Last edited 21 Jun 2016

Mimetic architecture

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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

The Big Duck.JPG

Randy’s Donuts, California

Randys Donuts.jpg

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).


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