Pointless, exaggerated, mediocre, disposable, contrived, one-hit wonder, highly processed, synthetic, commercialized, opportunistic, only about making the quick buck. All of these words have described both Googie architecture and Bubblegum pop music. But tons of critics aren't all they have in common; both are catchy, memorable, exuberant, and fun.

welcome to Las Vegas sign
Probably the most famous Googie sign, designed by Betty Willis (1959). Photo by: Madcoverboy at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Audience Specific

One of the commonalities of Bubblegum pop and Googie architecture is that they both have very specific audiences. The term “Bubblegum pop” was coined in the 1960s to describe the music that was being mass-produced and marketed to teenagers. As a style, it has evolved over the years but is still very prevalent in music today. So long as teens continue to enjoy the catchy choruses and upbeat music, Bubblegum pop will be there.

Similarly, the audience that developed from the beginning of car culture, the atomic age, and the fascination with space between the 1940-1970s played heavily into the development of the Googie style of architecture. Since one of the main aspects of this style is the need to be seen, Googie was specifically about gaining the attention of motorists on the highway, and it did a good job! Can you imagine not being intrigued seeing this out your window on a long road trip?

coffee shop, gas station and car wash in the Googie architecture style
For the car-culture revolution, with the need to be seen and be distinct from the highway, Googie architecture was bright and bold in design. Left: Norm’s Coffee Shop in Los Angeles by Armet & Davis (1957), Sharon VanderKaay, CC BY-2.0, via Flickr. Center: Union 76 Gas Station in Beverly Hills by Pereira and Associates (1965), Googie Man, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Flickr. Right: Sparkle Car Wash in San Bernadino, Cogart Strangehill, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Average Consumer

Neither style was meant to be high-brow. Instead, they were meant for the average consumer. This is a sharp contrast for Googie because, unlike many of the previous architectural styles, Googie generally wasn’t reserved for large civic spaces, religious buildings, academic buildings, or homes of the wealthy. Googie was used for unpretentious, average buildings that were designed for day-to-day use by the mass consumer in roadside restaurants, bowling alleys, gas stations, and car washes.  

car wash, coffee shop and bowling alley done in Googie architecture style
Not your typical high-brow architecture, Googie sought to bring its futuristic style to the average person in their day-to-day lives. Left: Hollywood Stars Car Wash in North Hollywood, Junkyardsparkle, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons. Center: Johnie’s Coffee Shop in Los Angeles by Armet & Davis (1956), ChildofMidnight at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Right: Mission Hills Bowl in Mission Hills by Martin Stern Jr. (1957), Kent Kanouse, CC BY-NC 2.0, via Flickr.

Exaggerated Energy

One of the main characteristics of both Bubblegum pop and Googie architecture is their energy. Bubblegum pop is upbeat and energetic music, with simple chords and memorable choruses. Target audiences became zealous followers of the songs and style, singing and dancing along with the music while pulling it through the decades. 

Googie architecture was all about capturing energy in the design. Bold sweeping geometries, seemingly weightless cantilevers, bright colors, and neon lights all brought a sense of movement to the style. With their space-age influences and bold material choices, these buildings were not intended to be subtle.  

Theme Building, Space Needle and Las Vegas sign
Over-the-top, futuristic, and space-obsessed, with gravity-defying structures, swooping lines, boomerang shapes, and star-burst patterns Googie strived to portray motion in design. Left: Theme Building in Los Angeles by Pereira & Luckman Architects (1957), Steven Lek, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Center: Space Needle in Seattle by John Graham & Company (1961), MyName (Cacophony), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Right: Welcome Sign in Las Vegas by Betty Willis (1959), Thomas Wolf,, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons. 

The Future and Beyond

While Bubblegum pop has persevered in some form over the years, Googie has not. For a style that was built on the ideals of technological optimism and futuristic design, Googie very quickly fell out of favor and never made its splash on the future of architecture. Rarely praised by mainstream architecture and seen as little more than gaudy service buildings, few Googie designs have survived to today. Those that have survived are beloved pieces of their communities because no matter the ridicule this style originally garnered: Googie (and Bubblegum pop) is fun!

back of the Welcome to Las Vegas sign
Googie should be enjoyed more often, come back soon! Photo: Welcome to Las Vegas Sign by Betty Willis (1959) Pobrien301, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


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