Google's beginnings are with the Streamline Moderne architecture of the 1930s. Alan Hess, one of the most knowledgeable writers on the subject, writes in Google: Ultra Modern Road Side Architecture that mobility in Los Angeles during the 1930s was characterized by the initial influx of the automobile and the service industry that evolved to cater to it. With car ownership increasing, cities no longer had to be centered on a central downtown but could spread out to the suburbs, where business hubs could be interspersed with residential areas. The suburbs offered less congestion by offering the same businesses, but accessible by car. Instead of one main store downtown, businesses now had multiple stores in suburban areas. This new trend required owners and architects to develop a visual imagery so customers would recognize it from the road. This modern consumer architecture was based on communication.
The new smaller suburban drive-in restaurants were essentially architectural signboards advertising the business to vehicles on the road. This was achieved by using bold style choices, including large pylons with elevated signs, bold neon letters and circular pavilions. Hess writes that because of the increase in mass production and travel during the 1930s, Streamline Moderne became popular because of the high energy silhouettes its sleek designs created. These buildings featured rounded edges, large pylons and neon lights, all symbolizing, according to Hess, "invisible forces of speed and energy", that reflect the influx of mobility that cars, locomotives and zeppelins brought.
Streamline Moderne, much like Google, was styled to look futuristic to signal the beginning of a new era – that of the automobile and other technologies. Drive-in services such as diners, movie theaters and gas stations built with the same principles developed to serve the new American city. Drive-ins had advanced car-oriented architectural design, as they were built with an expressive utilitarian style, circular and surrounded by a parking lot, allowing all customers equal access from their cars. These developments in consumer-oriented design set the stage for Google during the 1950s, since during the 1940s World War II and rationing caused a pause of development because of the imposed frugality on the American public.
The prosperous 1950s, however, celebrated its affluence with optimistic designs. The development of nuclear power and the reality of spaceflight captivated the public’s imagination of the future. Google architecture exploited this trend by incorporating energy into its design with elements such as the boomerang, diagonals, atomic bursts and bright colors. According to Hess, commercial architecture was influenced by the desires of the mass audience. The public was captivated by rocket ships and nuclear energy, so, in order to draw their attention, architects used these as motifs in their work. Buildings had been used to catch the attention of motorists since the invention of the car, but during the 1950s the style became more widespread.
The identity of the first architect to practice in the style is often disputed, though Wayne McAllister was one early and influential architect in starting the style with his 1949 Bob's Big Boy restaurant in Burbank. McAllister got his start designing fashionable restaurants in Southern California which led to a series of Streamline Moderne drive-ins during the 1930s; though he did not have formal training as an architect, he had been offered a scholarship at the architecture school at the University of Pennsylvania because of his skill. McAllister developed a brand for coffee shop chains by developing a style for each client – which also allowed customers to easily recognize a store from the road.
Along with McAllister, the prolific Google architects included John Lautner, Douglas Honnold, and the team of Louis Armet and Eldon Davis of Armet & Davis firm, which they founded in 1947. Also instrumental in developing the style was designer Helen Liu Fong, a member of the firm of Armet and Davis. Joining the firm during 1951, she created such Google interiors as those of the Johnie's Coffee Shop on Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, the first Norms Restaurant, and the Holiday Bowl on Crenshaw Boulevard.
America's interest in spaceflight had a significant influence on the unique style of Google architecture. During the 1950s, space travel became a reality for the first time in history. During 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the first human-made satellite to achieve Earth orbit. The Soviet Union then launched Vostok 1 carrying the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into Earth orbit during 1961. The Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations made competing with the Soviets for dominance in space a national priority of considerable urgency and importance. This marked the beginning of the so-called "Space Race".
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