A building can be designed with either function or style as its primary purpose; this led to three architects writing a book Learning from Las Vegas which studied the design of the casinos in Las Vegas. Robert Venturi, a leading architect, coined the term to describe a building as either a ‘duck’ or ‘decorated shed’ depending on its purpose. The study of the buildings and architecture on Las Vegas’ main strip saw how the buildings main priorities were not to function efficiently, but for their styles to awe. Function for a ‘duck’ building is a by-product of the styling whereas for a ‘decorated shed’ it is the purpose of its creation.
The term ‘duck’ was heavily influenced by the ‘Long Island Duckling’, a building which was built by a duck farmer and used as a shop to sell all his duck produce. The Big Duck was built in the 1930’s and sacrifices interior space for the exterior façade of a Pekin duck. This is the building which Robert Venturi used as his alternative to a ‘decorated shed’ when he was studying the architecture of his time. Novelty architecture was extremely common throughout the 60’s and 70’s in America with some buildings taking on the form of the products which were sold. The Long Island Duckling was the beginning of such architecture and inspired iconic architecture such as giant doughnuts on top of doughnut stands, orange shaped juice stalls and even a hot dog diner.
Robert Venturi and two other architects Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour who wrote the book which first brought the concept to light, see a building as a place to fulfil its purpose. At the time the book was written, Las Vegas was beginning to move away from the burger or chicken style restaurant and into fully fledged buildings or resorts mimicking cities and landmarks. They created the term ‘decorated shed’ to describe a building which primarily is designed and built to maximise efficiency and functionality.
The book did not say whether a duck or decorated shed was better, but that they were different. Built with entirely separate points of focus, a duck would concentrate solely on how the building was presented to you. If a building had a grand, creative or extravagant exterior which made you appreciate the detail and craftsmanship then it has achieved its purpose. A decorated shed however, would treat the interior space and how effective the building was as its priority, with the exterior embellished after the inside is designed to maximise productivity.
In these modern times, it is more likely that a decorated shed is built, as environmental requirements; price and space are all sought-after advantages of building. Getting the mix between functionality, practicality and exterior design right, is the job of modern day architects who can follow Venturi’s theory. A building where the style and function are joined together, such as the Long Island Duckling, are seldom seen in recent times as there is no real need for them. Due to technology and modern techniques, it is possible to start a building with the intention of creating a decorated shed and finishing with a duck as contemporary architecture now has limitless possibilities.