Space Age architecture. We’ve all probably seen it, although it’s a bit hard to define; you know it when you see it, right? I never knew what the terminology was, until now; and boy, is there ever a lot of it!
Googie, also known as populuxe or doo-wop, is a subdivision of futurist architecture, influenced by car culture and the Space Age and Atomic Age, originating from Southern California in the late 1940s and continuing approximately into the mid-1960s. The types of buildings that were most frequently designed in a Googie style were motels, coffee houses and bowling alleys.
Features of Googie include upswept roofs, curvaceous, geometric shapes, and bold use of glass, steel and neon. Googie was also characterized by space-age designs that depict motion, such as boomerangs, flying saucers, atoms and parabolas, and free-form designs such as “soft” parallelograms and the ubiquitous artist’s-palette motif. These stylistic conventions reflected American society’s emphasis on futuristic designs and fascination with Space Age themes. The style is related to and sometimes synonymous with the Raygun Gothic style as coined by writer William Gibson. As with the art deco style of the 1930s, Googie became undervalued as time passed, and many buildings built in this style have been destroyed.
Photo courtesy of RecentPast.org
I found another page with a far more extensive article on the Space Age style, and the theory behind it:
Googie architecture and design was art that told a story. The story had many variations, but its general plot was always something like this:
Man left his caves and grass huts and through hard work and ingenuity has built an amazing modern world. Tomorrow he will conquer any remaining problems and colonize the rest of the galaxy. However, for all his achievements and modern science man will never lose touch with the natural world and his noble roots.
It then launches into a detailed description of the design elements usually seen in this style. It all relates to space, more or less, but the last four seem particularly relevant:
Atomic Models — This design element appeared in everything from sculpture and roadsigns to dinnerware patterns and household appliances. The interlocking rings of the atomic model were a symbol of man’s scientific ingenuity and represented the unlimited power that would make our future utopia possible. It also doubled as an (inaccurate) model of the solar system.
Starbursts — An even more ubiquitous design element than the atomic model, the starburst took many forms. Just as the atomic model was shorthand for the “innerspace” scientists were exploring, starbursts were symbolic of the outer space being explored by astronauts. It also implied clean and shining surfaces.
Exposed steel beams — These were usually more about appearance than function, but could serve both purposes. Painted steel I-beams often had geometric holes cut in them which served the dual purpose of making them lighter and enhancing their visual similarity to rocket gantries.
Flying Saucer Shapes — Again, this motif was taken from the movies and covers of science fiction books and magazines. The Space Needle in Seattle, Wash. is an excellent example.
One of the style rules for Googie, according to this site, is to “Ignore gravity altogether. ‘Whenever possible, the building must hang from the sky.’ ” I think that’s the most accurate nutshell I’ve seen for this style; it really puts a fine point on what was so visually marvelous about a (now, mostly lost) golden era of design.
Stay tuned next week for more thoughts on the style in general, and Raygun Gothic in particular.