From dog-shaped cafes to crocodile-shaped hotels, BD presents a survey of animal-shaped buildings from around the world.
“A noble and absurd undertaking” is how the artist duo behind the Dog Bark Park Inn describe the construction of Sweet Willy, “the largest Beagle in the world.”
Standing a proud ten metres tall next to the highway in Cottonwood, Idaho, Sweet Willy is a functioning bed and breakfast, comprising a principal bedroom in the body, with a additional sleeping space in the dog’s head and a “cozy alcove” in the muzzle. The timber-framed structure is finished with a painted stucco exterior, while the long floppy ears are made of carpet, fixed at the top so they can flap in the wind. Completed in 2003, it towers over Toby, a 3.5m tall model beagle.
“We built the smaller of the two big dogs as a roadside attraction to our art studio where we specialise in carving dog sculptures using chainsaws,” says Frances Conklin, who runs the Inn with her partner Dennis Sullivan. “Dennis came up with the idea to construct an even larger beagle to serve again as a roadside attraction but also to have a function, so we designed it as a guesthouse. People come from across the country and around the world to stay!”
The couple’s “canine carving” business has seen 60 different breeds and poses of dogs created, often working from customers’ photos to produce likeness of their pets.
In Tirau, a small town in the Waikato region of New Zealand’s North Island, the local visitor information centre is housed in a dog-shaped building, constructed from corrugated iron.
The idea came from John Drake, owner of the adjacent sheep-shaped wool outlet, who, when the district council were looking for a site for public toilets, developed the plan into an information centre, car park and picnic area.
Work started in January 1998 with a team of volunteers working alongside local tradesmen, and the building was officially opened in September the same year. The shape of the dog’s head was constructed by local craftsman Steven Clothier - who has since set up “Corrugated Creations” and is now known as the “Iron Man of Tirau.”
The interior features a mural of local scenes, painted by Tirau artist, Fred Luckman, and in 2005 a new stained glass window was unveiled.
Perhaps the most famous dog-shaped building is the Bulldog Café, as featured in the 1991 film, the Rocketeer, set in 1930s Hollywood. Comic illustrator Dave Stevens incorporated the dog-shaped café into his graphic novel, from which the movie was adapted.
The structure was based on an iconic example of Californian roadside architecture, the 1920s Pup Café on West Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles, a popular hot-dog café, depicted here in an Ansel Adams photo from the 1940s.
The set from the film was moved to Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida, to promote the film, and could be seen on back-lot tours, while a replica was built that now stands in the Peterson Automotive Museum in Hollywood, where smoke billows from the dog’s pipe.
The original Bulldog Café set has disappeared from the Disney tour, and it appears to have met a sticky end: someone who worked at Walt Disney World in 2002 claimed to have spotted it behind the Magic Kingdom in the Pluto Park “boneyard,” lying on the ground in two pieces with a giant hole in its side.
The sketchbooks of James Gowan from the 1970s include a series of proposals for gigantic animal-shaped buildings across London - including an alternative scheme for the Millbank housing competition of 1977, which took the form of a vast golden dog.
“The quality I had in mind was the one that H.G. Wells describes in The War of The Worlds,” said Gowan, in an interview with Ellis Woodman. “An object arrives in the middle of an English village and it is pretty fearsome. … You can’t see a door. It just lies there smouldering and you are left guessing what it is until the hatch opens a couple of days later. It was that sense of wonder I was aiming for.”
Gowan’s animal buildings were a gnomic political response to the contemporary feeling of decline surrounding the oil shock of the 1970s.
“The evil dog is not wagging its tail. It is pretty upset about most things. That period was apocalyptic. The grave diggers stopped burying people. You went to Shepherd’s Bush for petrol and queued for about a mile to get a gallon. There has never been much link between politics and my architectural thought but these sketches were a kind of response to what was happening.”
And the method of realising these vast totemic objects?
“There would have to be some penal method of funding because they really would look best in gold. Solid gold plate, polished. Given that no-one was building them I didn’t want to get involved with sensible methods of construction. It would probably take the form of a massive levy on the bankers in the City. They would have to sell their homes in the better areas of London.”
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