June 18: Duck!

2016/06/18 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1931 the Big Duck opened.

This funky kiosk was the brainchild of duck farmer Martin Maurer, who thought a giant reinforced concrete anatidaeopomorphic building was just the thing to advertise and sell his ducks and duck eggs, which was at the time a big thing for roadside retail.  She might have been just one more novelty act along with huge donuts and coffee pots, the famous Brown Derby and the infamous Longaberger headquarters, if it wasn’t for Robert Venturi.  With his super-important book, Learning from Las Vegas (1977), Venturi made another important assault on the tenets of what he termed Orthodox Modernism.  One of its more memorable and important passages differentiates between buildings that are “ducks” (buildings that are fundamentally symbols in their entirety) and those that are “decorated sheds” (boxes with signs on the front).  The former were castigated–either as the silly Big Duck (albeit successful and honest in its capacity as a roadside attraction) or the boring/ugly Crawford Manor by Paul Rudolph (a sad failure, a fake hero).  The latter were celebrated–be they Santa Maria Novella or a Las Vegas Casino (or Venturi’s own Guild House).  Now, that is provocative talk on many grounds, but it helps us forgive the somewhat uneven work that has come out of Venturi’s office lo these many decades because he has been a helpful provocateur.  And he is the proof of the pudding, that the joker at court may be just a fool, or may be the wisest person in the room.

Image: it’s the duck (from this source)

Bonus! Check out her rarely-seen backside


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