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  • Writer's pictureRocio Alonso

Snapshot on Style - Googie Architecture

Updated: Jun 6, 2022

Architectural styles come and go, heavily influenced by current events and the context at the time of design. Design styles function to inspire as we create in the current day. In this new series, we hope to share some information about the design styles that excite us. Today’s focus comes with a unique and quirky name — Googie Architecture.

Googie architecture, a sub-sect of Mid-Century Modern architecture, originated from the Streamline Moderne architectural style, popular in the 1930s. Both Streamline Moderne and Googie styles are influenced by transportation, using design elements popularized by the industrial design of cars, ships, and planes. In fact, Googie had a strong relationship to car-culture overall with its heavy presence in suburbia. The design of architecture with Googie style pivoted from pedestrian-centric to car-centric. This is seen in the bold and large street signs equipped with neon lights and drive-in focused designs. An iconic example of this style is the oldest surviving McDonald’s in Downey, California.

Googie architecture can attribute its name to the Googies Coffee Shop in Hollywood, designed by architect John Lautner. The style was popularized through Douglas Haskell’s article in House and Home magazine in 1952. In his article, Haskell described the design of the coffee shop, creating great interest by celebrities, including James Dean who would regularly visit and eventually be photographed in the space.

“The building starts off on the level like any other building, but suddenly it breaks for the sky. The bright red roof of cellular steel decking suddenly tilts upward as if swung on a hinge, and the whole building goes up with it like a rocket ramp.”

- Douglas Haskell, House and Home Magazine

Popular between 1945 to the early 1970’s, Googie architecture was heavily influenced by the fascination with futurism and the Space Age. Common elements found in Googie architecture include cantilevers, curvilinear lines, geometric shapes, bold colors, and extensive use of glass. The public fascination with futurism, visible in the popularity of The Jetsons, is present in Googie architecture through the use of parabolas, flying saucers, and boomerang shapes. The starburst is another common characteristic of Googie, functioning solely as ornament, but calling back to the whimsical and Space Age nature of the style as it is reminiscent of a supernova. A well known example of these elements of Googie are found in the iconic “Welcome to the Fabulous Las Vegas” sign.

As the Space Race de-escalated, futuristic and flashy styles similar to Googie fell out of style. The direction of design moved to be more understated and blending in rather than capturing attention. Today, Googie architecture is a thing of the past, with a great majority of Googie architecture having been demolished. The original Googie’s is no longer standing, but efforts begun in 1984 by the Los Angeles Conservancy Modern Committee have preserved several Googie projects, including coffee shops and the world’s oldest McDonald’s.

At MEL/ARCH, we are no strangers to color, likely explaining my fascination with Googie architecture. (And the quirky name makes it all that more fun!) While we won’t be including starburst or 32 foot tall neon signs in any projects soon, as designers we can appreciate the design era that was Googie. To experience the remnants of Googie architecture first-hand, one can visit California.

To learn more about Googie Architecture:

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