On Tuesday, August 3rd, Welden Owen and Insight Editions are releasing a new coffee table book all about the distinctive midcentury modern style of Star Trek: The Original Series. TrekMovie had an exclusive look at what’s inside and a chance to speak with authors Dan Chavkin and Brian McGuire about what it took to put together this unique book.
Star Trek: Designing the Final Frontier
Not only did the original Star Trek launch a venerable sci-fi franchise, it also set a new standard for design and aesthetics. The new book Star Trek: Designing the Final Frontier is a thorough investigation of the art direction and set design of TOS that examines how midcentury modernism was employed to portray the twenty-third century. It takes a close look at the work of the American and European designers that were utilized to create a futuristic aesthetic for the U.S.S. Enterprise and the variety of cultures they visited. The book includes seldom-seen storyboards and set sketches by Art Director Matt Jefferies, as well as examining the creative process behind the designs in a number of episodes.
Designing the Final Frontier was co-written by acclaimed architectural photographer Dan Chavkin, who has previously published two books on mid-century design. He was drawn to Star Trek as an adult, telling TrekMovie, “There was always a mystique surrounding Star Trek—the plots, characters, and philosophy as well as the overall design aesthetic.” Chavkin explains his inspiration came during a recent binge-watch of the entire TOS series, saying, “During my viewing, I immediately identified myriad examples of modernism, thus the idea for the book was born.”
Chavkin’s co-author is science researcher Brian McGuire, a life-long Star Trek aficionado whose mid-century Palm Springs home is on the National Register of Historic Places. On his Trek fandom, McGuire tells TrekMovie, “What I found so compelling was observing the chemistry of such interesting characters—top professionals in their field—working and living together with all their character traits and flaws in the contained environment of a spaceship.”
Work on the book has taken the pair over four years of on and off work, much of which was spent identifying just who at ViacomCBS could give them the greenlight to assist with the research. The development was initiated with author Dan Chavkin binge-watching episodes, freeze-framing, and screen-grabbing items he deemed to be of interest. He then researched each item, including identifying the designer and manufacturer. Dan’s research also including locating vintage advertisements and high-resolution photos.
Co-author Brian McGuire prepared summaries of each featured episode and, tying into Dan’s text, described how the item or the set as a whole articulated with the plot of the story. The pair were allowed access to the ViacomCBS Star Trek Archive and Product Development facility in California, where they were able to find set stills and promotional shots and start the process for the acquisition of high-resolution episode images to illustrate the book.
The book focuses on the USS Enterprise and around 30 episodes that most exemplify the influence of modernism on the show. While many episodes of the original series featured primitive cultures, “The number of examples of high-end design used to represent alien cultures and starbases surprised both of us,” McGuire tells TrekMovie. The 13 episodes that featured the most get their own chapters in the book.
In an email to TrekMovie, the authors detail four episodes as prime examples of the influence of modernism on Star Trek:
Season One’s “A Taste of Armageddon” (set decorator: Marvin March) took place on an advanced planet engaged in a 500-year computerized war with a neighboring planet. Modernism was reflected both in the architecture of the city and in the furnishings and art of the living quarters and public spaces. It appeared that a contrast was being made between the sophisticated tastes of the race and their inability to find a diplomatic solution to the brutal war that required thousands of its inhabitants to be vaporized in disintegration chambers.
Season Two’s “Assignment: Earth” (set decorator: John Dwyer) was a time-travel story and took the Enterprise and crew to the mid-1960s United States. Gary Seven’s Manhattan flat was full of midcentury modernism. Additionally, the establishing shots of Kennedy Space Center one year before the successful 1969 moon launch were prophetic: that was where space travel was born. Kirk and Spock were faced with an interesting dilemma: by intervening in past events, might they obliterate their own present and future?
Season Three’s “The Cloud Minders” (set decorator: John Dwyer) presents another study in contrasts: The Cloud City of Stratos, steeped in intellectual pursuit and artistic and architectural accomplishment versus the primitive planet surface where the Troglytes live as miners, denied access to the cloud city and its cultural benefits. Stratos came to life through Art Director Matt Jefferies’ concept sketches, Albert Whitlock’s matte paintings, and John Dwyer’s furnishings.
Season Two’s “Metamorphosis” (set decorator: Joseph Stone) was based on the premise that the very clever Zephram Cochrane (who incidentally invented the warp drive), in crash-landing on a planetoid, was able to build a modernist steel cabin and (channeling quite a few midcentury designers) fill it with an impressive assortment of art and furnishings ostensibly built from spaceship debris.
All the artwork above and much much more is available in Star Trek: Designing the Final Frontier by Dan Chavkin and Brian McGuire, published by Weldon Owen/Insight Editions. The 168-page hardcover coffee table book will be released on August 3rd, 2021. You can pre-order it at Amazon for $39.99.
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