13 Animal-Shaped Buildings
By Matt Hickman, Mother Nature Network, 27 April 2015.
By Matt Hickman, Mother Nature Network, 27 April 2015.
Novelty architecture can take on many fantastical forms - think municipal water towers done up like peaches and soft serve-shaped ice cream stands - but animal-shaped buildings are in a league of their own.
Often built as roadside attractions meant to lure motorists off the highway, these completely functional structures serve a greater purpose than just kitschy ornamentation. Some are truly mimetic - that is, the building is representative of its original purpose be it a poultry shop, seafood restaurant or woollen clothing boutique. Others are more symbolic, which is probably a good thing.
We’ve rounded up several examples of zoological-inspired architecture from around the globe, focusing on an array of critters, terrestrial and aquatic, domesticated and wild, cute and fearsome.
1. Big Sheep Wool Gallery and i-Site Visitor Centre
Photo: Phillip Capper/Flickr
While the two most Instagrammed structures in the tiny farming outpost of Tirau on New Zealand’s North Island have likely birthed a non-stop, bottleneck-induced traffic headache for the locals, at least it’s easy to give directions. Just take a left at the incredibly large sheep. Can’t miss 'em. He’s right next to the dog with the stained glass windows and public loo inside.
Built from corrugated scrap iron in 1994, the Big Sheep Wool Gallery, a woollen goods emporium and souvenir shop, was the first of the two mimetic structures to be erected. A few years later, a dog-shaped visitors centre, also designed by local artist and entrepreneur Steven Clothier, went up directly next to the sheep on the town’s main drag. While the two structures are Tirau’s only corrugated iron buildings shaped like animals, an array of whimsical sculptures and signage also crafted from the popular roofing material can be found throughout town, a town that’s lifted itself from rural economic depression to become New Zealand’s premiere folk art-heavy pit stop.
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2. Blue Whale
Photo: Nicolas Henderson/Flickr
While hard to classify as a proper building, the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Oklahoma - aka the world’s most famous cement sperm whale with a waterslide jutting out of its side - is considered royalty in the world of kitschy roadside attractions. After all, the gentle leviathan is beached permanently right off of Route 66, the most iconic American roadway of all.
Built over a private pond by retired zoologist Hugh Davis in the early 1970s as an anniversary gift for his whale figurine-collecting wife, the Blue Whale was initially a family-only affair. But as Davis soon found out, when you erect an 80-foot-long marine mammal alongside America’s most vacationer-heavy highway, people will pull over and gawk. And pull over and gawk they did. It didn’t take long for Davis to open the Blue Whale up to the public and convert the pond into a proper swimming hole complete with a sand beach and picnic area. Other attractions, including a reptile zoo, followed. While the Blue Whale isn’t quite the hotspot it used to be and the pond is more stagnant than swimmable, preservation efforts lead by the Catoosa Chamber of Commerce have helped to keep Oklahoma’s most well-known cetacean on the map.
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3. Lucy the Elephant
Photo: Tony Fischer/Flickr
You’ve really got to hand it to Lucy, the most famous pachyderm on the Jersey Shore. At 134 years of age, she’s a true survivor, having persevered through decades of vandalism and violent weather, demolition threats and extended periods of decay. Hell, both Prohibition and Hurricane Sandy proved to be no match for this feisty 90-ton gal.
Built from wood and clad in tin, Lucy has towered over the seaside resort town of Margate City (home to Marvin Gardens of Monopoly fame) since 1881 when she was erected by Irish-born animal-shaped building progenitor James V. Lafferty. Lucy has served numerous functions over the years: real estate office, café, summer cottage and, most notoriously, a tavern. A community-led relocation and restoration helped Lucy make it through the neglect-heavy dark years and, in 1976, achieve designation as a National Historic Landmark. The six-story beast’s current function is that of gift shop and good, old-fashioned tourist attraction. In fact, she’s apparently the most popular “non-gaming attraction” in the Atlantic City region. Come for Harrah’s, stay for the howdahs.
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4. Dog Bark Park Inn
Photo: Adam Levine/Flickr
Ah, Idaho - glorious land of potato farms, chichi ski resorts, monstrous trout and beagle-shaped bed-and-breakfasts.
Located right off Highway 95 in the sleepy Camas Prairie community of Cottonwood, the Dog Bark Park Inn is the only lodging establishment that we know of in which guests hunker down for the night within the (air-conditioned) belly of a 30-foot-tall hound dog. The luxury of sleeping inside of said hound - the loveable beagle also responds to the name Sweet Willy - will set you back US$98 per night, “expansive continental self-serve breakfast” included. Your gracious hosts are world-renowned chainsaw-wielding folk artists Dennis Sullivan and Frances Conklin, whose creations can be purchased in the gallery next door. And yes, canine guests are indeed welcome to stay at the inn - all done up with doggy-themed décor, naturally - pending prior approval and a non-refundable US$15 pet surcharge.
5. Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum
Ever dreamt of saying “I do” within the gaping jaw of a 143-foot long muskellunge? We’ve got just the spot for you.
The semi-terrifying crown jewel of the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum, the massive fiberglass muskie (a large and particularly unattractive member of the pike family that’s caught for sport in the Midwest, if you’re unfamiliar) is a singular spot for intimate wedding ceremonies - or, at the very least, super-ironic wedding photography. Boasting a needle-toothed mouth/observation deck that can accommodate about 20 people, the belly of the four-and-a-half-story fish is home to the museum’s Shrine To Anglers. And since the museum’s extensive outboard motor exhibit, intriguing as it is, doesn’t exactly scream “after party,” good times can be had at Hayward, Wisconsin’s other top attraction: the Moccasin Bar.
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6. The Big Duck
Photo: Adam Moss/Flickr
A wacky, quacky work of avian-themed novelty architecture, this plus-sized bird has been a grade-A source of rubbernecking since it was first unveiled in the early 1930s by Long Island duck farmer Martin Maurer as a roadside egg emporium. While the 20-foot-tall reinforced-concrete waterfowl has moved around a handful of times over the years, born-and-bred Suffolk County residents should easily be able to identify the current location of “that really large duck” in Flanders, New York.
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 and more recently named one of the 7 Wonders of Long Island (it beat out that Montauk Lighthouse and a motor lodge with heart-shaped Jacuzzi tubs and mirrored ceilings), the Big Duck is more than just a souvenir-peddling tourist trap. In a direct nod to the historic structure, husband-wife architect duo Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown coined the term “duck architecture” in the 1970s. Also known as programmatic architecture, the term refers to a building-cum-advertisement that, instead of relying on signage, takes the stylized form of the product or service offered inside of the building.
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7. Turtle Building
Photo: Steve Moskowitz/Flickr
On the market for a 67,000-square-foot complex that bears an uncanny resemblance to a lackadaisical, leathery-skinned reptile?
Niagara Falls Redevelopment is still looking to hand over the keys to this down-and-out downtown landmark with distinctly chelonian curves to the right venture. Opened in 1980 as the Native American Centre for the Living Arts, the short-lived cultural institution didn’t enjoy the longevity of its architectural inspiration and, in a cruel bit or irony, went belly-up just a little over a decade later. It’s been sitting empty ever since. While the building’s shape very much fit its original purpose - the much-revered turtle is central to Iroquois creation myth - finding new use for a massive abandoned turtle with a geodesic dome-topped auditorium/shell hasn’t been easy. Armchair redevelopers and April O’Neil fanboys: What would you do with the space?
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8. The Big Merino
The Sydney Opera House. The Cape Byron Lighthouse. The Harbour Bridge. The Queen Victoria Building. The Tower Eye. The Big Merino.
While that last architectural landmark may not ring a bell with most visitors Down Under, particularly those who stick to Sydney and the coastal areas of New South Wales, if you ask a native about the “knitwear boutique housed in a 50-foot-tall concrete ram,” chances are they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. Located in Goulburn, a mid-sized NSW city best known for its maximum-security prison and fine wool industry, the Big Merino - locally known as “Rambo” - has been distracting motorists since 1985. In 1997, the 97 metric ton ruminant - the largest sheep in the world, by the way - was relocated from its original spot to a more high-traffic location near a new expressway exit. Visitors were verboten from entering the belly of the beast for an extended period following the move but the Big Merino is currently back in business. While the structure itself is still very much the main draw, folks, ahem, flock from all over to snatch up mohair throws, possum-blend wool jumpers and sheepskin Ugg boots.
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9. Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel
Photo: Accor Hotels
Vegas may have hotels shaped like Egyptian pyramids, Bavarian fairy tale castles and the New York City Skyline, but you’ll have to travel deep into the wilds of Kakadu National Park - the largest national park in Australia (the land of Mick "Crocodile" Dundee) - to sleep in the belly of a massive croc.
While the reptilian resort in question has changed hands in recent years (many still know it as the Gagudju Crocodile Holiday Inn), the Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel is still in the business of devouring adventure-seeking tourists from across Australia and beyond. As the only full-service hotel within Kakadu, the 110-room property (the cheapest rooms are in the tail) is a civilized, air-conditioned respite from the surrounding wilderness and its stunning natural beauty. There’s also an outdoor pool within the croc’s landscaped midsection/courtyard, which offers a very preferable alternative to cooling off in the nearby Magela Creek, a body of water that’s teeming with venomous snakes and not-so-docile crocodiles.
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10. Giant Koala Tourist Complex
Photo: Mattinbgn/Wikimedia Commons
If we’ve learned anything about animal-shaped architecture while compiling this list, it's this: Aussies love their “Big Things.”
Amongst the most iconic - and cuddliest - of Australia’s 100-plus Paul Bunyan-sized roadside tourist traps is a souvenir-peddling visitors centre in the tiny Victorian town of Dadswell Bridge that takes the form of a gargantuan koala bear. Completed in 1989 and later affectionately named "Sam" in remembrance of a sweet-natured female koala that was rescued during the catastrophic Black Saturday bush fires of 2009 and became the resilience-symbolizing poster-animal of the tragedy, the 46-foot-tall Giant Koala Tourist Complex is also home to an adjacent restaurant, ice cream and lollipop shop, outdoor BBQ area and a small zoo that’s home to two real-life arboreal marsupials named Karla and Cuddles. If house-sized koalas don’t tickle your fancy, a small army of other Big Things can be found looming across Victoria including the Big Pheasant (Tynong), the Big Strawberry (Koonoomoo), the Big Tap (Cowes) and the Big Miner (Ballrat).
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11. Crab Building (Alimango Restaurant)
Photo: Simon Burchell/Wikimedia Commons
Forget about the kittens, ducks and koala bears. Here’s a building in the Philippines that’s crawled straight out of the ocean and into our nightmares.
Unfortunately, there’s really not that much floating around out there concerning the back story of Dagupan’s creepy crab-shaped building other than at one point in time the abandoned structure was a seafood restaurant named after a cannibalistic but oh-so-delicious crustacean - the alimango or mud crab - that’s farmed and consumed throughout the Philippines and Southeast Asia. (We do wonder what happened to the restaurant’s former fry cook). And hey, it could be even more nightmarish when it comes to derelict, seafood-shaped buildings. Try imaging your car breaking down in the middle of the night in front of the boarded-up Lamprey Bar & Grill.
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12. Fisheries Department
Photo: Nagaraju raveender/Wikimedia Commons
Although large-scale examples of programmatic architecture that transcend roadside attraction status are increasingly rare, there are few fine contemporary examples of playful structures that take on the stylized form of whatever is going on inside including the Longaberger Company’s basket-resembling corporate headquarters in Ohio and a flashy and conspicuously fishy office building - an office building out of water, if you will - located in the Indian city of Hyderabad.
You’d be inclined to think that offices of the National Fisheries Development Board would occupy a few floors of an anonymous commercial tower but no…only the finest four-story shaped fish building would do for the NFDB, an aquaculture-promoting organization formed to bolster Indian fish exports and lead the “blue revolution.” Opened for business in 2012, the complex - locally known as Matsya Bhavan - is reported to have been inspired by another plus-sized fish monument: Starchitect Frank Gehry’s glorious, glittering Barcelona Fish statue, El Peix, erected on the Spanish city’s waterfront for the 1992 Summer Olympics.
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13. Elephant Tower
Photo: Jarcje/Wikimedia Commons
Last but not least, an elephantine edifice for the ages…
Although decidedly more abstract in form than some of the other critter-shaped structures on our list, Bangkok’s impossible-to-miss Chang Building is well-deserved of its alternate name: the Elephant Tower. Rising 32 floors above the Chatuchak District, this mixed-use mammoth - inside, you’ll find luxury housing, commercial space, retail and much more - was designed by architect Sumset Jumsai to resemble Thailand’s national animal. As noted by journalist and historian Hoag Levins, the Elephant Tower’s arrival in 1997 presented a bit of a marketing challenge to the folks behind Lucy the Elephant, a significantly smaller work of pachyderm-inspired architecture and long-time landmark on the Jersey Shore. After enjoying more than a century as the world’s largest elephant building, Lucy was forced to hand over her title to this hot cubist mess in Bangkok. Issues of size aside, we still love Lucy.
Top images: The Big Merino by MD111/Flickr (left) and the Blue Whale by Nicolas Henderson/Flickr (right).
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