Funny Architecture and Weird Buildings

01
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Inntel Hotel Amsterdam-Zaandam

Hotel that looks like many houses stacked on top of each other
Inntel Hotel Amsterdam-Zaandam by Wilfried van Winden, WAM architects, 2010. Photo by Studio Van Damme / Moment / Getty Images (cropped)

Welcome to This Odd House! You read that right—This Odd House. Who says architecture has to be serious? Weird buildings are found around the world. What's wacky? In addition to this upside-down house in Orlando and the Longaberger basket building, we found lopsided buildings, buildings shaped like spaceships and mushrooms, an immense tree house, and a house with aluminum siding you won't soon forget. Join us for a chuckle, beginning with a layover in Holland.

Yes, this is a real working hotel in the Netherlands near Amsterdam. The design idea was to incorporate traditional homes of the Zaan region into the facade. The traveler can literally say there's no place like home. And home. And home.

02
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Wonderworks Museum in Orlando, Florida

Upside down architecture Wonderworks Upsidedown Building in Orlando, Florida
Wonderworks Upsidedown Building in Orlando, Florida. Photo © Jackie Craven (cropped)

No, this isn't a disaster site. The upside-down Wonderworks building is a fun-loving museum on International Drive in Orlando, Florida.

Wonderworks literally turns Classical architecture upside down. The three-story, 82-foot tall building is flipped over with its triangular pediment squashed into the pavement. One corner of the building appears to flatten a 20th century brick warehouse. Palm trees and lamp posts hang suspended.

The wacky design expresses the topsy-turvy activities that take place inside. The Wonderworks museum includes a hurricane ride with 65 mph winds, a 5.2 magnitude earthquake ride, and a Titanic exhibit.

03
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Longaberger Basket Building

Seven-Story Basket Building Built for Longaberger Company Headquarter
Basket Building Built for Longaberger Company Headquarter. Photo ©Niagara66 via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Longaberger Company, and Ohio-based manufacturer of handcrafted baskets, wanted to build a corporate headquarters that reflected one of its most popular products. The architectural result? It may look like a wooden basket, but it's really a 7 story steel building. The design is right on target, but this picnic basket building is 160 times larger than Longaberger's trademark Medium Market Basket.

The theme of a picnic flows throughout the architecture. The exterior mimics a picnic basket, and the interior offices center around a 30,000 square feet open area. Extending from the ground floor to the roof, this atrium mimics the park-like atmosphere of picnic-goers as skylights provide natural light to the large interior space.

Located at 1500 East Main Street, Newark, Ohio, the 180,000 square foot Basket Building was designed by the people at the Longaberger Company and then constructed by NBBJ and Korda Nemeth Engineering between 1995 and 1997. The roof height of 102 feet is augmented by an architectural height of 196 feet—the 300,000 pound handles above the roof are heated to avoid ice build-up. As baskets go, it's quite large—192 feet by 126 feet at the bottom and 208 feet by 142 feet at the top.

What architectural style is it? This type of novelty, postmodern architecture is often called mimetic architecture.

Sources: Home Office Facts and Figures, Longaberger Corporate website at www.longaberger.com/homeOfficeFacts.aspx; Longaberger Home Office Building at EMPORIS [accessed March 17, 2014]; The History of The Longaberger Company at www.longaberger.com/boot/index.html#about-longaberger and Longaberger Homestead at www.longaberger.com/boot/index.html#homestead; Longaberger moving from Big Basket building by Tim Feran, The Columbus Dispatch, February 26, 2016 [accessed June 29, 2016]

04
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The Amazing Smith Mansion in Wyoming

The Amazing Smith Mansion in Wyoming
The Amazing Smith Mansion in Wyoming. Photo ©Paul Hermans via Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) (cropped)

Here is the Smith Mansion located in Wapiti Valley, Wyoming (view detailed image). It cannot be missed as it sits off the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway near the East Gate of Yellowstone National Park. Obsessed engineer and builder Francis Lee Smith began construction in 1973 and never stopped improvising until he fell off the roof to his death in 1992. He spent nearly two decades building his family a home, without blueprints but with a passion that directed his ideas.

The mansion could be called Modern Arts & Crafts, as it looks like modern art but it is built primarily with found building materials put together with hand tools and non-mechanical pulley systems.  All the timbers used in its construction were hand picked from Rattlesnake Mountain, in Cody. Some of the logs are reclaimed from local structural fires, giving it that charred look. The structure stands over 75 feet tall in the center of the valley.

Smith never became as recognized as architect Frank Gehry, who famously remodeled his own Santa Monica house with found supplies. But, like Gehry, Smith had a dream and ideas filled his head. The mansion, Smith's life's work, is a manifestation of those ideas—skipping the step of sketching it all out first. The plan was in his head, and it may have changed daily. The Smith Mansion Preservation Project has tried to preserve the oddity as a tourist destination—and a museum of the passionate builder.

Source: The Amazing Smith Mansion in Wyoming. Inline photo submitted by pslarsen. Used with permission.

05
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Air Travel in the Space Age

The tower and Paul Williams-designed Googie style LAX Theme Building in Los Angeles, California
The 1961 Theme Building, Los Angeles International Airport LAX Theme Building was designed in part by Paul R. Williams. Photo by Thinkstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

In 1992, Los Angeles named it a City Cultural and Historical Monument—or is it just a silly building built at the dawn of the Space Age?

Paul Williams, Pereira & Luckman, and Robert Herrick Carter all contributed to the space age design of what is known as the Theme Building at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in California. At an original cost of $2.2 million, the Googie-styled oddity opened in 1961 and quickly became an iconic landmark of futurism in Southern California. It is the Martian spaceship that just landed, and the aliens chose Los Angeles. Lucky LA.

In June 2010 it was renovated at a cost of $12.3 million, which included a seismic retrofit. Its parabolic design features a 360 degree view of the airport, 135 foot arches, and exterior lighting by Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI). On the inside, the Theme Building has been a restaurant off and on, but even expensive airport burgers don't seem to be able to pay the bills for this wacky architecture.

Sources: Genesis of the Encounter, Encounter Restaurant website; Theme Building Renovation Fact Sheet, PDF on LAX website [websites accessed February 24, 2013]

06
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Lucy the Elephant in New Jersey

Six-story building shaped like an elephant
Lucy the Elephant, 1882. Photo ©Michael P. Barbella via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The six-story wooden and tin elephant on the Jersey shore has her own website, lucytheelephant.org. The National Historic Landmark near Atlantic City, New Jersey was designed and constructed by James V. Lafferty way back in 1881. It's been used as office and commercial space, but its initial intent was to catch the eye of passers-by. And that it does. Known as "novelty architecture," these structures take the form of common objects like shoes, ducks, and binoculars. Buildings in the shape of the merchandise they sell within, like donuts or apples or cheese wedges, are called "mimetic," because they mimic the merchandise. Lafferty was not selling elephants, but he was selling real estate, and Lucy is a real eye catcher. Note that her eye is a window, looking out and looking inward.

07
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Free Spirit House in British Columbia, Canada

Free Spirit Sphere accommodations in Canada are spherical pods hanging from trees.
Free Spirit Spheres, a popular alternative night stays while visiting Vancouver, Canada. Photo by Boomer Jerritt/All Canada Photos/Getty Images

Free Spirit Houses in British Columbia, Canada are wooden spheres that hang from trees, cliffs, or other surfaces.

A Free Spirit House is a tree house for grownups. Invented and manufactured by Tom Chudleigh, each house is a hand-crafted wooden sphere that is suspended from a web of rope. The house seems to hang from trees like a nut or a piece of fruit. To enter a Free Spirit House, you must climb a spiral stairway or cross a suspension bridge. The sphere sways gently in the breeze and rocks when persons inside move.

Free Spirit Houses may look odd, but their design is a practical form of bio-mimicry. Their shape and their function imitate the natural world.

If you want to try out a Free Spirit House, you can rent one for the night. Or, you can purchase your own Free Spirit House or Free Spirit House kit to place on your own land. Learn more at Free Spirit Spheres.

08
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Pod House in New York State

Pod House, also known as the Mushroom House, round dwelling on stalks
Pod House in Upstate New York. Photo ©DanielPenfield via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-SA 3.0) (cropped)

Architect James H. Johnson was inspired by the work of architect Bruce Goff, as well as the shape of the local wildflower, Queen Anne's Lace, when he designed this unusual home in Powder Mills Park, near Rochester, New York. The Mushroom House is actually a complex of several pods with connecting walkways. Perched atop thin stems, the pods are amusing yet eerie examples of organic architecture.

Johnson also was known locally for the Liberty Pole in Rochester. "The 190-foot-tall stainless steel pole, held in place by 50 cables, is perhaps Rochester's best-known public landmark and gathering place," wrote the Democrat & Chronicle newspaper on February 6, 2016 in announcing the architect's death on February 2, 2016 at the age of 83.

09
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The Minister's Tree House

Multi-story wooden structure, porches, trees
The Miniter's Tree House. Photo by Michael Hicks / Moment / Getty Images

Like Francis Lee Smith in Wyoming, Horace Burgess of Tennessee had an architectural vision that could not be stopped. Burgess wanted to build the largest tree house in the world, and, apparently with the Lord's help, he got it done. Without blueprints, Burgess built toward the heavens for nearly a dozen years beginning in 1993. Traversing half a dozen trees, Horace Burgess's treehouse was a tourist attraction until it was closed for building and fire code violations.

10
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A Weird House in the Alps

House shaped like a hospital bedpan
A Weird House in the Alps. Photo by Flickr Member Nicolas Nova, creative commons license 2.0 (cropped)

This weird house in the Alps looks strangely like a hospital bedpan.

Always on Top Ten lists of strange buildings, this stone home in the French Alps sits quietly, posing for the tourists, ready for its close-up, but never revealing the secret of who lives within.

11
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Beer Can House in Houston, Texas

Beer Can House in Houston, Texas
Beer Can House in Houston, Texas. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Archive Photos/Getty Images (cropped)

John Milkovisch, a retired employee of Southern Pacific railroad, spent 18 years ornamenting his home with real aluminum siding—in the form of about 39,000 beer cans.

After he retired from Southern Pacific Railroad, Milkovisch turned his 6-pack a day habit into an 18-year home renovation project. Using Coors, Texas Pride, and several brands of Lite beer, Milkovisch decorated his Houston, Texas house with aluminum siding made from flattened cans, streamers of beer can pull-tabs, and an odd assortment of beer can sculptures. Milkovisch died in 1988, but his house has been renovated and is now owned by the non-profit Orange Show Center for Visionary Art.