Tuk Chang building, Bangkok
From dog-shaped cafes to crocodile-shaped hotels, BD presents a survey of animal-shaped buildings from around the world.
The elephant has proved a popular typology in the history of animal-shaped buildings, ever since Charles François Ribart proposed a stone pachyderm as a magnificent terminus to the Champs-Elysees - to be constructed where the Arc de Triomphe now stands.
Drawn up in 1758, “L’Elephant Triomphal, Grand Kiosque a la Gloire du Roi” featured a series of grand banqueting rooms arranged over three storeys and accessed from an elaborate staircase that rose through the creature’s belly. High-tech for its day, the building incorporated a form of air conditioning, as well as furniture that folded into the walls. A drainage system was built into its trunk, from which water would gush out into a decorative trough. Ribart’s design was turned down, but it later inspired Napoleon to attempt a similar monument, the 24m high bronze L’Elephant de la Bastille - although only a full-scale plaster model was ever built, after work was halted following his defeat at the battle of Waterloo.
Elsewhere, elephant buildings have been used as successful real estate marketing tools. In 1882, property developer James V Lafferty built a six-storey 20m high “Elephant Bazaar” in Margate City, New Jersey, to encourage people to invest in his holdings. Designed by architect William Free, the wooden structure was clad with panels of pressed tin and weighed in 90 tonnes. It became a much-loved local attraction, nicknamed Lucy the Elephant in 1900, and provided a home for a restaurant, office, cottage and tavern over the years. It was saved from demolition by a campaign in 1970 that saw it designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Lafferty was so taken with his invention that he filed for a patent in 1882, and was granted the exclusive right to make, use or sell animal-shaped buildings for the next 17 years. The patent read that such buildings “may be in the form of any other animal than an elephant, as that of a fish, fowl, etc” - although in fact his imagination never stretched beyond the elephant.
Patent in hand, Lafferty’s next project was an even bigger Elephant Bazaar on Coney Island, nicknamed the “Elephant Colossus”, a 12-storey 40m high hotel building, which included a cigar store in one leg and a diorama display in the other. It soon became a novelty brothel, but was destroyed by a fire in 1896. His third attempt, the 12m-high “Light of Asia,” was built at Cape May in 1884. It was instead dubbed “Old Dumbo” by locals and eventually torn down after years of vandalism.
Perhaps the most successful of all extant elephantine monuments is the 32-storey Tuk Chang building in Bangkok. Designed in 1997 by Thailand’s most celebrated architect, Sumet Jumsai, its legs house a vertical stack of offices, shops and luxury apartments, rising 102m to a roof garden, complete with a swimming pool. Seen as a symbolic lucky animal, it has become a popular venue for weddings and rivals Jumsai’s robot building as the city’s most loved office block.
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