The Space Age Aesthetic: Influencing Architecture and Interiors
The dawn of nuclear power, dramatic advances in rocketry, and the desire to be the first to put men into space and on the moon, kick-started an era known as the ‘Space Age’. Upon the closure of WW2, both the Soviets and the Allies found themselves in a state of antagonism, as they both began to struggle to make advancements in space exploration before the other, a race for space. The era would give way to rapid advancements in technology and huge accomplishments including the moon landing in 1969. The Space Age aesthetic completely changed the way designers visualized the new world and left a dramatic impression on architecture and interiors. A new vision of futurism and prosperity.
The rise of Googie architecture in the US from the mid-’40s to the ’70s originated in California. Popular in the design of gas stations, motels and coffee houses, the style is characterized by its heavy use of glass, steel, neon, up-swept roofs and geometric shapes. It presents forms symbolic of that of motion, visualizations of flying saucers, atoms etc. Influences including car culture and both the space and atomic age offered a basis for these new and outlandish architectural forms.
After the catastrophic events of WW2, suburbs in the US grew dramatically. To captivate and capitalize on commuters, businesses needed captivating new buildings to catch the attention of passers-by. A Googie building would symbolize that a business was with the times, proving popular with visitors. Neon signs popularized between the 1920’s and 50’s were paragon in the ensnarement of this attention, with an amalgamation of vivid colors and exuberant architectural forms. Googie exemplified this very sanguine outlook, it was accessible and reflected an aura of optimism, optimism of a high-tech future.
Googie Architecture: Futurism Through Modernism
There was a feeling of anticipation and excitement. The birth of atomic science brought the promise of futuristic societies powered by nuclear energy and the space race made many realize that humans may soon venture into the unknowns of Space. The thrill of adventure was heightened through depictions on television, which was high-tech in itself. TV shows such as The Jetsons (1962-1963) portrayed these visions presenting a futuristic environment saturated with visualizations of Googie architecture. As excitement grew so did imaginations, Lost in Space aired between 1965-1968 showed viewers a futuristic family of space colonists who veered off course into the unknowns of space. A world of robots and space ships, a vision of the future soon to come.
A symbol of Googie is the Theme building (1961) at Los Angeles International Airport. Resembling a flying saucer that has landed upon four legs, it is a classic example of architecture influenced by the popular culture of the time. Initially designed by Pereira & Luckman Architects and then Paul Revere Williams, the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and Welton Becket, it features a restaurant suspended from the center of two arches of stucco-covered steel, with a screen of decorative concrete blocks. Designed as part of post-war expansion it has recently undergone extensive seismic retrofit to ensure it remains a landmark and cultural hotspot.
The Union 76 Station (1965) designed by architect Gin Wong in Los Angeles, is another classic example of the Googie style. Appearing much like a flying carpet anchored to the ground with pillars, it features a canopy decorated with red tiles and fluorescent lights that follow its curved form. The building transforms itself as widely known, from the appearance of a flying carpet to an embellished and captivating spaceship. The building remains a functioning gas station and an indisputable icon of Googie architecture.
As the oldest surviving restaurant in the chain, the McDonalds in Downey, California (1953) is another classic example of Googie architecture. Designed by architect Stanley C Meston, to capture the attention of those passers-by, the structure features two parabolic arches in yellow, designed to mimic the M within the McDonald’s logo. Designed with the intention of being simple and easy to replicate, this golden arch design is one of the earliest and most successful examples of architectural branding.
The Space Age aesthetic within the interior design world began to materialize, a reflection of its domineering presence in popular culture. Imaginative forms and bright colors captured the spirit of the period, and trendy furniture was bought for its fashionable nature rather than its ability to last. Ephemeral and visually captivating pieces that rejected the traditional; the rise of plastics to replace wood as the leading material of the moment. As an example in the hit TV Sci-Fi series Space 1999 (1975-77) production design sought to use futuristic features such as the popular Sorella Table lamp by Harvey Guzzini in an effort to appear as contemporary as attainable. From white interiors with vivid pops of color, the period popularized pedestal chairs, white furniture, and vividly colored designs.
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Googie Architecture: Futurism Through Modernism