Space Age Aesthetics: Influencing Architecture and Interiors


Space Age Aesthetics: Influencing Architecture and Interiors

The dawn of nuclear power, dramatic advances in rocketry, and the desire to be the first to send humans into space and to the moon ushered in an era known as the the space age. At the end of World War II, the Soviets and the Allies found themselves in a state of antagonism, as they both began to struggle to make progress in space exploration before the other, a race to ‘space. The era would give way to rapid advancements in technology and huge accomplishments, including the moon landing in 1969. Space age aesthetics completely changed the way designers visualized the new world and left an impression dramatic on the architecture and interiors. A new vision of futurism and prosperity.

The World's First McDonalds (1953), California.  Image © Mary Anne EnriquezUnion Station 76 (1965).  Image © Markvanslyke/FlickrThe Theme Building (1961) at Los Angeles International Airport.  Image © Alberto GonzalesLunar base.  Image via Space 1999, 1975-1977 / Gerry and Sylvia Anderson+ 6

The rise of Googie architecture in the United States from the mid-1940s to the 1970s originated in California. Popular in the design of gas stations, motels and cafes, the style is characterized by its extensive use of glass, steel, neon lights, raised roofs and geometric shapes. It features symbolic forms of motion, visualizations of flying saucers, atoms, and more. Influences such as automotive culture and the space and atomic age served as the basis for these new and extravagant architectural forms.

The Robinson family on their home the Jupiter 2 spacecraft. Image via Lost in Space, 1965-1968/Irwin Allen
The Robinson family on their home the Jupiter 2 spacecraft. Image via Lost in Space, 1965-1968/Irwin Allen

After the catastrophic events of World War II, American suburbs grew significantly. To captivate and capitalize on commuters, businesses needed captivating new buildings to grab the attention of passers-by. A Googie building would symbolize that a business was in tune with the times, proving popular with visitors. The neon signs popularized between the 1920s and 50s were paragon in attracting this attention, with an amalgamation of bright colors and exuberant architectural forms. Googie exemplified this very optimistic outlook, it was approachable and reflected an aura of optimism, the optimism of a high-tech future.


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There was a sense 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 could soon venture into the unknowns of space. The thrill of the adventure was heightened by the depictions on television, which in themselves were high tech. Television shows such as The Jetsons (1962–1963) depicted these visions featuring a futuristic environment saturated with visualizations of Googie architecture. As the excitement grew, the imagination grew, Lost in Space broadcast between 1965 and 1968 showed viewers a futuristic family of space colonists who veered off course into the unknowns of space. . A world of robots and spaceships, a vision of the future to come.

The Theme Building (1961) at Los Angeles International Airport.  Image © Alberto Gonzales
The Theme Building (1961) at Los Angeles International Airport. Image © Alberto Gonzales

A symbol of Googie is the Theme Building (1961) at Los Angeles International Airport. Resembling a flying saucer that landed on four legs, it is a classic example of architecture influenced by the popular culture of the time. Originally 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 in the center of two stucco-covered steel arches, with a screen of decorative concrete blocks. Designed as part of post-war expansion, it recently underwent a major seismic refurbishment to ensure it remains a landmark and cultural hotspot.

Union Station 76 (1965).  Image © Markvanslyke/Flickr
Union Station 76 (1965). Image © Markvanslyke/Flickr

Union 76 Station (1965) designed by architect Gin Wong in Los Angeles, is another classic example of the Googie style. Appearing somewhat 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 shape. The building transforms as widely known, from the appearance of a magic carpet to an embellished and captivating spaceship. The building remains a functional gas station and an undisputed icon of Googie architecture.

The World's First McDonalds (1953), California.  Image © Mary Anne Enriquez
The World’s First McDonalds (1953), California. Image © Mary Anne Enriquez

As the chain’s oldest restaurant, the McDonalds in Downey, California (1953) is another classic example of Googie architecture. Designed by architect Stanley C Meston, to capture the attention of passers-by, the structure features two parabolic arches in yellow, designed to mimic the M in 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 in the world of interior design has begun to materialize, a reflection of its dominating presence in popular culture. Imaginative shapes and bright colors captured the spirit of the times, and fashionable furniture was purchased 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 Sci-Fi television series Space 1999 (1975-77), the production design sought to use futuristic features such as Harvey Guzzini’s popular Sorella table lamp in an attempt to appear as contemporary as possible. From white interiors to bold pops of color, the period popularized pedestal tables, white furniture, and brightly colored patterns.

Lunar base.  Image via Space 1999, 1975-1977 / Gerry and Sylvia Anderson
Lunar base. Image via Space 1999, 1975-1977 / Gerry and Sylvia Anderson

This article is part of ArchDaily Topics: Aesthetics, proudly presented by Vitrocsa the original minimalist windows since 1992. Vitrocsa’s goal is to merge indoors and outdoors creatively.

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