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Fantastic architecture (follies)

Airplane Service Station, Knoxville, Tennessee- then and now... Big Duck Store, Flanders, New York. 1930.
Bondurant Pharmacy (Lexington), Lexington, Kentucky- built in 1975 in the shape of a giant mortar and pestle. The Gallon Measure
Buchanan, NY
Shell Service Station (Winston-Salem), North Carolina
Wadham's Oil and Grease Company of Milwaukee Service stations, Wisconsin. Teapot Dome Service Station, Zillah, Washington The original Brown Derby in Los Angeles, California, built in 1926
The Longaberger Company headquarters in Newark, Ohio New York-New York Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas  
Fantastic architecture is an American building fad or style designed to catch attention and make a building stand out from the competition. It largely developed in the early 20th Century after the introduction of the car. Examples of fantastic architecture, also known as exotic architecture, include filling and service stations, motels and retail establishments. This architectural style, in some instances, is a lesser quality "built" version of Andy Warhol's commercial artwork. This style also foreshadowed trends in fast food restaurant design, such as McDonald's golden arches.

These structures take the form of airplanes, tepees, pyramids, castles, and even a mortar & pestle. Where more established architectural styles are integrated into Fantastic architecture, such as the use of a Japanese pagodas, the style is more accurately called Fantastic rather than Japanese due to the juxtaposition of use with style. Wadham's Oil Company's pagoda-style filling stations are an example of this.

In the study of Art History and Architecture this is related to novelty architecture in which a structure is built in an unusual shape to attract attention and serve as a landmark in this case for product identification. Later McDonald's exploited a similar shape for the design of their restaurants for the same purpose.

In the 1930's this intent by TEXACO resulted in their hiring the Industrial Designer Walter Dorwin Teague to redesign their service stations into an architectural profile that could be recognized even at a distance. His design however with minimalist lines, lattice fenestration and canopy over the gas pumps and entrance resembling a simplified "porte cochere" were more of a utilitarian nature than one of imaginative associations. However it was indeed a recognizable image for the company which continued to use architectural design as part of their corporate image into the 1960's which by then utilized an open plan design with rusticated ashlar exterior finish. Teague as well designed the company logo for TEXACO in the 1930's of the round sign with red star on a field of white and a green "T" for Texas in the center. He also inspired the use of the fireman's hat as a corporate symbol for their various grades of gasoline such as "Fire Chief".

Examples of Fantastic-style structures
Airplane Service Station, Knoxville, Tennessee
Airplane Service Station, Paris, Tennessee
Big Duck Store, Flanders, New York
Bondurant Pharmacy (Lexington), Lexington, Kentucky
Cookie Jar House, Glendora, New Jersey.
Dutch Mill Filling Station, Heafford Junction, Wisconsin
Shell Service Station (Winston-Salem), North Carolina
Teapot Dome Service Station, Zillah, Washington
Wadham's Oil and Grease Company of Milwaukee Service stations, Wisconsin.

"Architecture and Landscaping. A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture". Oxford University Press, 1999, 2006.


Airplane Service Station Website
[Wisconsin Fantastic Architecture]
Image gallery
Novelty architecture

Novelty architecture is a type of architecture in which buildings and other structures are given unusual shapes as a novelty, such as advertising, notoriety as a landmark, or simple eccentricity of the owner or architect. Many examples of novelty architecture take the form of buildings that resemble the products sold inside to attract drive-by customers. Others are attractions all by themselves, such as giant animals, fruits, and vegetables, or replicas of famous buildings. And others are merely unusual shapes or made of unusual building materials.

Some hotel casinos on the Las Vegas Strip can be considered novelty architecture, including the pyramid-shaped Luxor Hotel and the New York-New York Hotel & Casino, a building designed to look like the New York City skyline.

Novelty architecture is also used extensively in amusement parks such as Disneyland to fit their playful and sometimes retro theme.

Programmatic architecture

Lucy the Elephant, July 2004

Programmatic (also known as mimetic or mimic) architecture is characterized by constructions in the forms of objects not normally associated with buildings, such as characters, animals, people or household objects. There may be an element of caricature or a cartoonish element associated with the architecture.
Lucy the Elephant, an architectural folly in Margate City, New Jersey
The Longaberger Company's head office in Newark, Ohio which is in the form of a giant basket

In the 1930s, as automobile travel became popular in the United States, one way of attracting motorists to a diner, coffee shop, or roadside attraction was to build the building in an unusual shape, especially the shape of the things sold there. "Mimic" architecture became a trend, and many roadside coffee shops were built in the shape of giant coffee pots; hot dog stands were built in the shape of giant hot dogs; and fruit stands were built in the shape of oranges or other fruit.
Tail o' the Pup, a hot dog-shaped hot dog stand in Los Angeles, California
Brown Derby, a derby-shaped restaurant
Bondurant's Pharmacy, a mortar-and-pestle pharmacy in Lexington, Kentucky

Water towers

Peachoid water tower in Gaffney, South Carolina

Water towers, often a prominent feature in a small town, have often been shaped or decorated to look like everyday objects.
Peachoid, a peach-shaped water tower in Gaffney, South Carolina. There are other peach-shaped water towers in Perry, Georgia and Clanton, Alabama
Teapot water tower in Lindstrom, Minnesota (see Gallery)
Corn cob water tower in Rochester, Minnesota (see Gallery)
Catsup bottle water tower in Collinsville, Illinois (see Gallery)
Paul Bunyan's Fishing Bobber water tower in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota (see Gallery)
Coffee pot water tower in Stanton, Iowa
Strawberry water tower in Poteet, Texas
Teapot water tower in Kingsburg, California

Storage tanks

Several breweries and other businesses have designed holding tanks in the shape of giant cans of beer or other containers.
"World's Largest Hormel Chili Can" in Beloit, Wisconsin

"World's Largest Six-Pack" brewery holding tanks in La Crosse, Wisconsin

Giant sculptures

Cleveland Airport is known for its fanciful giant "paper" aircraft sculptures.

Another aspect of novelty architecture is sculptures of ordinary items scaled to enormous size.
Various roadside parks and attractions in the U.S. feature giant sculptures of Paul Bunyan and dinosaurs.
Louisville Slugger Museum, a building in Louisville, Kentucky that features a giant baseball bat
Cleveland Airport, which includes giant "paper" aircraft in one terminal.
Cowboy boots at North Star Mall, San Antonio, Texas
Nut-shaped sculptures in at least two American cities, Brunswick, Missouri and Seguin, Texas are claimed to be "the world's largest pecan". [1] The Brunswick pecan is much larger and heavier, but the Seguin pecan is arguably more realistically rendered.
A giant rotating candy bar, reading "Curtiss Baby Ruth" on one side and "Curtis Butterfinger" on the other, at the former Curtiss Candy Company factory in Franklin Park, Illinois, since acquired (and redesigned) by Nestlé.
Gigantic baseball paraphernalia and other novelties, such as bats and gloves, team logos, "big apples", and even supersized Land O'Lakes milk bottles, at various baseball parks including Yankee Stadium, Comerica Park, AT&T Park, Anaheim Stadium, Kauffman Stadium, Shea Stadium, and the Metrodome.

Googie/populuxe architecture

Architecture popular in the 1950s-1960s in southern California and in Florida featured sharp corners, tilted roofs, starburst designs, and fanciful shapes. This came to be known as Googie Doo Wop or populuxe architecture.


Long-established firms whose features are well-known could still qualify as novelty architecture. A couple of examples would be McDonald's original golden-arches design, originating in California as many of the novelty designs have; and the self-referencing design of the White Castle restaurants.


Some critics claim that much of today's contemporary architecture under the guise of Deconstructivism is actually Novelty architecture. Practitioners include leading architects such as Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind and Zaha Hadid.

In architecture, a folly is a building constructed strictly as a decoration, having none of the usual purposes of housing or sheltering associated with a conventional structure. They originated as decorative accents in parks and estates. "Folly" is used in the sense of fun or light-heartedness, not in the sense of something ill-advised.


The concept of the folly is somewhat ambiguous, but they generally have the following properties:
They are buildings, or parts of buildings. Thus they are distinguished from other garden ornaments such as sculpture.
They have no purpose other than as an ornament. Often they have some of the appearance of a building constructed for a particular purpose, but this appearance is a sham.
They are purpose-built. Follies are deliberately built as ornaments.
They are often eccentric in design or construction. This is not strictly necessary; however, it is common for these structures to call attention to themselves through unusual details or form.
There is often an element of fakery in their construction. The canonical example of this is the sham ruin: a folly which pretends to be the remains of an old building but which was in fact constructed in that state.

Related types

Follies fall within the general realm of fanciful and impractical architecture, and whether a particular structure is a folly is sometimes a matter of opinion. However, there are several types which are related but which can be distinguished from follies.
Fantasy and novelty buildings are essentially the converse of follies. Follies often look like real, usable buildings, but never are; novelty buildings are usable, but have fantastic shapes. The many American shops and water towers in the shapes of commonplace items, for example, are not properly follies.
Eccentric structures may resemble follies, but the mere presence of eccentricity is not proof that a building is a folly. Many mansions and castles are quite eccentric, but being purpose-built to be used as residences, they are not properly follies.
Some structures are popularly referred to as "follies" because they failed to fulfill their intended use. Their design and construction may be foolish, but in the architectural sense, they are not follies.
Visionary art structures frequently blur the line between artwork and folly, if only because it is rather often hard to tell what intent the artist had. The word "folly" carries the connotation that there is something frivolous about the builder's intent, and it is hard to say whether a structure like the Watts Towers was constructed "seriously". Some works (such as the massive complex by Ferdinand Cheval) are considered as follies because they are in the form of useful buildings, but are plainly constructions of extreme and intentional impracticality.
Amusement parks, fairgrounds, and expositions often have fantastical buildings and structures. Some of these are follies, and some are not; the distinction, again, comes in their usage. Shops, restaurants, and other amusements are often housed in strikingly odd and eccentric structures, but these are not follies. On the other hand, fake structures which serve no other purpose than decoration are also common, and these are follies.


Follies began as decorative accents on the great estates of the late 16th and early 17th centuries but they flourished especially in the two centuries which followed. Many estates were blessed with picturesque ruins of monastic houses and (in Italy) Roman villas; others, lacking such buildings, constructed their own sham versions of these romantic structures. Such structures were often dubbed "[name of architect or builder]'s Folly", after the single individual who commissioned or designed the project. However, very few follies are completely without a practical purpose. Apart from their decorative aspect, many originally had a use which was lost later, such as hunting towers. Follies are misunderstood structures, according to The Folly Fellowship, a charity that exists to celebrate the history and splendour of these often neglected buildings.

Follies are often found in parks or large grounds of houses and stately homes. Some were deliberately built to look partially ruined. They were especially popular from the end of the 16th century to the 18th century. Theme parks and world's fairs have often contained "follies", although such structures do serve a purpose of attracting people to those parks and fairs.

Famine Follies

The Irish Potato Famine of 1845-49 led to the building of several follies. The society of the day held that reward without labour was misguided. However, to hire the needy for work on useful projects would deprive existing workers of their jobs. Thus, construction projects termed "famine follies" came to be built. These include: roads in the middle of nowhere, between two seemingly random points; screen and estate walls; piers in the middle of bogs; etc.[1]