The Wild WestWhen we think about the iconic Wild West town, the one from the movies, the one from countless high noon shoot outs, we are thinking about a very specific style of architecture. The flat wooden facades, the rustic early Victorian saloons, and the crackerbox buildings are all part of our mental picture of what the west was like, and it is how we are most likely to depict it. With the exception of a few similar examples in Australia, Wild West buildings are easily recognized by people all over the world and they can instantly transport an audience to a very specific time and place.
When given the job of creating a themed place knowing a little background information regarding WHY they look the way they do can add depth to your design and inform your choices as you work. Buildings in the old west look the way they do because of an equal mixture of necessity and the aesthetics of the time. Imagine the rush to the West from the more cultivated East. Driven initially by a lust for gold, small towns sprung up wherever it was imagined there was an opportunity to strike it rich. These first towns were often populated by men, and having few resources at hand, these first buildings were likely to be tents. Lines of tents along a muddy road was what you would encounter if you were part of the first wave West. The buildings housing the barber, saloon, and the purveyor of supplies were likely to look alike. Wherever humans go they are most apt to try and recreate a little of what they left behind. Soon flat facades were added to the fronts of the tents, and rudimentary conveniences were included, like a place to wipe your muddy boots before you walked inside. The simple facades were a early attempt to reflect the architectural styles back home, but ultimately they were merely a front door for the tent, and a way to establish your business as unique among the others along that muddy street.
Later on a wooden structure was added to the facade, replacing the tent. This was done as much to keep the elements at bay, as to help secure your stock or belongings. Once the trains started west, exotic supplies such as window glass and wood stoves would be added, creating comfort and light. When women began to populate the west, demands for refinement and more of the comforts left in the east were forced upon the buildings and towns, and so you get a steady progression of improvements that bring us to the present day. When designing a western set or themed land, giving a nod to the details that are facts of the historical evolution of the place will only add depth to its design. Knowing “why” people did things the way they did is also a way to imaging the story of “who” made the choices. What were they trying to recreate? How did their facade communicate the quality of the products and services they offered? All the motivations that drive business people today were present back then, their only limitations were the materials at hand.
Eccentric Victoriansjust over $2000, and erected on site. Also available in the Sears catalog were countless doors, windows, and details, each purchasable ala cart. Never wanting to leave a good thing alone, many home purchases were accessorized, often by the lady of the household, with little architectural knowledge or discretion. Doors might be added to dormers, window styles mixed from several eras, and any number of incompatible gingerbread trims could be draped over every surface. What we consider Victorian charm was just as likely to cause a stomach ulcer inside a typical Victorian architect.
When designing a Victorian facade, keeping in mind this historical proclivity towards “do it yourself” home design leaves your work wide open for storytelling opportunities. Who lives here, and why did they make the choices they did when building their home or business? It is possible to get carried away (in a good way), but when used sparingly it can infuse your design with a lot of rich storytelling possibilities.
Baroque on the Prairieprimary colored clowns to Cirque du Soleil, but in their heyday they were traveling affairs that brought big sized entertainment to often very small towns. For people who had never seen a tiger before, having the circus roll into town, on wagons or by rail, was about as exotic an experience as they could ever dream of. For the promoters of the circus, they wished to bring with them a show that rivalled the very best the world could offer, but within the limitations of the medium. Having to constantly erect, tear down, and transport an entire show meant that a lots of the decor was painted on surfaces that could be folded up.
At the very height of Baroque and Georgian festooned grandeur were the extravagant opera houses and theaters located throughout the great cities of Europe, arguably the most famous being the Paris Opera house. In their way, the circus attempted to create their own palaces of wonder in vacant lots, fields, and fairgrounds all over the United States. Through the use of theatrics, canvas, and paper mache, it is easy to see the influence places like the Paris Opera House had on the design of circus tents, side shows, and graphics. For several nights in the summer a fabric edifice would rise from the corn fields, then pack up again and head to the next town.