Googie architecture (also known as populuxe or doo-wop) is a form of novelty architecture and a subdivision of futurist architecture, influenced by car culture and the Space Age and Atomic Age. Originating in 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. 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.
According to author Alan Hess in his book Googie Redux: Ultramodern Roadside Architecture, the origin of the name Googie goes back to 1949, when architect John Lautner designed the coffee shop Googie's, which had very distinctive architectural characteristics. Googie's was located at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights in Los Angeles but was demolished in the 1980s. 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 one day. Haskell insisted on stopping the car upon seeing Googie's 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.
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 distinguish Googie from other forms of architecture are:
Roofs sloping at an upward angle - This is the one particular element in which architects were really showing off, and also creating a unique structure. Many roofs of Googie style coffee shops, and other structures, have a roof that appear to be 2/3 of an inverted obtuse triangle. A great example of this is the famous, but now closed, Johnie's Coffee Shop on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Starbursts - Starbursts are an ornament that goes hand in hand with the Googie style, showing its Space Age and whimsical influences. Perhaps the most notable example of the starburst appears on the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign, which has now become somewhat famous. The ornamental design is in the form of, as Hess writes, "a high-energy explosion." This shape is born of the 1950s fascination with the future and atomic age. It’s also an example of non-utilitarian design as the star shape has no actual function but merely serves as a design element.
The boomerang was another design element that captured movement. It was used structurally in place of a pillar or esthetically as a stylized arrow. Hess writes that the boomerang was a stylistic rendering of a protruding energy field.
I grew up with Googie all around me here in southern California. Now I appreciate it even more!