Gattaca 1997 - Marin County Civic Centre

A building completed in 1957 may seem an odd choice for futuristic space training academy in a film made in 1997 and but such is the nature of Frank Lloyd Wrights work. So advanced, so unapologetically unconventional that 50 years after completion it still feels from another time and place.

© Columbia Picture Corporation
© Columbia Picture Corporation

Gattaga is the name of the aerospace corporation housed inside Wrights building, where a textbook double helix is a prerequisite for an individuals employment and a constant measure of their performance. It exists in a world where genetic modification has moved on from creating pest free crops to engineering flawless people and where children are created in vitro using the very best combination of the parents chromosomes. In this world people choose their child’s likely talents, IQ and appearance prior to conception. People, that is, except those with misguided notions of fate and faith, like the parents of protagonist Vincent Freeman (played by Ethan Hawke), who sets out to achieve his goal despite his dubious DNA profile and his ‘faith birth’ label.

No doubt Wright would approve – throughout his career he also refused to be limited by circumstance. He continually tested the current design thinking and pushed building materials beyond their considered limits. Unfortunately he wasn’t always successful - Wrights buildings are notoriously plagued by issues of watertightness and durability. In fact much of the interior scenes of the film were shot on a ‘wrightian’ styled set as the crew found the constant leaking too inconvenient (sympathy to those who actually inhabit the building full time and have long learned to live with buckets in the halls). 

The production design sets a vintage-revival tone for the film. Familiar items are updated with futuristic features - classic cars are given electric engines and the casts’ streamlined wardrobe reflects nostalgic silhouettes of 1940’s glamour. The effect is an altered but quite recognizable world which appeals to a wide range of audience, belying the films science fiction roots.


Ignoring the scale issues the building also affords some beautiful shots of rocket launches in the expansive sky above the academy. 


The Marin County Civic Centre is open business hours at 3501 Civic Center Drive, Suite 208, San Rafael, CA

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Comments: 4
  • #1

    Gillian (Friday, 19 October 2012 22:50)

    I love the styling of this film. I didn't realise Frank Lloyd Wright had designed the building used for Gattaca. How interesting! The 'port holes' are memorable. What are they? Lights? Leaking is not cool though! What's the main purpose of a building?

  • #2

    castingarchitecture (Saturday, 20 October 2012 15:34)

    The whole film is easy on the eye. Film buffs call the updated antiques 'retro refit'. This is another of FLW's buildings that photographs beautifully from below. Who knew ceilings and soffits could be so interesting? The starry sky effect are recessed downlights well before you could get them off the shelf at Beacon Lighting!

  • #3

    racer (Sunday, 30 December 2012 11:25)

    There is also an Antoine Predock building in the film. Is Eugene's apartment (with the helical staircase) a location or a stage set?

  • #4

    Dennis (Saturday, 27 January 2018 02:46)

    I live 5 minutes from this building. It still serves as the Marin County Civic Center.