Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tropical Space Age Architecture- Part 1

Cover Art, Amazing Stories, 1963

Tropical Space Age Architecture is a term coined by Desoto Brown of the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii. He describes the architectural style as "A comtemporary Island Idiom merging the Jet Age with the Tropics."

Desoto Brown

It was a mid-century design style that was popular in Hawaii, however, local architects and islanders did not particulary appreciate the outlandish look. As of today, most of these buildings are long gone. However, if you dig around long enough, you can also find many fine examples of Tropical Space Age buildings that were built here on the mainland.

The Space Age future as envisoined on Saturday morning cartoons in 1962.

Upon closer inspection, that space age design looks vaguely familar......

....Ah yes, That's it. The Hyperbolic Parabolid shaped lobby of the Waikikian Hotel in Honolulu (demolished 1997), a stunning example of Tropical Space Age.

That's a neato design......have I seen that as a tiki restaurant before?.....

...Not exactly the same, but another gleaming example of Tropical Space Age. This was the Hilton Inn in St. Petersburg, Florida. The hotel hosted three different Polynesian Restaurants, including the beachside Aekai restaurant, the Luau Room (on the 10th floor, accessed via the exterior glass elevator on the front of the building), and the rotating Bali Hai Lounge on the top of the building (what an excellent place to sip an exotic cocktail while waiting for your resversation down in the Luau Room.) Note the beautiful upswept Port Cochere over the front door.

...A few of the stand alone Don the Beachcomber restaurants echoed this UFO inspired design, including...

Don the Beachcomber, Marina Del Rey, California

Don the Beachcomber, Dallas, Texas.

The Dallas location had the overall round UFO shape, but added additional exterior elements like the upswept decorative beams over the entrance, the waterfall and bridge over the lagoon, and flaming tiki torches in the lagoon and on the roof of the building.

In 2001, photographer Tony Paiva created this Photoshop art titled 'Trad'r Rix Tiki Island' which is a literal interpretation of Tropical Space Age style.


  1. First of all, I'm glad to see you posting more often again. You can't post too often, as far as I'm concerned.

    Secondly, my thoughts on the convergence of Tiki and Googie (which seems to be what this post is really all about):

    Googie gets a lot of play as futuristic or "Space Age," and certainly it is. However, one of it's defining features is the push/pull relationship between futuristic elements (e.g. roofs that seem to hover with no support, perforated metal wall sconces, etc) and "primitive" elements (e.g. flagstone walls, jungle-like plantings, etc.)

    Alan Hess explains this better than I do, but you get the picture. It's the excitement of the unpredictable future mixed with a comforting dose of what we imagine our "roots" might have been -- Caves, tropical islands, or sometimes even a dash of Early America.

    Among the "primitive" motifs architects or designers brought to Googie was a fair dose of the South Seas.

    Now that I think about it, the blend of Exaggerated Modern Architecture (another name for Googie) with barely-accurate Hawaiian/South Seas motifs finds an almost perfect analogy in the modern, jazzy, tropical music of Martin Denny and his ilk. The buildings and the music really are both products of the exact same (unlikely) mashup, and probably for the same reasons.

    I'm looking forward to your next post.

  2. Believe it or not, I believe that the link between Googie and Tiki is Frank Lloyd Wright. As opposed to the boxy European Modernism, his "organic" modernism drew inspiration from native American/Japanese forms. Original Googie architects were his disciples. BTW, the Barber Shop in Bruce Bushman's design for a Jetson's ride appears to be a more direct lift of Eero Saarinen's TWA Flight Center at JFK.

  3. Do you happen to know when the Hilton Inn in St. Petersburg, Florida pictured above was demolished?