The mid-century commercial architecture style called Googie was named for the 1949 Los Angeles coffee shop bearing the same name. Originated by Frank Lloyd Wright assistant John Lautner, the Googie style is iconic for its ultra-modern, space-age look. The commercial construction craze for cantilevered roofs and eccentric curves took off nationally from coffee shop roots on the L.A. corner of Crescent Heights and Sunset, spreading an aesthetic reflecting two huge phenomena of the 1950s: the automobile and the service industry that grew along with it.
Like a lot of Chicagoans, I’m something of an architecture nerd. Being proud of this town’s skyline and the engineering that went into it is second nature to Windy City natives, but we don’t often slow down to take a close look at the stories behind the world-famous postwar modern styles. It’s an international story: the likes of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Bertrand Goldberg and Walter Netsch will not likely appear again, but their work as a whole forms the visual and functional vocabulary associated with modernism the world over.
Filmmaker Nathan Eddy’s documentary The Absent Column explores the story behind Chicago’s Prentice Women’s Hospital Building a 1975 Goldberg building in the brutalist style. Colleagues of the architect as well as preservationists have faced off over the fate of this half-bunker-half-flower structure, and Eddy captures the story. Definitely worth a look.
Watching commercial real estate for signs of the coming future means keeping an eye on many different indicators. One such number touted as a leading indicator of construction spending is the American Architecture Association’s Architecture Billings Index.
Used as an indicator for new nonresidential construction going out 9-12 months, the ABI defines nonresidential as “lodging, office, commercial, manufacturing, health care, educational, religious, public safety, amusement and recreation, transportation, and communication.”