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The following activities will encourage students to consider the significance of roadside attractions that developed as a result of widespread use of the automobile.

Activity 1: Designing a Building
This lesson has introduced a number of terms that may be new to the students. To see if they have grasped these terms, ask the students to sketch structures they might want to build that represent 1) literalism in advertising, 2) place-product-packaging, and 3) vernacular public art. They should be creative in their choice of design—no gas stations, motels or dinosaurs! Suggest that the students think of businesses or public art that would be particularly appropriate for their region. The students then share their completed, unlabeled drawings to see if classmates can determine which term has been represented.

Activity 2: Form, Fantasy, and Design
Since the time of the Romans, many have claimed that the design of a building should declare its purpose; that is, you should be able to tell at first glance if a building is, for example, a school, a shoe-repair shop, an apartment house, or a bank. This concept is known as form follows function. The pop architecture of the structures in this lesson might better be described as form follows fantasy. In discussing such works, J. J. C. Andrews writes, "Anything is better than the boredom of formalistic architecture....I begin to see Big Duck [an actual building in Long Island whose design was controversial] as one building in a whole city of such buildings....You go to the orange for breakfast, read inside a huge open book, wash your car at the whale, pick up milk at the milk bottle, go out to dinner at the fish, and catch a movie at the duck."

In the 1920s and 1930s, such structures were a relatively common form of vernacular architecture. Most were constructed by their owners or by a local builder without the benefit of an architect. Some architects, in fact, dismissed the idea that a hamburger stand should look like a giant hamburger or a root-beer stand like a root-beer barrel. The general public, however, was enchanted by such structures.

Have students split into groups of four or five; each group redesigns a city block to include at least 10 buildings that are "ducks." These should include structures typically found in any city: a bank, a post office, a library, a barber shop, a restaurant, and clothing, furniture, drug, and toy stores. When each group has finished, tape the completed blocks together on the chalkboard. The class then votes on whether they would like to live in the city as it now exists or in the fantasy city they have created.

Activity 3: The Automobile and the Local Community
Have students investigate the ways in which the automobile changed their community. They are to look for clues that show what their town was like before the coming of the automobile by answering the following questions:

    1. Do most students ride buses to school? Did their parents?
    2. Do many people work and shop near where they live? Did their grandparents?
    3. Are there old gas stations or automobile showrooms downtown? How are they now used?
    4. How many parking lots or parking garages are there in a given neighborhood or business area? What kinds of businesses have been specifically designed for customers traveling by car?
    5. Have any buildings in the area been torn down to build a highway?
    6. What kinds of signs do they see along the streets and highways in their community? Have they been designed to be read by pedestrians or motorists?

Next, have students explore whether any examples of the types of fanciful vernacular architecture or public art studied in this lesson exist or ever existed in their community. If they do find examples, they should discover if efforts are being made to preserve these artifacts of the past. If there are, the students might help with such preservation efforts as a class project. If there are currently no preservation efforts, students could write letters to local public officials to discuss the importance of preserving these places.

 

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