Design Decoded: Would You Like Arches With That? When Famous Architects Design McDonalds

floating-mcdonalds

Photos and drawings of SITE’s floating McDonald’s image (images: SITE: Identity in Density)

Since the late 1960s, when McDonald’s abandoned its iconic, modernist-inspired golden-arched buildings in favor of a separate, golden-arched sign and a decidedly less exciting mansard-roofed structure, it has been rare to mention the words “McDonald’s” and “architecture” in the same sentence. Rare, but not unheard of, as a few notable architects designed some of the franchise’s more exceptional establishments.

But the biggest franchise in the world can afford to take a few risks and have a little fun. In 1983 McDonald’s approached a man named David Bermant to build a new restaurant in the parking lot of one of his Berwyn, Illinois, properties. Now Bermant loved two things: building shopping centers and collecting art. McDonald’s gave him the opportunity to do both. He agreed to let them build with one stipulation – they build something daring.

New York architecture firm SITE was brought in. At the time, SITE was known for bringing a surprising sculptural sensibility to the Best Products retail stores and they brought that same subversive approach to their work for McDonald’s, identifying the standard ingredients, as it were, of a typical franchise –mansard roof, brick exterior, Colonial-style windows, golden arches– and then re-presenting them in a new way. Their design is a subtle subversion on the classic 1980s franchise. All those elements are there, but they’re separated just enough to create the illusion of a “floating” McDonalds. The entire brick level of the mansard roof seems to be separating from the brick structure, which is itself levitating a few feet off the ground, making room for a miniature garden.

Many architects aren’t content with just designing the building – they often want to design furniture, lighting, sometimes even doorknobs and silverware. SITE’s no different, but instead of proposing redesigned plastic benches, they designed a “floating Big Mac” to complement the building. Unsurprisingly, McDonald’s passed on that addition, opting to only construct the SITE design in 1983. Perhaps also unsurprising? The floating McDonald’s no longer floats; when the franchise dulled the design is unclear.

Another significant McDonald’s was built in the 1990s by renowned architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown in Buena Vista, Florida.

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