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.

Continue reading on Design Decoded

Related Content:

Design Decoded: The Golden Arches of McModernism

 

mcdonalds

The second McDonald’s every 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.

Read the full article on Design Decoded