Redesigning the Golden Arches: Do Famous Architects Create Happier Meals?

In the 1980s and 90s, a pair of accomplished architecture firms were asked to design restaurants for the world's most famous, and formulaic, fast food chain. See what happened when the avant garde rethought the golden arches.
August 4, 2013, 11am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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"Ever since the late 1960s, when McDonald’s abandoned its iconic, modernist-inspired golden-arched buildings in favor of a separate, golden-arched sign and a decidedly less exciting mansard-roofed structure, it has been rare to mention the words 'McDonald’s' and 'architecture' in the same sentence," writes Jimmy Stamp. "Rare, but not unheard of, as a few notable architects designed some of the franchise’s more exceptional establishments."

One such establishment was located in Berwyn, Illinois, where architecture firm SITE was asked to design "something daring". "At the time, SITE was known for bringing a surprising sculptural sensibility to the Best Products retail stores and they brought that same subversive approach to their work for McDonald’s, identifying the standard ingredients, as it were, of a typical franchise –mansard roof, brick exterior, Colonial-style windows, golden arches– and then re-presenting them in a new way," explains Stamp.

"Another significant McDonald’s was built in the 1990s by renowned architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown in Buena Vista, Florida," he continues. "Venturi and Scott Brown describe their design as 'a classic example of American commercial architecture defined by signage and symbolism within a roadside context whose conventional order we tweaked, in cooperation with McDonald’s.'”

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Published on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 in Smithsonian
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