The Architecture of “McDonald’s”

Daniel Rauchwerger Daniel Rauchwerger

Blue jeans, cowboys, McDonald’s. When it comes to American cliches, perhaps none have proved more resilient — or more influential throughout the world — than the fast-food chain with the golden arches.

McDonald’s largely shapes how the rest of the world sees America. With 33,000 stores around the globe, McDonald’s has a presence in almost every country, even every city, with numerous restaurants in each locale. It’s like a chubby Alexander the Great. But instead of rejecting its conquered’s characteristics, McDonald’s reinterprets them into its own style, coming up with hybrids like the McKebab, McShawarma or McCurry plates.

Founded as a food stand called “Airdrome” in Monrovia, California, 1937, McDonald’s was just a little West-Coast chain with a quick, efficient manufacturing procedure. Yet almost from the start, it emphasized coherent features of design: the yellow rounded “M” signs and the modernistic arches, along with dominant red-yellow color schemes for the interior, exterior, and packaging design. These were all post-modern touches invented way ahead of their time. Only later were they studied by such intellectuals like Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.

Vintage Mc-Ad emphasising an original McDonald’s Branch Design, 1961. Image via

Between reality and rendering: a vintage ad’s drawing of a 1940’s McDonald’s branch – not yet in its well-known form. Image via

One of McDonald’s most iconic branches in Des Plains, Illinois. Image via

Again, architecture’s dominance in the brand’s ads, circa 1960. Image via

A history of design details at McDonald’s. Photo via

Evolution: McDonald’s in Las Vegas. Photo via

And a McBroadway in New York’s Theater District / Times Square. Photo via

Here’s China’s first branch: no doubt a hybrid composition. Image via

Or this example, in a Chinese village. Image via

Or this place (evidently photoshopped, meant to be Japan). Photo via

Here, a luckily gone branch in the Vittorio Emanuele passage in Milan (today a Prada store). Image via

A McDonald’s inside an Art Deco building in Melbourne, Australia. Photo via flickr user tim.mcrae. Read our post here!

And a true post-modern branch in Israel’s desert. Photo via

A 21st-century McDonald’s in Georgia. Photo: dip-tech. Read our post here!

“The drive-in with the arches” – McDonald’s and its postmodern architectural perception. Image by Daniel Rauchwerger / architizer (based on an original McDonald’s ad).