architecture, Cold War on the Home Front skillfully juxtaposes the two sides of the international conflict over Berlin, bringing the conflict alive and capturing the fullness of its meaning.

Gwendolyn Wright, author of USA: Modern Architectures in History

Cold War on the Home Front makes a significant contribution, both in terms of archival evidence and of the sophistication of his argument, to an evolving literature on culture, consumerism, and the Cold War. This book is richly informative.

Walter Hixson, author of The Myth of American Diplomacy: National Identity and U.S. Foreign Policy

Well researched and lively in tone, Castillo’s book is a reminder that the artifacts of everyday life are often carriers of ideological meaning.

Shepherd Express

Castillo’s merit lies not only in the thorough academic work, but especially in the presentation of his findings within a narrative that does not allow us to merely look at the history of model homes over half a century ago, but demands of us to place ourselves within the consequences of the post-war era.

H-Soz-u-Kult

The book is extensively researched, including an incredibly thorough and thoughtful review of existing literature—both scholarly and popular.

Art Libraries Society of North America

One of the truly promising developments of recent years has been the shift within the literature of design from coffee-table displays and celebrity monographs to works of genuine scholarly merit. Greg Castillo’s Cold War on the Home Front is exemplary of this trend.

Technology and Culture

[Castillo’s] book is an outstanding contribution to our understanding of early Cold War culture.

German History

Castillo skillfully avoids another tired regurgitation of imperial Americanization. Instead he presents a picture of a fascinating superpower contest for the hearts and minds of consumers. technology.

Journal of American History

Rich in concept and detail, this book can show sociologists the payoff for looking closely at artifacts and tracing their uses with a minimum of preconceived theoretical baggage.

Contemporary Sociology

Castillo revises the standard postwar triumphalism by his nuanced reading of modernism’s other postwar history, revealing what was going on back in Germany at exactly the same time that the Eamses, George Nelson, Herman Miller, and Knoll were becoming household names.

Buildings & Landscapes

One decade after 9/11, with the United States still walling up its embassies, acting unilaterally, and engaging in hot wars, we would do well to heed the lessons of soft power---an asset Castillo so effectively reveals in Cold War on the Home Front.

Buildings & Landscapes

Greg Castillo’s well-researched and written book successfully compliments and extends existing studies of domesticity’s politics during the Cold War. In so doing, it offers a new way to understand American and Soviet efforts to design ideal structures within which to house competing ideologies.

American Studies

Useful and timely investigation.

Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review

Castillo’s integrated history of both sides of the war and emphasis on soft power provides an important standard for any subsequent study.

CAA Reviews