When it Comes to Architecture, California is King

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Architecture in California reflects that many points that make the Golden State…well, golden. When it comes to architecture, California is a hodge-poge of influences and styles. From wide windows that open up the home to the sun and surf, to low adobe that harkens back to the early years of California settlement, to the Victorian boom of San Francisco, the state is a feast for the eyes.

Architecture in Harmony with Nature

Early architecture allowed new residents of the newly-settled territory to live in harmony with nature, thus leading to adobe homes. These homes were often simply built, with only a few rooms and plenty of wide open space. Adobe homes became more elaborate as time went on, taking on the influences of Mission Revival Style, inspired by the churches of Spanish colonists. Pueblo Revival Style was another common home style used in the early days of California settlement.

adobe spanish mission revival california architecture

The world around a house often determines the architecture. California is home to everything from mountains to desert, but what defines the state more than anything else is the long Pacific coastline. To make the most of the exceptional views offered by this unique area of the country, long Rambler style homes with wide windows and even walls of glass became the norm. It wasn’t a far leap from these low-slung ranch houses to the modern movement.

Architecture in California Takes a Modern Turn

Modern architecture finds a comfortable home in the Golden State. Desert modernism is a home style that pays homage to the desert that fills much of the state. In addition to being engaging to the eye, desert modernism is often a nod to the challenges of living in such a dry and arid climate, as evidenced by the wide overhangs, open space design and the idea of pulling the outdoors inside, and vice versa. The gorgeous Kaufmann house is an example of this style.

Kaufman House Palm Springs

Richard Neutra’s Kaufman House (1946) in Palm Springs, California. (image:Barbara Alfors)

One of the hallmarks of California is innovation, uniqueness and charging into something new. To that end, architecture in California offers some of the most unique and unusual homes you can find anywhere. A good example of this is Deconstructivism, or Deconstruction. This type of architecture seeks to break a building or structure down into elements, and thus might have no logical progression of those elements. These abstract forms are often found in the midst of more traditional structures, making them even more jarring to the casual viewer.

California also pays homage to the past in the architecture of today. Tiki architecture, or homes that incorporate Polynesian themes, became popular right after World War II and continue to be used and modified today. Tiki architecture often makes use of bamboo, exposed beams, thatch roofs or imitations, A-frame shapes and the use of nature around the home, such as incorporating palm trees or waterfalls.

Crazy Architecture: California Rules!

Another interesting style of California homes is Googie architecture. “Googie” refers to a futuristic, flashy building style that became popular in the 1950s. Designed to attract customers by drawing the eye, Googie was often found in restaurants, hotels, amusement parks, roadside diners and the like.

Googie Gas Station California

“Googie” gas station in Beverly Hills, California (image: “Googie Man”)

Typical elements include flashing neon lights, sharp angles, strange roof lines, shapes like boomerangs or circles, anything that refers to the atomic or space age and even those that refer to aliens and outer space. Googie architecture was actually born in southern California, at a unique coffee shop named Googies, designed by John Lautner.

From Spanish style adobe to modern-style ranches that offer impressive views of the sea, from the Googie restaurants to upstate mountain homes that make use of log cabin architecture, California is a wealth of modern architecture that pays homage to the world around it.


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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.