Since the launch of the original Star Trek television series in 1966, dozens of different starships have borne the USS Enterprise designation, some portrayed in television and cinema, others described in novels and magazines, all spanning an imagined timeline of some 600 years. Volumes have been written about the structure, layout and design of these famous fictional crafts. Star Trek remains the most exhaustively researched science-fiction universe ever created, with a passionate fan base of millions of fans (also known as “Trekkies”).
From an interior design perspective, the evolution of the bridge of the USS Enterprise over the years reflects three cultural influences. First and foremost, designs have been affected by each individual project’s production budget. Second, designs have been shaped by the trends and fashions of the time in which they were created. Finally, designs have been influenced by the creators’ vision of what the future will look like.
The Original Star Trek Television Series
Networks had little faith that the original Star Trek series would be a hit, so production expenses were kept to a minimum. Nevertheless, the bridge of the original Enterprise, as interpreted by designer Matt Jeffries, was surprisingly creative. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry placed the bridge on the deck of the ship, at the top of the craft’s saucer section. The first version featured gooseneck viewers, reminiscent of submarines. These incongruous features were gone by the time James Tiberius Kirk took the helm.
Post-modernism flourished during the free-wheeling 1960s when Star Trek hit the small screen. Designers were rebelling against the minimalist styles of classic modernism, opting instead for contemporary furniture with a more personal, eclectic style. This sensibility is echoed in Kirk’s bridge, with its circular, sunken floor and quirky red railings. Chairs for the crew are a perfect example of how Roddenberry used affordable contemporary furniture to convey a futuristic style.
The first Star Trek bridge was built for function; even the Captain’s chair looked uncomfortable. But the chair did feature some technological innovations, with ship controls built into the arm rests. Budget constraints may have limited the style of the first bridge, but what it lacked in expensive materials, it made up for with blinking lights and beeping sound effects. The basic layout of the bridge, with its central command chairs encircled by crew stations, would remain in almost every future Enterprise vessel.
Star Trek Films Featuring the Original Crew
When Star Trek moved from the small screen to the big screen in 1979, the bridge was given a makeover, or a “retrofit.” The Captain’s chair still held its central, raised position, but two other chairs were added into the mix. All the chairs were more stylized, with stitched detailing and subtle, arcing shapes. Instead of side chairs with flimsy seat belts, the crew enjoyed built-in, high-back swivel chairs.
The primary colors used in the original series were replaced with neutral shades. The molded plastic consoles manned by the crew not only reflected a more futuristic style, but echoed the generally softer lines of the interior design trends of the time as well. As the Star Trek movies with the original crew continued, the bridge became larger and more expansive. Larger budgets meant that more attention could be paid to the technology of the bridge, and the panels of screens and consoles played a greater role in the overall design.
The Next Generation
27 million people watched the first episode of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation. Designed by Andrew Probert, the bridge of the new Enterprise was elongated into an oval shape. For the first time, the bridge was unabashedly designed for style as well as function. Nowhere was this more evident than in the ceiling; the ceiling was a half dome, with the lower half serving as an ambient light source, crisscrossed by metallic designs. The color scheme was warm and rich, while the chairs were comfortable enough to be used in contemporary living rooms.
While the railings that had encircled every bridge thus far could not be entirely abandoned without a revolt from loyal fans, in Next Generation they assumed a more decorative position. Presumably, the railings had been viewed as a safety feature for voyages through tumultuous space. This premise was put aside with a long arcing rail of wood sloped gracefully to the floor.
When the cast of Next Generation moved into the film franchise, the look of the bridge inexplicably grew darker. Blue tones overwhelmed the warmer shades. Rather than reflecting contemporary interior design trends, the sets seemed more influenced by trending cinematic styles, with an over-abundance of lighting effects. The chairs, however, featured luxurious looking brown leather, perhaps echoing an ongoing trend towards enriching interiors with texture.
Any producer, director or set designer involved in a television show or movie in the Star Trek franchise faces the challenge of creating designs for a bridge that will be distinctive and memorable, yet simultaneously acceptable to the franchise’s multitude of loyal fans. Director J.J. Abrams took a big risk with his visual reinterpretation of the bridge in his Star Trek prequel movie. Designed by Scott Chambliss, the bridge was a radical departure in all aspects, from its layout to its lack of a central focal point. Flashy, cluttered and overloaded with flaring lighting effects, it perhaps reflected the chaos of the global financial collapse more than any clear vision of the future.
The décor trek of the enduring Star Trek saga not only documents the constantly changing vision of the franchise, but the cultural trends that have occurred over the last 45 years as well. Each Star Trek production includes contemporary furniture that producers envisioned as futuristic, providing glimpses of the styles of modern furniture that may endure for generations to come. May the art of interior design live long and prosper!