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A combination of roadside attraction novelty and greater architectural freedom resulted in some very strange 20th-century buildings. Claire Voon recently covered the saga of the Longaberger Company basket building, shaped like a seven-story version of the company’s maple picnic basket. As founder Dave Longaberger succinctly declared: “If they can put a man on the moon, they can certainly build a building that’s shaped like a basket.” He proved that it can indeed be done; however, the building is now vacant, and it’s unclear if anyone else really wants to work in a basket.
Not everyone is a fan of such literalism in design. In the 1972 book Learning from Las Vegas, authors Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour pit the “duck” against the “decorated shed” — that is, a structure that’s expressive in its intentions versus one reliant on decoration. But this “duck” has been taken to extremes, such as the 1931 Big Duck building on Long Island, a poultry shop shaped like a gargantuan bird.
Below are 23 examples of this novelty architecture. In almost all the cases, the owners wanted to use their buildings to proclaim what they were selling inside. The guidelines are that the object must be part of or encompass the whole building, not just sitting nearby or on top of it (sorry, Randy’s Donuts). This is not meant to be comprehensive — there’s an extraordinary number of ice cream–shaped ice cream stands, for instance — but to give a taste of this distinct type of heavily branded architecture.
Longaberger Company Headquarters
To start with, here’s the former Longaberger Company headquarters, mentioned above and complete with handles for a giant Yogi Bear to grab.
National Fisheries Development Board Building
The Big Duck
Flanders, New York
The Big Duck in Flanders, Long Island, was built in 1931 by a duck farmer to sell poultry and eggs, and is now a tourist shop. Its eyes are Model-T tail lights that were designed to burn red in the night.
Los Angeles, California
The Argus camera–shaped Darkroom on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles was built in 1935 as a camera store. It’s now a restaurant.
2BH Radio Building
Broken Hill, Australia
2BH radio station’s home base in Broken Hill, New South Wales, is shaped like an old radio, with windows at the on/off, tone, tuning, and volume knobs.
Opened in 1973, BMW’s Munich headquarters was designed by architect Karl Schwanzer to mimic the shape of the company’s four-cylinder engine. A cylinder head alongside it holds a museum.
San Antonio, Texas
One of numerous pig stands built in the 1920s and ’30s, Frank’s Hog Stand in San Antonio is now closed, but its swine structure survives.
Capitol Records Building
Los Angeles, California
Although architecture firm Welton Becket and Associates claimed it didn’t mean for the 1956 Capitol Records Building to look like a stack of records on a spindle, the first circular office building in the world does strongly resemble the music company’s wares.
Phoenix Financial Center
The 1963 Phoenix Financial Center is nicknamed the “punch card” building for its resemblance to the old computer system; however, its architect, Wenceslaus Sarmiento, claimed the similarity was an accident (just like the case of the Capitol Records Building). He said he was more inspired by falling raindrops.
Coney Island Hot Dog Stand
Colorado’s Coney Island Hot Dog Stand reopened this summer in its fully loaded 1950s structure.
Gibeau Orange Julep
The goliath Gibeau Orange Julep in a Montreal parking has operated from its fruit-shaped sphere since 1966. There are also orange-shaped buildings that sell citrus food in Kissimmee, Florida, and across California.
United Equipment Office
The 1976 office for United Equipment Company in Turlock, California, is shaped like the construction machinery the company rents and sells.
The Twistee Treat ice cream chain started in Florida in the 1980s, with each of its outposts shaped like an ice cream cone. New buildings have LED sprinkles.
Chowdiah Memorial Hall
Bangalore’s Chowdiah Memorial Hall for music and art was designed in the 1970s as a giant violin, in tribute to the late violinist T. Chowdiah. It includes strings, keys, a bridge, and a bow.
The Giant Artichoke restaurant sells the leafy vegetable within and is based in Castroville, California, home of the Artichoke Festival.
The Clam Box
Erected in 1938, the Clam Box in Ipswich, Massachusetts, resembles a takeaway box full of fried clams.
Nashville’s AT&T Building is nicknamed the “Batman” building for its pointy ears, but designers Earl Swensson Associates intended the 1994 skyscraper to express the telecommunications business of the structure. It also suggests a 1990s cell phone — and, to this writer, a taser. It truly is a Rorschach building.
AT&T wasn’t the only telecommunications company that took a bit of cell phone inspiration into its design. The 1993 Torre Telefónica tower in Santiago, Chile, is distinctly shaped like a 470-foot-tall mobile phone.
The Donut Hole
La Puente, California
The 1968 Donut Hole has its La Puente customers drive in through one doughnut and out through another.
Hood Milk Bottle
Built as an ice cream stand in 1934, the 40-foot-tall Hood Milk Bottle is now located at the Boston Children’s Museum.
The Big Chicken
Nicknamed the “Big Chicken,” this Kentucky Fried Chicken shop in Georgia incorporates a 56-foot-tall steel chicken. It was built in 1963 for what was then Johnny Reb’s Chick-Chuck-‘N’-Shake restaurant and has a beak and eyes that move.
The World’s Largest Six Pack
La Crosse, Wisconsin
The defunct G. Heileman Brewing Company in La Crosse, Wisconsin, had beer can–shaped metal tanks constructed to hold over 22,000 barrels of beer. They were painted like an Old Style six-pack and are now an advertisement for La Crosse Lager, with vinyl instead of paint.
The Big Pineapple
South East Queensland, Australia
The Big Pineapple in Queensland, Australia, was opened in 1971 to sell tropical fruit from the surrounding farm.