According to The Jetsons, the world should be full of Googie architecture now. “Googie architecture brought the excitement and innovation of modern architecture to the daily lives of Americans in the mid-twentieth century,” says Alan Hess, author of Googie Redux: Ultramodern Roadside Architecture and Googie Modern: Architecture Drawings of Armet Davis Newlove. “While modern architecture was mainly used for lavish custom homes or skyscrapers…Googie was used for the buildings of daily life that everyone could use: coffee shops, gas stations, car washes, car dealerships, drive-in laundries, and drive-in movies.” Popular from 1945–1970 and inspired by cars, jets, and the Space Age, the style was modern and futuristic during its heyday. As such, it’s no surprise that the creators of the forward-thinking television series used Googie as a basis for the architecture in the show.
Common elements of the style include starbursts and upward-pitched roofs. “You can tell Googie building design by the eye-catching roofline, often expressing a modern engineering principle: cantilevers, hyperbolic paraboloids, broad trusses, or catenary curves,” Hess says. “Googie buildings also had large plate glass windows stretching from floor to ceiling.”
Unfortunately, many prominent Googie buildings have been demolished, as they were never quite seen as serious among architecture critics—which is potentially the reason the style remains somewhat forgotten. Still, Hess argues, this is a mistake. “Googie followed the fundamental rule of modern architecture: Form follows function,” he says. “Its eye-catching shapes and ultramodern interiors were scaled to respond to the fact that they were meant to be seen by motorists from automobiles driving by at 30 or 40 mph.” Furthermore, Googies Coffee Shop, the small 1949 coffee house on Sunset Strip from which the style got its name, was designed by a prominent student of Frank Lloyd Wright, John Lautner. “The direct connection to Wright underscores that Googie is a serious example of modern architecture.”
While the style originated in California, it did spread throughout the country, reaching as far as New Jersey. Many great examples of the retro-futuristic aesthetic can be seen at the Wildwoods Shore Resort Historic District in New Jersey and across Southern California. However, arguably the most well-recognized example of Googie isn’t a building at all but rather the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign in Nevada.