A duck that sells duck eggs. A picnic basket that makes picnic baskets. A doughnut hole that sells doughnuts out of a hole in its center. Some kind of Alice in Wonderland-esque acid trip? Nope, these are all real buildings that take their functions very literally.
These structures are examples of novelty architecture, or programmatic architecture, in which the function of the building itself is represented by the way it looks. The fad was popularised in the 1950s with the boom of cars and the advent of freeways, as businesses needed a way to quickly communicate what services they offered to drivers speeding by.
While some of these follies are no more than roadside attractions, others are fairly brilliant in their architectural intentions and have been named as beloved landmarks. Although these buildings are all still standing, there are many more examples which have been demolished as the trend fell out of favour. Can you guess what these businesses do just by looking at their buildings?
Longaberger Company | Newark, Ohio
Photo by Tysto
Yes, indeed, the American basket-maker shaped its headquarters after its top-selling picnic basket, the “Medium Market Basket.” This seven story Ohio building even has special technology to keep its odd shape protected: The handles can be heated in cold weather to prevent damaging ice accumulation. The company founder, Dave Longaberger, wanted all of the company’s buildings to look like this, but died before his dream was fulfilled.
Hood Milk Bottle | Boston, Massachusetts
Photo by openroads.com
This 40-foot tall bottle in the plaza of the Boston Children’s Museum has been serving up milk (and ice cream) to thirsty kids since 1933. The bottle was originally built in Taunton, Massachusetts, but was soon abandoned, when it was photographed by Walker Evans as a roadside novelty. The bottle was moved to Boston and restored, then moved to Museum Wharf where it was re-opened to the public in 2007. Over the years, the logo has even been updated to reflect Hood’s own corporate rebranding.
The Doughnut Hole | La Puente, California
Photo by Tom Gardner Collection for the Los Angeles Conservancy archives
Opened in 1968, The Doughnut Hole was once a chain with locations found throughout Southern California, but now this lone doughnut is the only survivor. This building gets double points in the programmatic architecture tally because not only is it shaped like a doughnut to draw attention from passing cars, you can also drive right through the doughnut to get your doughnuts.
The Big Duck | Flanders, New York
Originally built by farmer Martin Maurer to sell his fresh ducks and duck eggs to passing motorists, this 1931 Long Island tourist attraction has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The poultry-inspired curves are made with wood framing and cement with a lovely car-centric detail: The eyes are Model T tail lights. Due to its long and storied legacy, the word “duck” has been used by architects and historians to describe any building in the shape of an everyday object.
Gibeau Orange Julep | Montreal, Canada
Photo by Khayman
The “Big Orange,” as it’s nicknamed, is home to the Orange Julep restaurant, which specialises in a frothy orange drink not unlike an Orange Julius. The founder, Hermas Gibeau, built the two story concrete sphere in 1945 and apparently planned to live with his family inside of it as well. There were once many orange-shaped Orange Julep restaurants in the Montreal area but this is the only existing one.
Kansas City Public Library | Kansas City, Missouri
Photo via Amazing Architecture
At Kansas City’s central library, one wall of the parking garage is actually a library itself: 22 books selected by the public are represented here as 25-foot tall volumes. The books are made from mylar signboard and their spines show exquisite detail. Although the library has been open for over a century, the “Community Bookshelf” was finished in 2004.
Tail o’ the Pup | Los Angeles, California
Image via MOCA.org
From 1946 to 2005, Tail o’ the Pup served up hot dogs from two different LA locations to celebrities and children alike. While not technically a building — it’s a hot dog stand, so not permanent — Tail o’ the Pup is in the news as the beloved wiener was transported out of storage for restoration earlier this year and will soon resume operations somewhere in LA.