Unfolding the City

Duplicating Architecture

Posted in Architecture, Theory by Chris on Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Reading Kevin Lynch makes me think the answer to this question lies within memory associations. Psychologically I do not understand them, but I know them from my own experience. Why does designing fast food restaurants for a living sound terrible? We know that humans strive to be different, so is duplicated art and architecture a sin? The idea that one could expresses something exactly the same way as someone else is unnerving.

Let’s examine the nature of duplication. This concept lies within Typology; similar to Taxonomy. We have an item, and it has qualities. Let’s take a tree for instance. A tree has a trunk, roots, branches, and leaves (or some other method of gathering sunlight). So a tree is something with these things. A type of tree shares similar looking or functioning versions of these things in common. So a fast food restaurant has a particular style. The style is based on colors, veneers, the facades, etc.

What about the duplication of place? To a certain level, we all had our childhood hang-out spots, or have heard of them and understand their functioning. My childhood hang-out spot happened to be Oz Pizza, which is sadly closed now, but irrelevant to the point. The point is, that almost every day after school, I spent time in this place, Oz Pizza, and made memories there. These memories help me remember the place now, but also serve as an emotional connection to the place. Imagine if “Oz Pizza” opened yet again. I would probably be excited, and visit, but what if the inside were different? Could I count on the food to be the same? Hypothetically, if it was, it would be something that I like to call a local chain. This wording has little to do with proximity, even though it suggests more. A local chain has variation in place, but no variation in food. Six Feet Under is a restaurant that is a good example of this. This concept allows the consumer to create an individual sense of place for each location.

McDonald’s has a sense of place for each location, but that is by-and-large created by the surroundings. Say I can remember that something happened to me at McDonalds one time, such as, swinging back and forth in the swivel chairs and making a lot of noise. I was young; I probably did this at multiple locations, but if it were only one location, which one? The variation within the restaurants is not big enough to warrant an answer to the question. What if I remembered a really cool fish I saw on the wall in Six Feet Under? It could be either location, since both locations have tons of knick knacks hanging around. What if I remember that it was in a very large space? Well, It would have to be the Six Feet Under in westside Atlanta, since the one near Oakland cemetery is very small.

This type of concept fascinates me; the style of architecture McDonalds has is more or less the same everywhere, a static duplication. Most “chains” share this same characteristic. They must share this characteristic for ease of design and replication – the store represents something about the owner through its “style.” I wonder what a chain store would be like if the designer were to style it somewhere in between it’s owner’s tastes and it’s surroundings. My boss and I were supposed to do a design for Octane Coffee in Midtown that took Midtown’s sleekness and Howell Mill’s Octane Location and ran them together, but it never pulled through.