Lost on the Highway
September 11, 2006
This page was originally part of the short-lived “Forgettable Buildings” experiment.
It's easy to overlook an abandoned shack when you're driving down a familiar road. As I make the trek back and forth to the cottage each year I notice small changes in the landscape: one building is now empty and for sale, another has been renovated and countless others still remain dormant and ignored as they have for years.
One particular building only seen in my peripheral vision at 100 km/h was what appeared to be an old FotoMat booth. During a recent return trip I managed to spot it and pull over for a closer look (without causing an accident in the process).
No, it wasn't a FotoMat booth. Rather, it was an old hamburger stand masquerading as one. Or perhaps it used to be one. It's not a particularly interesting structure and I'd be hesitant in referring to it as 'architecture' — it barely qualifies as a building. At the same time I wonder how this tiny speck managed to avoid the wrecking ball for so long when it's such an easy target requiring relatively little effort. And for that matter, why was I so interested in this thing?
Along this particular stretch of highway exist various pockets of commercial activity. Over time, some areas fare better than others and eventually the least profitable businesses go, well, out of business. The three or four other buildings near this one were in a similar state of activity — meaning, none. There is very little local business to be seen — these buildings support the seasonal flow of traffic to and from cottage country and without that business they do not survive.
So this small shack and the buildings surrounding it were most likely profitable until someone opened a better / bigger / nicer / cheaper hamburger shack in a more popular stretch of the road. Then, this place went out of business. At least that's my guess.
For me though, it wasn't a hamburger shack until I managed to pull over and intentionally look at the building. To me it was always the FotoMat booth because that was the shape I saw and the connection I made. And surely it has no more relevance than simply that — a remembered shape — and devoting this much space to the idea of the building already lends it more weight than it deserves.
The building itself isn't the object of attention here. It's the thought that the banal form of the FotoMat booth has cemented itself as an iconic structure in the field of architecture. And how odd is that?