The seaside town of Venice Beach is a treasure trove of Frank Gehry buildings, including the former headquarters of the Chiat/Day advertising firm. Known locally as the Binoculars Building, it sits on a prominent block of Main Street, which runs parallel to the ocean and the Pacific Coast Highway.
Gehry had originally designed two adjoining but visually disparate buildings for the advertising firm, the first being a long, low, “boat-like” white office block and the second an exposed steel, “tree-like” structure with truncated tower. Legend has it that Gehry picked up a nearby maquette from a 1986 binocular-shaped library and theater project by his friends and colleagues, pop art sculptors Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, and placed it at the intersection of his two buildings to mark the location of a needed but as yet unknown architectural feature. The binoculars were an apt signboard for the advertising firm and one that participated in Southern California’s history of programmatic or mimetic architecture, where an abundance of architectural fakery could be found on Hollywood backlots and at Disneyland, and where customers could buy real versions of the items represented by the building. The Chiat/Day Building ushered in a new era of ersatz, humorous architecture by otherwise serious brand name architects.
The giant matte black binoculars are as tall as the three-story buildings to either side; automobiles and pedestrians enter between the ground-level wide ends of the binocular barrels, under the canopy of the central hinges and eyepieces. The binoculars are architectural rather than purely sculptural, with the interiors of both conical towers having been planned as empty rooms or “retreats” for the advertisement staff, in which they could ruminate while waiting for the proverbial lightbulb moment, as represented by a literal oversized lightbulb suspended from a skylight where the eyepiece of the binocular would be located. In keeping with Chiat/Day’s progressive work model, the side office building interiors were planned as open areas without walled offices and cubicles, which were appropriate for Google’s work model when the tech giant began leasing space in the building in 2011. While the office building is private, the oversize binocular building may be enjoyed from Main Street.
Heimann, Jim. California Crazy: American Pop Architecture. Köln: Taschen, 2018.
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