Friday, July 8, 2016

A Visit to Gattaca

marin county civic center 9
Suspended garden terrace off cafeteria. Photo ©Darren Bradley


When driving north over the Golden Gate Bridge, leaving San Francisco, one is quickly greeted with the charming seaside town of Sausalito, the dramatic scenery of Muir Woods, and quaint little towns like Mill Valley and Fairfax. So arriving at the small city of San Rafael, it may seem a bit incongruous to find the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation (from the film "Gattaca") perched on the hillside. 


marin county civic center 10
View from the western side of the complex. 

In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, Gattaca was a film by director Andrew Niccol, starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. 


gattaca04 (1)
Scene from the film "Gattaca" with Uma Thurman in the corridors of the Marin County Civic Center.

It was a science fiction film, set in the "near future". It was about how corporations and society at large had come to discriminate against people who inferior genetic profiles. 


gattaca
Ethan Hawke training to become a space cadet in "Gattaca". 

It seems very plausible, except that in the film's version of the future, people have a much better sense of style and architecture than in our own world. 


gattaca entry
Scene from the film "Gattaca" with employees of the corporation streaming into the main entrance of the Marin County Civic Center.

Of course, the building here is not actually the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation. This building is the Marin County Civic Center, and it has served as the administrative center for Marin County since its construction was completed in 1962. 

marin county civic center 2 color
The building bridges over the roadway in several places. At the main entrance, you can look below to see the cars passing.
Photo ©Darren Bradley

The building is exceptional for many reasons - not least of which it was designed by celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright. FLLW died in 1959, so the architect never actually got to see it completed. But he did visit the site and conceived of the original plans. 


csrcl_477
Scettrini Ranch, the bucolic site of the future Marin County Civic Center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, San Rafael, California, circa 1956. Image from the Harold Stockstad Slide Collection, Anne T. Kent California Room, Marin County Free Library. 
csrcl_480
Frank Lloyd Wright in his studio at Taliesin West, circa 1958. Harold Stockstad Slide Collection, Anne T. Kent California Room. Marin County Free Library. 
csrcl_475
The front cover of the dedication brochure features a drawing of Frank Lloyd Wright's concept for the Marin County Civic Center. This brochure was issued to mark the dedication of the Administration Building,
on October 13, 1962.

csrcl_478

Detail from an early scale model of the Marin County Civic Center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, San Rafael, California, circa 1958. Harold Stockstad Slide Collection, Anne T. Kent California Room. Marin County Free Library.

What's also incredible is that this is still a functioning administrative center, county courthouse, and city library. I often wonder if the people wandering about and coming here to defend themselves in court, pay a fine, buy a license, or borrow a book really appreciate how exceptional this place really is. 


marin county civic center 7
Atrium, courtyard, and corridor all at once. Photo ©Darren Bradley


marin county civic center 1 color
Photo ©Darren Bradley

Even today, the building is breathtaking in both its scale and design. It's easy to understand how Niccol decided to use it as the set for his Gattaca Corporation. 


marin county civic center 8
Photo ©Darren Bradley
It's also widely believed that Marin County resident George Lucas was inspired by this building for the planet Naboo from his Star Wars films (the sucky ones). 


Marin-Civic-Center-Naboo-1580x399
Marin County Civic Center on the left; city of Theed on the planet Naboo from Star Wars on the left. To me, the actual building appears more futuristic than the Star Wars version.

Speaking of films, this is not the first Frank Lloyd Wright building to be used as a set for a science fiction film. FLLW's Ennis House made an appearance as Deckard's apartment in the film Blade Runner. 


bladerunner-interiors-0002
Scene from the film "Blade Runner". Deckard (Harrison Ford) in his apartment,
which is the Ennis House by Frank Lloyd Wright in Los Angeles. 

And more recently, Game of Thrones has gotten into the act with the interiors of the giant pyramid palace in the city of Meereen, directly inspired by the same Ennis House by FLLW.

00_game_of_thrones_502_46a
If I had a pad like that, I wouldn't bother conquering Westeros, personally. Scene from Game of Thrones. Palace of Meereen.

But back to the Marin County Civic Center. My first exposure to this building was through a photograph by Ezra Stoller that I saw many years ago in a magazine. At the time, I had no idea what the building was, but the image stayed with me. 


MarinCountyCivicCenterFrankLloydWrightSanRafaelCA1963110Y.012
The iconic photo of the Marin County Civic Center by Ezra Stoller, taken shortly after it was built in 1962. 

Many years later, when I actually visited the building, I put two and two together and realized where I was, and that the photo was of the same place. It was a strange feeling to actually be standing in the same spot as where that famous Stoller photo was taken. 


marin county civic center 11
Couldn't resist doing my own riff on Mr. Stoller's photo. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Of course, you can't please everybody. Someone on left a comment on a photo that I posted of this place on my Instragram account, writing "Was there. Felt density of sadness and loneliness under the occasional sunny day of the Bay Area. Quite unremarkable building by FLW." Haters gonna hate, I guess. 

These days, if I'm anywhere near the Bay Area, I try to make a point of setting aside a couple of hours to wander around this place. I would highly recommend you try to stop if you have the opportunity. 


marin county civic center 6
OK, one more... Photo ©Darren Bradley

2 comments:

SiArtist said...

Great blog post, Derren. BTW- one of the influences for Planet Naboo was the "Plaza De Espana" in Seville, Spain. Been there, amazing place too!

Kent Boyd said...

Great, thanks!