February 21, 2010

A Journey to the End of the World

We found ourselves in a strange place, deep within the mysterious Ozark Mountains.  A sacred place which has seemingly shut down for the winter, or perhaps has been abandoned?

This bizarre victorian-brutalist combo appeared to us as a Hollandsian-Hatherlian mash up. Our curiosity had been peaked. We pressed onward. 

 Was this a guard tower, or an observation deck? Or a monument to nature!?  No time to stop and find out. The Towne Centre was quickly approaching.

Fantastic signs begged for our attention upon arriving in Branson, which we later concluded was most certainly the capital of the Ozarks.  Signs with roofs and rainbow colours were among the most prevalent. More on Waltzing Waters soon...

One of the most bizarre traits of this place was its tendency to incorporate both "duck" and "decorated shed" typologies into a most extreme version of the commercial strip.  Building after building presented authentically designed signage to greet vehicular visitors while facades beyond the signs were cloaked in whimsical facades.  Here, the "Twelve Irish Tenors" lightly kisses the Ozarkian sky.

We talked with a few locals at the only open bar in town, and admittedly one of the only buildings we entered in Branson:
Them: Why are you here? 
Us: We're here to look at the architecture in Branson.
Them: Architecture!? In Branson?? What kind of architecture do you like?
Us: [awkward silence...] um, goofy roadside spectacles.
Them: You should go down to Arkansas and see the Arkansas flagstone buildings. Now that is some good architecture. We don't have any here in Branson.
Us: We just took a picture of Waltzing Waters (image below this conversation).
Them: WALTZING WATERS!? THEY TOOK A PICTURE OF WAAALTZING WAAATERS. [shouted in a mixture of bewilderment and disappointment]
Us: Yeah! That's what we like!
Bartender: It sounds like you guys would like "Predator World." Its a half finished zoo built as cheaply as possible. It contains some of the most deadly animals in the world. The only thing holding them back from killing you is thin plastic and plywood. 
Us: [stunned silence]
Predator World was unfortunately closed.  Nestled appropriately on the edge of the Ozark Mountains, the zoo appeared to be part warehouse, part bomb shelter from the outside.  It was missing that characteristic Bransonian flair: decoration on the shed.  It's minimalism (relative to the rest of wildly decorated Branson) appropriately rendered Predator World as a place of    danger and mystique. 

Waltzing Waters, perhaps the most recognizable icon in this city, is a big box retail building which hides behind a massive stylized rainbow.  This is a perfect specimen of Branson's trademark buildings which seemingly blur the lines between building as iconographic object and building as monumental sign. Cartoon clouds and a glittery column of water but the finishing touches on this otherwise default box building.

At night, Branson's formidable mix of signs and iconographic aesthetics comes alive with a heavy dose of explosive neon.

"Delicious Delights" provides Branson with heavenly treats clad in pink metal.

Here, generic suburbia spectacularly transforms into a monumental tribute to American Pop.  Faux-skyscrapers pierce through a predictable strip mall landscape as the familiar "Hollywood" letters easily overpower what still remains of the chaotic commercial strip signage.  

If "America" had to be described in one building, this would undoubtedly be it.  We see a row of "historic" homes from the industrial revolution, a punctuating neo-classical entryway, ironic overshadowing of our tribute to Greek democracy (and all of it's civic monumentality) with a hapazardly placed commercial sign, a series of glassy office towers, and finally the 20th century skyscraper seen from surrounding suburbia. Adjoining this richly layered composition are two curiously out of place images: a bizarre recreation of Mount Rushmore and a Disney-esque castle (not pictured here).  Maximalism at its most jarringly extreme.

Another curious trend were masterfully designed "duck" buildings which provocatively revealed their less glamourous back sides.  This motel was presumably so well camouflaged as a steamboat that a neon sign was required to advertise the building's purpose.

This building is part Titanic, part warehouse.  It is as if the owner spent all of the budget on a spectacular Titanic replica, complete with iceburg and faux-ocean, only to realize only a quarter of his building was complete.  The rest is efficiently constructed as a spec-metal clad warehouse.  Who knows what lies inside this building. And really, who cares. This is Branson, the capital of the Ozark Mountains.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

that first image reminds me of the House in the Clouds: http://www.houseintheclouds.co.uk/