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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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Design Decoded: The Golden Arches of McModernism

mcdonalds

The second McDonald’s ever built and the oldest still standing, in Downey, CA. (image: Alan Hess via Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians)

When the ancient Romans marched through arches, it was a celebration of victory, an end to long-fought battles and distant travels. Today, when we march through arches, it is a celebration of globalization, efficiency and Shamrock Shakes. Long before McDonald’s golden arches stood for the triumph of globalization, they stood for the triumph of a hamburger stand and the impact of the automobile on American culture and architecture. In a 1986 article for the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, architect Alan Hess explains the origins of McDonald’s famous arches.

Hess writes that in the early 1950s brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald hired architect Stanley Clark Meston to design a drive-in hamburger stand that carried on the traditions of roadside architecture established in the 1920s and 1930s. The brothers McDonald had some experience with previous restaurants and a very clear idea of how they wanted their new venture to work – at least on the inside. Meston described the design as “logically dictated by clear program and commercial necessities” and compared it to designing a factory. Though he didn’t necessarily consider himself a modernist, Meston’s pragmatic, functionalist approach reveals, at the very least, a sympathy with some of the tenets of Modernism. Function before form. But not, it would appear, at the expense of form.

And anyway, the exterior had its own function to fulfill. In an age before ubiquitous mass media advertisements, the building was the advertisement. To ensure the restaurant stood out from the crowd, Meston decided to make the entire building a sign specifically designed to attract customers from the road. Now, many architects have speculated that McDonald’s iconic Golden arches have their origin in Eero Saarinen’s 1948 design for the St. Louis Gateway Arch or Swiss architect Le Corbusier’s unbuilt 1931 design for the Palace of the Soviets. But they tend to read little too much into things. The answer is much simpler.

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Architecture

Design Decoded: The Architecture of Drones

drone architecture
Gramazio & Kohler, Flight Assembled Architecdture, FRAC Centre in Orléans, France, 2011-2012                               (image: François Lauginie via Gramazio & Kohler)

Drones can’t just destroy, they can build. Although the military uses of drones are widely debated, less discussed are their potentially revolutionary civilian implications. They aren’t yet widespread, but drones are being used by hobbyistsphotographersfarmersranchers, and they may even herald an entirely new type of architecture. Last year, Swiss architects Gramazio & Kohler, in collaboration with Raffaello D’Andrea, developed “Flight Assembled Architecture” – an experimental concept structure that employed small, unmanned aerial vehicles programmed to build.

Created as an installation for the FRAC Centre in Orléans, France in early 2012, the project models a speculative construction system that integrates robotics, digital fabrication, engineering, and design. Several small robotic “quadrocopters” lift 1,500 foam blocks into a complex cylindrical tower standing more than six meters high. The tower is a model for a speculative future habitat that would stand more than 600 meters tall and house 30,000 inhabitants. It makes sense to illustrate such a revolutionary concept with a skyscraper – after all, the skyscraper wouldn’t be possible if architects and engineers hadn’t embraced technologies such as steel construction and elevators. Construction drones are the bleeding edge of speculative building technology and they’re perfectly designed to create high-rise buildings in urban areas where construction can be incredibly difficult and costly. As Kohler noted in an essay for the architectural journal Log, “the conditions of aerial robotic construction are entirely liberated from the bottom-up accessibility of material, man, or [existing] machine.” These robots can create buildings without erecting scaffolding or using cranes. Drone-built designs aren’t beholden to current construction limitations and their use opens up a new possibility of architectural forms.

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Design Decoded: Diller Scofidio + Renfro Design ‘The Art of the Scent’

diller scofidio art of the scent
Installation view of The Art of the Scent exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design in New York.                          (original image: Brad Farwell)

While walking through the Museum of Art and Design’s exhibition “The Art of the Scent (1889-2012)” my mind was flooded with memories of a nearly forgotten childhood friend, an ex-girlfriend and my deceased grandmother. It was a surprisingly powerful and complex experience, particularly because it was evoked in a nearly empty gallery by an invisible art form—scent. It’s often cited that smell is the sense most associated with memory (both are processed by the brain’s limbic system), and the iconic fragrances exhibited in “The Art of the Scent” are likely to take visitors on their own private jaunts down memory lane. But it might not lead where they expect.

Like any art form or design discipline, the creation of a scent is the result of experimentation and innovation. Yet, perfume and cologne are rarely appreciated as the artfully crafted designs they are. “The Art of the Scent” is the first major museum exhibition to recognize and celebrate scent as a true artistic medium rather than just a consumer product. The 12 exhibited fragrances, chosen by curator Chandler Burr to represent the major aesthetic schools of scent design, include Ernest Beaux’s Modernist Chanel No.5 (1921); the Postmodern Drakkar Noir (1982) by Pierre Wargnye ; and Daniela Andrier’s deconstructed fragrance Untitled (2010). Perhaps most significantly, the exhibition begins with the first fragrance to incorporate synthetic raw materials instead of an exclusively natural palette, thereby truly transforming scent into an art: Jicky (1889), created by Aimé Guerlain. Unfortunately, this fragrant historiography will initially be lost on the average visitor because while scent may indeed be the best sense for provoking memory, it is the worst sense for conveying intellectual content. When we smell something—good or bad—our reaction is typically an automatic or emotional response. Such a reaction doesn’t lend itself particularly well to critical analysis. The greatest challenge facing Burr, who wrote the “Scent Notes” column for the New York Times and the book  The Emperor of Scentwas to get visitors to move beyond their initial emotional responses and memories and to think critically about scent design. And the greatest challenge facing exhibition designers Diller Scofidio + Renfro was to figure out how to present an invisible art.

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