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Googie space age

Charles and Ray Eames - architecture - Jet Age - space - modernism - design - 1950s - 1960s

1959 Cadillac Eldorado

LAX theme building, 1960s Williams designed this futuristic landmark with architects Pereira & Luckman.
image sourced here.
Photo Karen Hudson


Googie, also known as populuxe, is a form of architecture, originating from southern California in the late 1940s and continuing approximately into the mid-1960s. It was influenced by car culture and the Space Age. With upswept roofs and, often, curvaceous, geometric shapes, and bold use of glass, steel and neon, it decorated many a motel, coffee house and bowling alley in the 1950s and 1960s. It epitomises the spirit a generation demanded, looking excitedly towards a bright, technological and futuristic age. As it became clear that the future would not look like The Jetsons, the style came to be timeless rather than futuristic. As with the art deco style of the 1930s it has remained undervalued until many of its finest examples have been destroyed.

America's preoccupation with space travel had a significant influence on the unique style of Googie architecture. Speculation about space travel had roots going as far back as 1920s science fiction. In the 1950s, space travel became a reality for the first time in history. In 1957, America's preoccupation grew into an obsession, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the first human-made satellite to "break the surly bonds" of the Earth's atmosphere and "rise unshackled to the dark serene". The obsession intensified into a near mania when the Soviet Union launched Vostok 1 carrying the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into Earth orbit in 1961. The Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations made competing with the Soviets for dominance in space a national priority of considerably urgency and importance. This marked the beginning of "The Space Race".

With space travel such an important part of the national zeitgeist, architects decided that they wanted to give people a little taste of the future in the here and now. Googie style signs usually have something with sharp and bold angles, which suggest the aerodynamic features of a rocket ship (ilustration. left). Also, at the time, the unique architecture was a form of architectural braggadocio, as rockets were technological novelties at the time. Perhaps the most famous example of Googie's legacy is the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington (illustration, above right). A revealing comparison can be made between the Space Needle and the non-Googie Osaka Tower of 1956.

Googie heavily influenced retro-futurism. The somewhat cartoonish style is appropriately exemplified in the Jetsons cartoons; the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California featured a Googie Tomorrowland. Three classic locations for Googie were Miami Beach, Florida, where secondary commercial structures took hints from the resort Baroque of Morris Lapidus and other hotel designers, the first phase of Las Vegas, Nevada, and Southern California, where Richard Neutra built a drive-in church in Garden Grove.

Eye-catching Googie style flourished in a carnival atmosphere along multi-lane highways, in motel architecture and above all in signage. Private clients were the backbone of Googie, though the Seattle Space Needle qualifies as Establishment Googie.

Cantilevered structures, acute angles, illuminated plastic panelling, freeform boomerang and artist's palette shapes and cutouts, and tailfins on buildings marked Googie architecture, which was beneath contempt to the architects of Modernism, but found defenders in the post-Modern climate at the end of the 20th century. The common elements that generally distiguish Googie from other forms of architecture are:

Architecture professor Douglas Haskel (mentioned below) perhaps described the Googie style best saying that "If it looks like a bird, it must be a geometric bird." Also, the buildings must appear in some cases to defy gravity, as Haskel noted that "whenever possible, the building must hang from the sky." Also, Googie is not a style noted for its subtlty, as inclusion, rather than minimalism, is one of the central features.

The origin of the name "Googie" is a matter of some speculation amongst enthusiasts. According to author Alan Hess in his book "Googie: Fifties Coffee Shop Architecture", he claims that Googie goes back to the late 1940s, when architect John Lautner designed several coffee shops, one by the name of "Googie's", which all had the very distinctive architectural characteristics. This coffee shop was on the corner of Sunset Boulevard, and Crescent Heights in Los Angeles, but has long since been demolished. According to Hess, the name "Googie" stuck as a rubric for the architectural style when Professor Douglass Haskell of Yale, and architectural photographer Julius Shulman were driving through Los Angeles on day. Haskell insisted on stopping the car upon seeing "Googies", and proclaimed "This is Googie architecture". He made the name stick after an article he wrote appeared in a 1952 edition of "House and Home" magazine.

To some, the name Googie has been associated with an architectural style conidered to be an aesthetic abomination. To others though, the Googie style shows how whimsical humor and enthusiasm about the future can be cleverly translated into architectural style, and brings back good memories of a now bygone era. Like most things that represent a certain style that's in vogue, the style eventually fell out of favor. Furthermore, over time, numerous examples of the Googie style have either fallen into disrepair, or been destroyed completely, to be replaced usually with buildings that are functional, but lack the kitschy charm of Googie. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Googie [May 2005]

Charles and Ray Eames

Eames chairs

Via Functionalfate.org, a weblog that documents design, in particular the white monoblock. --http://www.functionalfate.org.

Charles and Ray Eames
Perhaps the most notable couple in the history of the field of industrial design. Americans, Charles (1907-1978) and Ray Eames (1912-1988) made major contributions to the emergence of industrial design as a mature discipline. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_and_Ray_Eames [Sept 2005]

Dedicated to Mickie.

See also: furniture - design - mass - industrial design

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