Where And Why Does A Design Movement Start? (Part 2)

Atom Punk is sometimes called “Space-age fetishism” but grew out of a fascination with the first Russian Sputnik space capsules, radioactive powers of superheroes, the space race between the US and the USSR with a bit of science fiction too. It is a sub-culture that is devoted to the period between 1945 and 1965 when, in America, there was a shiny optimism about the future combined with a paranoid fear of the Russian menace.

This is homage to the ‘Atomic Age’ when everything was new, bright and glossy, not dirty like Steam Punk. ‘Retro Futurism’ is an earlier and more accurate name for what has become Atom Punk; it is a nostalgic recollection of a past vision of the ‘future’ when the empowering effects of technology were viewed positively, unlike today when there is a feeling that technology can be alienating.

Among the artifacts of Atom Punk culture the raygun is an object for both examination and modeling; ‘Raygun Gothic’ is considered a style in its own right. Fashion trends based on science fiction movies such as ‘Barbarella’ combine 60s pop cultures looks as worn by superstar models like ‘Twiggy’ with silver space suits and helmets reminiscent of old-style commercial hair dryers.

In architecture there was a somewhat grim style of Soviet era building that characterizes this period, whilst in America the look is more appealing. The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport and Laurel Canyon style ‘futuristic’ homes are typical of the optimistic view of the future in the US.


There were a number of concept cars designed in the 1945 to 1965 period that demonstrated that optimism with a space age styling theme but I am not sure that this look has had a strong influence on contemporary car design. Modern sharp edged design themes come from a different direction, although maybe the McLaren P1 has a bit of ‘Retro Futurism’ about it.

The fact that the future only exists as an act of imagination or belief does not stop people like Syd Mead or the illustrators at 600v DeviantArt from showing us what that 60s vision of the future might look like. There are however a number of interesting illustration styles that come from Atom Punk that are worth studying even if more recently we are sometimes alarmed to ask ourselves what the future might actually look like.


Therefore the calming nature of ‘Ocean’ or ‘Sea Punk’ comes as a welcome diversion to many trend followers; a mixture of Jules Verne’s ‘Captain Nemo’, Kevin Reynold’s movie ‘Waterworld’ and wistfully remembered beach holidays, Ocean Punk is mostly about the colors. As is so often the case with these style-led subcultures there are watches, jewelry, fashion and illustrations that are clearly derived from the premise that the seas are still a great source of inspiration.

The term ‘Seapunk’ is said to have been first used by the DJ @lilinternet in 2011, Cluster magazine described it as “a mostly Internet-based phenomenon as a way of describing a lifestyle aesthetic that is all things oceanic and of the sea”, the New York Times suggests that the music associated with Seapunk “is a ‘tiny’ subgenre that borrows from styles such as witch house, chiptune, drum and base and southern rap”. Good pretentious stuff, but the colors are fresh and the style is cool.

Once again the addition of the word ‘punk’ is used to turn a simple design style into a movement or culture, something that can help focus creativity in an original direction does not always stay original for long as imitators join the club; but it is still refreshing to see that creative people keep on pushing ahead, much to my delight.

And there is more – next time it’s the final part of ‘—- Punk’ culture, two more sub-genres!

About Peter Stevens Peter Stevens is a world-renowned vehicle designer and former Visiting Professor of Vehicle Design at the Royal College of Art in London. Over the course of his career, he’s been chief designer at Lotus Cars, McLaren and Lamborghini and design director for MG, Mahindra and Mahindra and Rivian Automotive. He’s also worked as a design consultant for Prodrive, BMW, Williams and Toyota. You can catch up with his antics on his Facebook page and his new website.


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