Unusual architecture: Part 1

How Art Shapes Our Life

Sal MaccaroneDecember 21, 2011 

Architecture has come a long way since builders first discovered how to pile stones one on top of the other. In this age of information and openly shared ideas, "the sky" really does seem to be the limit in terms of what can be done. Each time that a new building material or a different way of thinking is introduced to the world, it is just a matter of time before someone sets out to do something astounding with it.

So, with that in mind, I will begin a three part series of articles to do with unusual architecture and how it can be very effective. Innovative buildings, unique houses, and what I like to call, "Commercial roadside attractions," will be the three categories that will be pointed out. Let us begin with the latter.

The commercial roadside attraction is probably the most outrageous and just plain entertaining of these three types of buildings. Sometimes strange, sometimes incredible, these structures are usually built to advertise a product or service. For instance, the Haines Shoe House in York, Penn. was designed by a shoe tycoon who made a fortune by using just this type of creative advertising. Built in 1947, this two story, three bedroom house is located right on old State Route 30. Shaped just like a high top shoe, complete with a shoe-shaped doghouse, Mr. Haines would loan the house out to newlyweds and elderly couples -- all expenses paid! This form of advertising, and generosity, has sold shoes for decades simply by word-of-mouth.

Another delightful example of this form of product advertising, on a much bigger scale, would have to be the Longaberger building in Newark, Ohio. Built in 1997, it is the world headquarters of the Longaberger Basket Company. Located on State Route 16, the building is an exact replica of one of the company's handcrafted baskets -- except that it is 160 times larger and cost $30 million. Large rectangular windows are ingeniously placed within the weave of this seven-story, basket-shaped building. To give an idea of scale, each of the huge upright handles weighs in at 75 tons and must to be heated during cold weather to prevent damage from ice.

Then there is the parking garage for the Kansas City Public Library. Shaped like a bookshelf with books on it, this utilitarian building was an early part of the revitalization of their downtown. The huge bookshelf, which is the facade of the structure, showcases 22 titles that reflect a wide variety of reading interests as suggested by Kansas City readers and then selected by the library Board of Trustees. Some of the titles for what is called, "The Community Bookshelf," include: Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and E.B. White's Charlotte's Web. Each of the book spines measure approximately 25 feet by nine feet and the aluminum substructure, which includes clear windows, was molded through the center of the books. Favorably promoting the central library, this building is truly a work of art!

Closer to home, the United Equipment Company in Turlock is also worthy of our applause. Built in 1976, this corporate office, located right on Hwy 99, is shaped like a giant tractor. The two-story rendition of a yellow earthmover has certainly captured a lot of our attention through the years. Most people do not realize that this is a functioning building at all, but it does seem to make their imaginations run wild. I believe that we are all more inclined to ponder a building that is unique rather than one that is not.

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