Before the infamous snow cone-shaped Hills of Snow structure in Smithfield became a symbol of summertime and a must-see landmark for tourists, it was a play place for Kristy Hill Hinnant.
When Hill Hinnant was 4, her father Tommy designed and helped construct the 25-foot, two-part structure in the familys backyard. Before the giant snow cone was assembled and transported to its Smithfield location, the then-much smaller Hill Hinnant enjoyed climbing in it.
(My father) put a lot of thought into it. He did the model of it, all that stuff, she said. Ive got pictures of me playing in it.
Hill Hinnant, who now owns the business, wasnt the last to become enthralled by the building. The snow cone has housed the familys frozen treat business for nearly 30 years, and since then, it has become a part of the community.
Hills of Snow isnt the only fun local structure. The snow cone shop is just one of several area small businesses where what you see is what you get a building that resembles and represents the product or service the business offers.
In the spirit of the frozen banana stand operated by the Bluth family on the television show Arrested Development, structures resembling the products they serve are prevalent not only in North Carolina but also around the world.
In Newark, Ohio, wooden basket manufacturer The Longaberger Company operates out of a giant wooden basket structure. The Simone Handbag Museum runs out of you guessed it a handbag-shaped structure in South Koreas capital city of Seoul. And right here in North Carolina, the shell-shaped Shell station in Winston-Salem is a nationally-renowned roadside attraction.
Novelty shapes that break out of a more traditional, corporate image can spark intrigue and draw customers, said Nikos Salingaros, a professor of mathematics at the University of Texas San Antonio who has published books on architecture and urban planning.
(The building) tells the client that the owner of the company or the owner of the building does not bow down to some tradition to build a glass box or any type of building and theyre being innovative, so perhaps the business being carried on in the building is also innovative, Salingaros said.
Its hard to miss
On U.S. Highway 220 in Ellerbe, the Berry family runs a homemade ice cream business out of a 20-foot strawberry they built themselves. Lee Berry said he built what is advertised as the worlds largest strawberry in 2003 for about $100,000 as a way to differentiate their farm, The Berry Patch, from others along the highway.
I would be willing to say its the most photographed building on Highway 220, Berry said. A lot of people meet here. Its hard to miss.
Jeff Speaks, who owns both locations of the hot dog, sandwich and French fry restaurant Dairi-O, was inspired by a Travel Channel show on roadside attractions to create a new landmark with a retro-but-accessible feel for the restaurants King location. He called upon a few architectural firms to draw up plans, but found that the architects had a hard time understanding what he wanted. So he designed his business 38-foot milkshake structure himself.
Its common for small-business owners who want a novelty-shaped headquarters to conceptualize their own structures, as traditional architects tend to design things more by standard design principles, Salingaros said.
People who do what I consider interesting stuff are not trained in architecture, he said. (In architecture school,) you are taught what to do, and you are conditioned. Its really hard to break out of that. Its a really narrow, terrible conditioning.
Such structures can sometimes cost much less to build than a standard, more architecturally-sound building because the materials used are usually cheaper, Salingaros said. But to build something within modern construction standards might be more expensive, because construction companies are used to working with standard models.
Dealing with building codes
Berry didnt have to obtain a special permit for the strawberry a standard commercial building permit was enough.
Novelty structures do not require a specific type of permit, said Kerry Hall, a spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Insurance. However, when it comes to building codes, the state has standards for extraordinary buildings.
The alternative construction provisions allow a designer to maintain the intent of the code, she said. The designer needs to find a way to verify that something like the straw in the milkshake structure would hold (up) in high wind conditions.
Towns and cities can create tighter building code restrictions than the states.
In Cary, commercial buildings are allowed to have at most two primary colors and two accent colors on the exterior, and the buildings must be at least 75 percent masonry material such as brick, stone or concrete. Raleighs Unified Development Ordinance, which will go into effect in September, will get rid of height maximums in mixed-use districts. Durham requires its commercial structures in design districts to adhere to one of six building types.
Buildings with interesting shapes once served as an advertising tool in a post-World War II age, said Jefferson Ellinger, an architect at E/Ye Design and assistant professor of architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.
Architecture being a symbol of what the structure is about is something that was more prevalent before the digital age, Ellinger said.
Dairi-O replaced its standard-structured building with the giant milkshake two-and-a-half years ago, and it was worth it. Since opening the 4,800-square-foot location and adding 230 seats in and around the building, business has increased exponentially.
Its doing really well, Speaks said. And its fun.
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