Mimetic architecture, also known as ‘novelty’ or ‘programmatic’ architecture, is a style of building design popularised in the United States in the first-half of the 20th century. It is characterised by unusual building designs that mimic the purpose or function of the building, or the product it is associated with.
Mimetic architecture was particularly popular between the 1920s and 1950s, as cars became widespread and freeways were built across America. Some roadside architecture started to be seen as a means for advertising to passing cars. For example, a roadside restaurant might be designed in the shape of a giant hot dog, a coffee shop in the shape of a coffee pot, or a fruit stand in the shape of a piece of fruit.
While mimetic architecture fell from favour after the 1950s and many such buildings were redeveloped or demolished, their size and novelty means that many are now viewed as local landmarks to be preserved.
Famous examples include:
Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City
The Big Duck, New York
Randy’s Donuts, California
The Big Basket, Newark
Water towers and storage tanks are often disguised in inventive ways, such as the House in the Clouds in Thorpeness.
Mimetic architecture can also refer to the replication of famous landmarks. This is popular in China, Japan and particularly, the United States. Perhaps the place where this is most synonymous is Las Vegas where buildings have been constructed that mimic an Egyptian pyramid (Luxor Las Vegas), the New York skyline (New-New York Hotel and Casino), the Eiffel Tower (Paris Las Vegas), a cartoon-medieval castle (Excalibur), the Rialto bridge (Venetian), and Roman classical architecture (Caesar’s Palace).
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Architectural styles.
- Art Deco.
- Art Moderne.
- Britain’s greatest maverick building.
- Constructivist architecture.
- Dancing House, Prague.
- Dunmore Pineapple.
- Lotus Temple.
- Luxor Las Vegas
- The Big Basket.
- The history of fabric structures.
- The Oculus.
- Unusual building design of the week.
- Vernacular architecture.
Featured articles and news
The origins, evolution and future of Level 3 BIM.
For new and returning Urban Design students, check out our article list divided up into the modules you'll be studying.
Report states that health of urban dwellers could be significantly improved by rethinking transport design.
The Kremlin, the centre of Russian power, includes some of the country's finest architecture.
Report launched outlining steps for a national infrastructure system that is efficient, sustainable, and delivers until 2050.
A review of Justin Bere's concise and well-presented introductory guide to Passive House.
This article describes in detail the tender process for a typical commercial construction contract.
What is energy storage, what are the different types and what is its future?
MAD Architects reveal their designs for a state-of-the-art concert hall in Beijing.
Take a look at BIG's designs for two twisting towers in New York City.
'The filing cabinet' which was labelled one of the best British buildings of the 21st century.