December 05: The Long Proud History of Buildings Shaped Like Animals (With Bonus Busting on Gropius)
2016/12/05 § Leave a comment
On this day in 1882 James V. Lafferty was granted a patent for zoomorphic architecture.
Not just animal architecture in general, Lafferty had a thing for elephants, and thought the world needed not one, but at least a few habitable elephant structures. He exercised his patent in the construction of at least three of them: in Cape May, Atlantic City, and Coney Island–the latter of them reaching a whopping height of 122 feet. The shapes may have been unusual, but the structures were not: simple timber frames nailed together and covered with hammered tin.
For all their quirkyness, Lafferty’s mammoths were not the world’s first. In particular, the French have had a thing for elephantitecture: in the mid-eighteenth century Charles Ribart planned a three-story folly on the site of the Arc de Triomphe. This (unfortunately unrealized) glory was designed to fill a basin by squirting water from his trunk. Later, Napoleon tried to get a giant elephant built on the old site of the Bastille (Victor Hugo was not making that thing up in Les Miserables), but the project stalled.
These nineteenth-century elephants are joined by a veritable menagerie through the twentieth century. These include the rather obvious symbolic approach by architect David Foster for a proposed extension to London’s Natural History Museum (1975) and a sweetly straightforward solution to the quest for proper form for a dog hotel at the aptly named Dog Bark Park Inn (Cottonwood, Idaho). Two recent projects in southeast Asia include an abstracted behemoth, the 32-floor Bangkok elephant by architect Ong-ard Satrabhandhu (1997) and the delightful National Fisheries Building (Rajendranagar, India, 2012). Our favorite example is the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisconsin–we did not know there needed to be a National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, but as there is apparently an audience for such an institution, we delight in its presentation in the shape of a giant muskie. Then of course is the fairest of them all, the Long Island duck (1931) made so famous by Robert Venturi. Wacky buildings, all of them, but clearly showing that a little wit never hurt anyone. (Except Walter Gropius; wit made him sometimes rest his aching head like this, although if things got really out of control and downright frollicsome, it was a two-hand day like this.)
Image: the patent (from this source)