Lost In The Fun House

Feeling dizzy? We'll hold your wallet for you.
Feeling dizzy? We'll hold your wallet for you.

A while back we made reference in a post to a type of architecture called “HAVE FUN DAMMIT Post Modernism.” See comment #13

Several of you Dedicated Friends had questions about our nomenclature, and rather than inch out any farther onto the thin ice of architectural taxonomy, we have decided to turn the task over to an expert. And so, once again, we rely upon the kind offices of Dr. Ralph E. Haldemann, Professor of Art History (Emeritus) at Otterbein College, Ohio, our Adjunct Arts and Architecture Editor.

Ralph E. Haldemann, Ph.D, Speaks...
Ralph E. Haldemann, Ph.D, speaks, we listen...

Writes Dr. Haldemann:

You have astutely identified a stylistic trend in government subsidized commercial architecture. The outward trappings are meant to induce retail sales through the medium of bright colors, unexpected or weird angles, ostensibly playful and upbeat features and signage; all in an effort to promote a festive, even amusement park-like atmosphere. This mood of jollity is meant to help pry loose disposable income from the local proletarians and thus support a city’s sales tax base. Some of the elements are congruent with the coeval deconstructivism of Post-modern architecture, although any disorientation produced by the former is generally intended to foster a suspension in fiscal responsibility.

Cerritos. Didn't they forget the distortion mirrors?
Cerritos. Why did they leave out the distortion mirrors?
This theme sprang up in the 1980s as urban renewal moved into the suburbs; serious students of architectural history have labeled the approach both “Clown” and “Circus” architecture, not so much in disparagement, but as an indicator of a hoped-for carnival mood on the part of the consumer by the financing public agency.

Anaheim. The Anaheim Plaza resembles an inverted circus tent. Send in the clowns.
Anaheim, California. The Anaheim Plaza seems to symbolize an inverted circus tent. We're ready: send in the clowns.

Since the have-fun-at-all-cost approach necessarily requires a “hard sell” many have recognized a cruel irony in the attempt to force feed fun, especially in economically distressed areas.

Fullerton, California. The Soco Arch. Redevelopment Warning! Fun Zone Ahead. Be Prepared to Have a Good Time!
Fullerton, California. The Soco Arch. Redevelopment Warning! Fun Zone Ahead. Be Prepared to Have a Good Time!

The Have Fun Hard Sell Devours all disposable income
Melbourne, Australia. A real amusement park beckons disposable income to the Zone of Fun.

Since many of these structures and complexes have predictably refused to age with any sort of dignity, critics find solace with the prospect that these buildings will soon be “redeveloped” by the same suburban renewal urges that created them in the first place.

This stuff sure gets old in a hurry...
Fullerton, California. A late 1980s watered-down version. This stuff sure gets old in a hurry...

Finally, I note that many of the themes of this style have sloshed over in to other non-commercial municipal enterprises with fairly appalling consequences.

Cerritos, again. Circus tent rigidified. What were they thinking?
Cerritos, again. Circus tent rigidified into a performing arts center. What were they thinking?

Thanks, Dr. Haldemann, for another lucid and enlightening exposition. Your FFFF check is in the mail, but please don’t cash it ’til the end of the month.

7 Replies to “Lost In The Fun House”

  1. No, Amerige Court would undoubtedly follow the path of Mediterranean palazzo, writ large, although they might try to jazz it up a bit with some zowie colors.

  2. I refuse to shop in these crapholes, lest I become infected with some overbearing bureaucrat’s version of hyper-branded “fun”. I prefer to buy from real people who treat me like an adult and don’t wave shiny things in my face. Unfortunately many of these real businesses are being pushed aside by false accusations of “blight” by those who wish to Irvine-ize our city.

  3. There is little bit of circus/carnival style incorporated into the planned disaster that is to be Amerige Court. See this link for the festive pennant topped dome:


    Doesn’t it just make you want to shop? Or have a community meeting, since this space was described as a place for the public, to get together to, oh, I don’t know, figure out a way to stop Amerige Court?

    Anyone care to speculate on the fate of this most massive RDA project in light of the fact that chosen builder John Laing Homes has declared bankruptcy?

  4. Now that I think of it, most modern restaurant bars seem to push the same sort of theme – the exaggerated, hard-sell fun. The old Rock ‘N Taco springs to mind. Which means that the open-air food court that is downtown Fullerton really is in danger of becoming nothing more than a sort of bureuacrat papered-over amusement park of comestibles hawkers with humans quartered in high-density Fun Zone rabbit warrens.

    And if you pause to think about it, wasn’t the Roscoe gambit for outdoor, amplified music all part of the program?

    As Dr. HeeHaw would say: this is the Neeeew West!

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