Our Favorite California Design Icons: Surround and Inspire

california design icons

Oakland, Our Home

This week, after the most tragic and horrific fire in Oakland – our home – has ever seen, we’ve been thinking a lot about our love for the spots, spaces, and places that surround us. This past weekend’s fire took the lives of some of Oakland’s most creative talent. People who, just like us, were inspired every day by the buildings, museums, and breathtaking views that surround us.

California Design Icons

Everyone who lives in California knows that Californians love California. And everyone who lives in the Bay Area knows that Bay Area people really love the Bay Area. And we do.

As an Oakland-based brand strategy and design agency, we are constantly in awe of the area that we work and live in. We gather inspiration from our surroundings and draw energy from the open, magical state and city that surrounds us. And we believe that design, in every form, should be celebrated.

More and more, people outside of California are being influenced by California design. The term “California design” itself is becoming more and more valued across the world. A recent NYT article said it perfectly: “California as a brand is now a crucial selling point for product makers when it comes to technology, automobiles, and architecture.”

U.C. Davis professor of design, Simon Sadler, notes the “intangible sense of ‘magic and possibility’ within California architecture.” He says that California is different. It’s not about monuments, it’s about “nodes.”

A Few of Our Favorite California Design Icons

The NYT piece got us thinking about places and spaces within California that we celebrate as design icons. Most people think of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Coast Highway, but we wanted to mention some places outside of commonly mentioned SF icons that don’t always get the love they deserve.

1. Lake Merritt

We think of Lake Merritt as one of the most unique urban spaces in the U.S. It’s designed for people to come together – walk, picnic, gaze… It’s a neighborhood spot and a community space. The lake brings people together, and many designers are inspired by that.

2. Secret Stairs

Scattered throughout Berkeley and Oakland, hidden stairs weave into the hills. There’s a beautiful geography to these stairs. They create lines that connect our city together. The stairs echo the sense of mystery and possibility that Simon Sadler speaks of.

3. Grand Lake Theater

Grand Lake Theater is one of the most iconic spots in Oakland. It’s a landmark that beckons back to the Renaissance – with art deco interior artwork and neoclassical columns. It’s nostalgic and beautiful and holds a history of cinema that many theaters simply do not have anymore. The sign mounted outside is the largest rotary contact sign west of the Mississippi, which explains part of the reason why so many graphic posters of Oakland feature this theater.

4. Fox Theater

The mystical Fox Theater (featured image) is one of the most beautiful music venues in the Bay Area. It’s a symbol of downtown Oakland and an iconic design at that.

5. Mt. Tam

Curving up Mt. Tamalpais, a.k.a. Mt. Tam, and landing above the clouds almost seems like a dream. The light is always different and the fog rolls in and out in a tumbling dance. Even on the rare clear night, seeing a panoramic view of the entire Bay Area and those twinkling city lights makes our jaws drop.

6. Reyes Seashore

The bluffs, the fresh ocean air, the curving hikes in. When we want to hit refresh and gather a new perspective, we head just across the bridge to Pt. Reyes.

7. Lloyd Wright Architecture

Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic and geometrical style is perfectly aligned with California’s culture and environment, and is an inspiration for many designers and architects looking to follow his organic aesthetic.

8. Mountain View Cemetery

Mountain View Cemetery was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted with the mission of creating a space that would communicate a harmony between humankind and the natural world. Striking this balance is an aspiration for many designers today.

9. Cranes of The Port of Oakland

From our office, we see the cranes towering over Oakland. They feel iconic to us – an image of industrial Oakland. So much so that the cranes acted as the inspiration for the design of our holiday card this year. Rumor has it the cranes even inspired the AT-AT Walkers in Star Wars.

10. Graffiti Art

More and more art is showing up in the streets of Oakland and Berkeley. San Francisco’s mission district is no longer the only place to find powerful art with strong messages about social justice, politics, and gentrification. The bold emotional impact that many of the murals and other pieces hold stop us mid-walk.

11. Hidden Labyrinth

Concealed within the Oakland Hills, multiple hidden labyrinths lay where an old volcano existed over 10 million years ago. The iconic spot reminds us of a time long ago, and the spiral shape of the labyrinth continues to spin in our minds on the hike down and can serve as a place for meditative reflection.

What are your favorite California design icons? Comment below. We are always open to more inspiration.

Emotive Brand is a San Francisco brand strategy and design agency.



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