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
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 Moderne.
- Big Duck.
- Britain’s greatest maverick building.
- Constructivist architecture.
- Dancing House, Prague.
- Dunmore Pineapple.
- Fish Building, India.
- Haines Shoe House.
- Lotus Temple.
- Luxor Las Vegas
- Piano Building.
- Teapot building.
- The Big Basket.
- The history of fabric structures.
- The Oculus.
- Unusual building design of the week.
- Vernacular architecture.
Featured articles and news
Read about RSHP's British Museum extension which has been shortlisted for the 2017 Stirling Prize.
Read our introductory article to building a house extension.
More updates from DCMS about the large-scale testing of cladding systems and the number of buildings affected.
UandI secure resolution to grant planning consent for major new regeneration project.
IHBC article considers how heritage is dealt with when infrastructure schemes are authorised.
It was the tallest structure in the world for 3,800 years, but to this day the exact construction techniques are a mystery.
Shortlist for the industry's most coveted award announced.
Government responds to Mark Farmer's review of industry, rejecting the call for a levy on clients.
Peter Hansford to examine what wider lessons can be learned from the fire.
Every project is subject to uncertainty. How can construction better understand uncertainty for performance improvement?
MAD Architects reveal their designs for a futuristic campus for electric car manufacturer.
Homebuyers could borrow more with better forecasting of energy bills, according to industry consortium's new report.
Read our introductory article on carbon capture and storage.