Before We Had Google, There Was Googie Architecture

Few things are more representative of the modern zeitgeist than Google. But there was a time when the same thing was said about Googie architecture.

Between the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Googie was the undisputed “look of tomorrow.

While Kennedy spoke of Man going to the Moon, it was Googie-style architecture that made the Space Age come to life via cantilevered elements, parabolic boomerang shapes, bold colors and whiz-bang angles.

Famous examples of Googie Architecture are the Theme Building at LAX, the Space Needle in Seattle, Space Mountain at Disney and the TWA Terminal at JFK Airport.

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But Googie design elements became directly accessible to the everyday consumer at places like the Original McDonald’s restaurants.

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You can see the Googie influence in both the architecture and cars in the parking lot.

The mecca of Googie-style was Southern California, and architects like Eldon Davis and Stanley Metson brought the space-age to the every-day.

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Gas stations, bowling alleys, movie theaters, motels and restaurants like Norm’s, Pann’s, Chips’ and Googie’s (the style’s namesake), became the iconic epicenters of a future that was already here today.

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Googie was pure, eye-sugar escapism. At a glance, we could escape the mundane with the rush of the future.

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To the business-owner, Googie meant profits.

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From a design standpoint, Googie combined the groundbreaking architectural design use of cantilevered concrete, steel and plate-glass popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright — with the abstract art of painter Wassily Kandinsky.

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, designed in 1935.

Those iconic Googie signs are like the 3D rendering of a Kandinsky painting. You will see the same bold, primary color patterns, shapes and raygun zaniness.

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Points, 1920, by Wassily Kandinsky. Note the Golden Arches!

The true impetus behind Googie-style was the boom of American car-culture. Even in the 1950’s, L.A. was a driving city. And the eye-catching Googie designs and bright neon helped businesses entice patrons from the road.

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‘Norms’ by Ashok Sinha

Successful Advertising and Commerce helped move architectural design choices and car culture in a similar direction as the entire Googie aesthetic emerged. And cars of the 1950’s became the rocket ship of the Everyman.

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1959 Chevy

There was a moment in time when you could drive to Disneyland Anaheim for vacation in your ’59 Chevy and be utterly immersed in a Googie world of the future.

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Gas up at a Googie filling station, grab lunch at a Googie burger joint, go to Tomorrowland at Disney, catch a movie at the Googie cinema, go bowling at Googie Lanes, then head back for a swim at the Googie Motel.

The Future was awesome.

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Imagining a life inside a futuro-fantasy is not entirely unlike our world today.

Only now, we’re immersed in Google’s brand of escapism. The entire world at our fingertips on Google Search, Google Maps, YouTube, Gmail — all on a Google Smartphone.

Mostly, Googie-style has gone the way of the Seattle Supersonics.

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And unlike that evergreen-cool cousin Mid-Century Modern — there’s been no Googie renaissance. There is no thriving market for vintage Googie furniture (and their knock-offs) the way there is for the icons of Mid-Century Modern like the Eames Chair.

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While consumer sentiment has trended towards teaks and tweed vs. kitsch and plastic, nevertheless, the examples of Googie that have survived are nothing short of Iconic.

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Think Superdawg in Chicago or the Welcome To Las Vegas sign.

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While it’s odd that our forefathers thought for a time that the future would be so zany and non-linear — perhaps the Googie experiment was necessary?

By pushing the limits and experimenting with the inefficiencies of building in Googie-style — design organically evolved away from it — to cleaner, more pragmatic lines.

For instance, from a manufacturing standpoint, the trunk of the 1959 Chevy was surely an absolute pain in the ass to fabricate — not to mention expensive. That’s a losing combination.

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1964 Chevy

By 1964, natural selection had moved designs from wonky towards pragmatic.

But Googie sure got some things right.

Googie was on time for the giant first wave of American advertising.

Bold, primary color patterns are still so enchanting — so attention-grabbing — that tech whistleblowers like former Google employee Tristan Harris now recommend we turn our phone screens to greyscale to combat phone addiction.

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Google Doodle, December 16, 2014, Wassily Kandinsky’s 148th Birthday

Google, an advertising company, owes a small debt of gratitude to Googie. At very least, it shouldn’t auto-correct “Googie” to “Google” in the search bar.

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Medium thinks Googie is misspelled.

When I look deeper into Googie-style’s inability to sustain, I come back to those ethereal architectural renderings. The real thing just comes up short compared to the concepts of Eldon Davis.

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Thus, we’re nostalgic for a future that never came to pass. And it’s fitting that Googie was truly perfected in the cartoon world of The Jetson’s.

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Thanks for reading!

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