Remember the children’s animated series ‘Oswald’ we used to watch in our childhood? The story of the blue octopus and his friends? How fascinating the buildings in its ‘Big City’ were! Be it the tent, the rocket, or the ball, these strange looking buildings always captivated our attention as kids. All those were the perfect examples of Mimetic Architecture. Mimetic or Novelty architecture is a style in which the building form or elevational treatment replicates or symbolizes the purpose or the function of the building. In many cases, it can be objects, products associated with the company, creatures, etc. It started as roadside architecture in the 1930s, and now, we can see many peculiar yet compelling structures that have become national landmarks.
The following are some of the examples of Novelty architecture that are influenced by their functions.
1. Dubai Frame, Zabeel Park, Dubai
Designed by – Fernando Donis
Built in 2018, this structure is one of the many architectural marvels of Dubai. Built as an amazing mosaic of glass, steel, aluminum, and reinforced concrete, the Dubai Frame is a void of 150 by 105 meters designed to frame the past, present, and future of the city. It is positioned in such a location where on one side of the frame, the visitors can see the representative landmarks of Dubai whereas on the other side, the older parts of the city. It houses a café, glass walkways, viewing galleries, and several elevators, all providing a panoramic view of the city’s fantastic skyline.
2. Dancing House Hotel, Prague
Designed by – Frank Gehry
As the name suggests, this building was constructed in 1996 as a tribute to the famous dancers, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The stone tower represents Fred and the glass tower with a wavy form represents his female partner, Ginger. This building in a deconstructivist style stands out with its curved pillars, undulated moldings, and aesthetic characters. It is now a hotel with 21 luxurious rooms, with café, and top floor restaurant named after these dancers.
3. Piano House, Shannan, China
Designed by – Hefei University of Technology
Designed to a scale of 50:1, this building depicts a piano and a violin leaned to it. The piano is supported on three huge concrete pillars and houses two large concert halls. It is built using black glass panels interlaced with alternated clear and white glass stripes that symbolize the keys of the piano. The violin is the entrance to the concert halls constructed with clear glass panels. It accommodates the escalators and staircases. A roof terrace is sheltered beneath a canopy shaped like the propped-open lid of a piano.
4. Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Designed by – Moshe Safdie
Situated on the Marina Bay waterfront is the world’s most expensive Casino, an integrated hotel with approximately 2500 rooms, a convention center, art and exhibition center, a museum, a large theatre, several restaurants owned by celebrity chefs, two grand Crystal Pavilions, and The Shoppes, a huge shopping mall at the Marina Bay Sands. All these are integrated into three towers that resemble three decks of cards. Resting on top of these towers is the sky park, a 3-acre park with swimming pools, jogging tracks, and gardens shaped like a huge elongated boat.
5. Lotus Temple, Delhi, India
Designed by – Fariborz Sahba
The Lotus Temple is a hall of worship following the Baha’i faith that believes in creating a space for people of all religions to gather and worship. Its form is derived from a lotus because it is a sacred flower that symbolizes purity and divinity in Hinduism as well as Buddhism. There are three layers of 9 petals each, the inner and the central layer curved inside to form the central dome whereas the outermost layer is curved outside forming canopies over the nine entrances of the hall. It is cladded with white marble and there are pools constructed beneath the structure to give an impression of the lotus floating over the water.
6. Kansas City Public Library, Missouri
Designed by–Dimensional Innovations
The Kansas City public library built in 2004 is an interesting piece of architecture. Its parking garage is well known for its innovative façade, which is designed to look like a giant bookshelf. The façade showcases the spines of 22 books measuring 25 by 9 feet that are chosen by the citizens of Kansas City which illustrates the diversity of the subjects of reading available in the library.
7. The Big Basket, Newark, Ohio
This structure was built as the headquarters of the Longaberger Company, an American manufacturer of handcrafted maple wood baskets. The shape is the replica of the company’s best selling product, the Medium Market Basket. Built in 1997, this seven-storied structure has a central atrium and a glass ceiling for natural light. The two handles on the top are made of steel and have heating accessories inside them to prevent freezing of ice, hence protecting the glass ceiling.
8. Simone Handbag Museum, Seoul, South Korea
Designed by – UAD and Charlie Smith Design
Exhibiting the art and craftsmanship of making handbags, this five-storied building is shaped like a massive handbag. It is also known as ‘The BagStage Building’. The structure comprises Museum café and souvenir shop, Simone’s flagship store, another multi-brand shop featuring all the contemporary brands around the world, the Contemporary Gallery showing the history of handbags of the 20th and 21st centuries, Historical Gallery exhibiting archives from the 16th through 19th centuries and numerous workshops.
9. Fish Building, Hyderabad, India
Commonly known as the Fish Building, this structure was designed as the regional office of the National Fisheries Development Board. It was built in 2012 and was inspired by Frank Gehry’s monumental ‘Fish’ sculpture in Barcelona. The building is cladded in stainless steel panels and blue-purple tinted glass windows. The fin acts as a canopy over the entrance staircase.
10. Haines Shoe House, Pennsylvania
Designed by – Fred J. Rempp
This house belonged to the successful shoe salesman Mahlon Haines (a.k.a. Shoe Wizard) and is identical to one of his work boots. It was constructed in 1948 with a timber frame support covered with stucco and stained glass windows. The living room is located near the toe, whereas the heel contains the kitchen and there are two bedrooms in the ankle.
11. Torre Telefonica, Santiago, Chile
Designed by – Mario Paredes & Arquitectos Asociados
Built in 1996, this 34 storied skyscraper was constructed for Movistar Telecommunications. It resembles the box type cell phones that were available in the ’90s. It is a commercial structure and also has a helipad on the 35th floor. The whole building is cladded in glass and aluminum panels with a reinforced concrete framework.
12. LEGO House, Billund, Denmark
Designed by – Bjarke Ingels Groups
The LEGO House was constructed as an exhibition and skill development center of various forms and scenes created with tiny LEGO Blocks. The building, built in 2017, resembles 21 giant LEGO blocks placed on one another with a facade covered in white glazed ceramic tiles that each look like classic 2×4 LEGO bricks. Each block is color-coded to create various skill development corners for the kids. On the top is the masterpiece gallery that has eight circular skylights like the blocks.
13. Chowdiah Memorial Hall, Bangalore, India
Designed by –S.N. Murthy
This building was designed as a tribute to the violin maestro of Indian Carnatic Music, Tirumakudalu Chowdiah. It is an auditorium and cultural center built in the shape of a seven-string violin. This building explores components beyond just the superficial form of a violin and has the intricate details of strings, keys, the bridge, and the bow.
14. Museum of Tea Culture, Meitan China
The Meitan Tea Museum is a unique building replicating a giant clay teapot. Accompanying it is another building adjacent to it shaped like a cup. Meitan is well known for its tea and this is the reason why a building in this city has this bizarre form. From a long distance, it looks like a sculpture in the center of the city, but as one comes closer the windows give away its true purpose.
15. BMW Headquarters, Munich, Germany
Designed by –Karl Schwanzer And Atelier Brückner
The towers of the BMW Headquarters were built in 1993. They accommodate the commercial spaces and mimic the shape of four cylinders in a car engine. The BMW Automobile Museum next to it represents a cylinder head that was added to the campus in 2008. The Museum has a homogenous façade cladded with aluminum panels while the towers have a mix of aluminum and glass panels.