The Daily Ping

Can't get enough of Paul and Ryan collaborations? Visit the It's 2011, Folks tumblelog!

April 25th, 2005

Best Products Architecture

Ryan is currently negotiating lower oil prices in Saudi Arabia.

Back when I was taking 3-D design in college, our instructor would frequently bring in some slides to inspire us. One series stuck out for me and really touched a nerve, and that was the various designs of the Best Products Showrooms.

From what I remember, Best Products was a chain akin to Service Merchandise – they had many things on display and you ordered through the catalog (in-store.) But the buildings for Best were headed up by a design firm called SITE – Sculpture In The Environment – and that firm was headed up by a man named James Wines.

The architecture was really a commentary and criticism of big box retail. One store appeared to have no main entrance… or really, no entrance at all. But – and this is true – a corner of the store’s building was actually on rails, and would separate from the rest of the store when the shop was open. Another one, which you can see here had a crumbling facade, so it looked like the entire building was in a state of disrepair.

There were others, but those are the two I remember. The sad thing is that the web really doesn’t seem to have any information on these (and really, no photos – the real crime.) It’s a shame, since the buildings really took a pipe to the knees of conventional big box architecture.

As Pinger Maria pointed out below, I already posted a Ping about this back in April of 2003. The best part is that I even found a site about the architecture, meaning that I actually “answered” my own Ping two years ago. Viva la search engines!

Posted in Miscellaneous

FROM: Joseph
DATE: Monday April 25, 2005 -- 10:20:38 am
I remember these buildings from the photos in the old Best catalog that we devoured as kids (the back, which had all the toys).

I've searched on the web for photos of these buildings as you have, and there doesn't even seem to be that much on Best Products, period. Before this Ping, as has happened with me and other Pingers many times before, I had begun to wonder whether Best Products ever existed, or if I had made the whole thing up.

As I recall from the photos in the catalogs, there was another one that was built to look as though it was completely upside-down.

FROM: Paul
DATE: Monday April 25, 2005 -- 11:33:22 am
Aw, that's right Joseph! There was an upside-down store! Good memory.

FROM: Maria
DATE: Monday April 25, 2005 -- 7:19:06 pm
A little deja vu over this one, Paul. They tore down the one that was here after it sat empty for about 5 years, and put up a new Safeway.

FROM: Paul
DATE: Monday April 25, 2005 -- 7:57:20 pm
Congratulations, Maria! You win the prize.

Er, no prize.

But I am now back in the lead of duplicate Pings, 3-2 over Ryan! Yes!

FROM: Rob [E-Mail]
DATE: Tuesday April 26, 2005 -- 11:24:09 am
Man, I KNEW I'd seen this topic somewhere before, but somehow my brain wasn't functioning when I tried to search for it and I didn't find it. Yay for Maria!

FROM: Joseph
DATE: Tuesday April 26, 2005 -- 5:51:52 pm
I don't know if the two Pings are quite the same. The first Ping seems to be energetic, with a sense of new discovery--it's a call for more information on this topic. The second Ping (would it be considered a different Ping if Paul had included "revisited" in the title?) carries a disappointed tone, presumably because the information super highway has failed to meet the call for more info.

Plus, more of the buildings have been demolished since the first Ping, I'm sure--there is an additional sense of loss: "the sad thing . . ."

As an aside, many architecture scholars simply concluded that the Best showrooms were simply gimmick. They were meant to cause a sensation, but they were not real architecture because the facades did not relate at all to the inside of the store, nor did the different shapes "do" anything. In that way, they didn't really question the big box retail architecture--they only disguised the truth, which was that they were exactly big box retail architecture. Once inside, you got the same thing as you did everywhere else.

The demolishing of the crumbling wall features of the Houston store, which basically left a big box retail store behind can be used to support this point.

On the other hand, the store which allowed trees to pass through it seemed closer to making a true architectural statement, though, disappointingly, the idea wasn't carried out as far as it could have been.

I assume this had less to do with the inabilities of the architect to do what he/she wanted, and more to do with having to please a customer who didn't want to make an architectural statement, but an advertising statement.

The other take is that SITE was trying to do big sculpture. I agree that the buildings do represent sculptural qualities in their final form.
But they are not sculpture. These seem to be big box buildings with a sculptural overlay.

To me, the buildings, as architecture, do seem to represent more of a gimmick. The buildings themselves don't really turn the world of retail architecture on its ear because they don't offer anything new besides a visual trick or an engineering trick. Such tricks are cool, but they don't have staying power, which is why the buildings are disappearing once the original owner went out of business.

But that doesn't mean they are bad. I appreciate the successful attempt to make something different, and, obviously, memorable. The buildings certainly were fun and entertaining to look at (photos of them, at least). If that's all they did, maybe that was enough. They broke up the monotony of the big box.

I don't know if I'd be happy if the idea caught on and other retailers decided to make copies or even try to outdo each other. I couldn't imagine the usual American retail highway with big box building after building each more outlandish than the one before it.

They're fun to talk about, though.

FROM: Supertech
DATE: Friday January 6, 2006 -- 11:15:49 am
It is a shame to say it, but the one in Sacramento--the one with the corner that slid out is no more. It is a Best Buy (electronics and appliance store) and they redid the architecture. I now has a big main entrance and there is no longer any hint of the origina sliding corner. I won't go in that store because of what they did to a wonderfull piece of whimisical architecture that was a unique landmark in my city.

Norman July 12, 2007, 7:51 pm

The one in Miami looked like the front was pulled out of the building. There were the doors in the front the next section were the walls for the doors and then the front of the building. A few years after Hurricane Andrew hit Homstead Florida the building was torn down. It is my understanding that the building in Hialeah Florida is still in place. It had a big glass front with trees inside. It was called a Terrarium.


FW Pillow July 24, 2008, 10:36 pm

SITE Architecture designed the BEST Products showrooms and I found a link.

Paul July 25, 2008, 11:16 pm

That’s a great link – thanks for sharing.

That last poster encouraged me to try another Google search for Best Products’ unique stores and… I struck gold. This comment:

…points to this documentary about the buildings on YouTube. Four parts:

Good stuff. Particularly saddening is the comment from one fellow who says that “they’ll never” tear the Tilt Building down. These were truly unique in suburban architecture and I feel we’re collectively lesser for not having these around.

What is this then?

The Daily Ping is the web's finest compendium of toilet information and Oreo™® research. Too much? Okay, okay, it's a daily opinion column written by two friends. Did we mention we've been doing this for over ten years? Tell me more!

Most Popular Pings

Last Week's Most Popular Pings

Let's be nice.

© 2000-2011 The Daily Ping, all rights reserved. Tilted sidebar note idea 'adapted' from Panic. Powered by the mighty WordPress.