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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Honey, I Shrunk the Customers (April 1, 2012)

Do you know programmatic architecture? You do, even if you don’t know the name. It refers to the type of design in which the building references the products sold within.

As you know, I dig fun and funny stuff. I am not one to need a flashy car or the most ornate finishes. So architecture that is playful, colorful and unpretentious is right up my alley. The items depicted below are all much larger than in real life, and a change in scale always makes for fun.
This is true whether you’re peering into the miniature world of dollhouses, or walking into or up to a food item twenty times its actual size. You feel as though you’ve stepped into the Rick Moranis movie in which he shrinks his kids and they sleep in tiny Lego pieces lost in the grass of their back yard. This playing with scale really gets my imagination going.

In the 1940s programmatic architecture was popular in America. Car culture was beginning and the trend was to build eye-catching, self-advertising buildings to lure customers out of their cars and into businesses, with their wallets in hand, of course! Although some people apparently found this kind of design low-brow, I can’t read enough about buildings of this era. If it’s kitsch (not necessarily an insult, I say!), so be it. Pop culture is a part of our lives. Why not have fun with it? Life needs color and humor.

Below are a few examples of programmatic architecture that I find delightful. If you want to see more buildings in unusual shapes, there are many photos available online.

Tail o’ the Pup was a hotdog stand located in LA at La Cienega and Beverly boulevards. It was built in 1946 and remained in its original location until the mid-1980s, when it was moved nearby. In 2005 the pup was moved into storage but the owners have plans to bring it back to the hungry public somwehere in LA. The city has declared it a cultural landmark:
In the 1930s in Wathena, KS, a giant apple was built to house a restaurant and dance hall. It burned down in the 1940s. The building was painted red and its chimney was shaped like a stem. While the shape does not represent exactly what was sold inside, it was eye-catching and entertaining and patrons were drawn to it:

A lemonade stand we saw at a fair a few years back deserves mention:
This truck does not fit my category of unusually-shaped buildings but I can’t resist including it. Its design clearly references its product and it is really cute:
A house that has been featured in online articles (as well as in books) about unusual dwellings is the Shoe House, built in the late 1940s near Hallam, PA. It has 1500 square feet of living space on various levels (after all, a shoe is not flat). The current owners clearly are very fond of their home, its appeal and its history. Inside, there are dozens (maybe hundreds) of shoe-themed gifts they’ve received over the years. While the building was not created as a shoe store, it was the brainchild of a man who owned shoe stores, MN Haines. He thought it would be a creative way to
advertise his business, and he even allowed people to stay in it for free. The dimensions are not typical of most detached houses: it is 48 feet long, 17 feet at its widest part and 25 feet high. The cozy feel of it might be too claustrophobic for some people but like tree houses or sloped attic walls, its small size is part of its charm:

These creations make me smile. Although the trend in restaurants seems to be building bigger places where the menu is pricier, I wish that more of these small, lighthearted buildings still existed. I’m on a roll with writing about fun buildings, so sit back and I’ll do my best to entertain.

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