Friday is a Gas: Ducks vs Decorated Sheds

This week’s Friday is a Gas post is not about a specific brand of station, but rather a specific type of station form. This week’s stations represent two contrasting ideas in the architecture world: the “Duck” vs. the “Decorated Shed.”

Mammy’s Cupboard, Adams County, Mississippi, photograph by John Margolies c.1979

Savings Gas Station N. Gloster Tupelo, Mississippi Demolished 2014. Image from google streetview

These two terms come from the 1972 book Learning from Las Vegas by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour.

  • Ducks: “Where the architectural systems of space, structure, and program are submerged and distorted by an overall symbolic form.”
  • Decorated Sheds: “Where systems of space and structure are directly at the service of program, and ornament is applied independently.”

According to wikipedia:

The two were inspired by the emphasis on sign and symbol they found on the Las Vegas strip. The result was a critique of Modern architecture, demonstrated most famously in the comparison between the “duck” and “decorated shed.”

The “duck” represents a large part of modernist architecture, which was expressive in form and volume. In contrast, the “decorated shed” relies on imagery and sign. Virtually all architecture prior to the Modern Movement used decoration to convey meaning, often profound but sometimes simply perfunctory, such as the signage on medieval shop fronts. Modernist architecture eschewed such ornament, relying only on corporeal or structural elements to convey meaning. As such, argued the authors, Modern buildings became mute and vacuous, especially when built for corporate or government clients.

Duck form of stations are often described as Mimetic or Programmatic architecture, meaning the shape of the building indicated its use or the activity that takes place inside.  The 2016 TxDOT Field Guide to Gas Stations in Texas  describes these Mimetic or Programmatic stations as:

• Freeform appearance
• Creative design that may mimic other building types
• Diverse materials, sometimes using a combination of materials
• Strong visual elements that draw attention
• Complex roof and architectural elements

Other than the Mammy in Natchez were there any other “Duck” stations in Mississippi?  How about a gas station as clearly defined as a “Shed” as the $aving$ station in Tupelo?

Do you know of any other stations that would best exemplify these theories in Mississippi?  On a side note, this week will be the last “Friday is a gas” post for a while.  Let’s all use the opportunity to allow for other posts on Friday, and to look for other historic gas station topics for future posts.

Did you enjoy this post on a Mississippi Gas Station? Consider checking out these other “Friday is a Gas” posts.

Categories: Demolition/Abandonment, Historic Preservation, Lost Mississippi, Modernism, Natchez, Tupelo


4 replies

  1. What? You can’t end this series without at least a shout out to the greatest service station in Mississippi history: Fill-up with Billups! It was a carnival of lights, flags, and angled mirrors that highlighted everything from toys to tools to tires. It was a child’s wonderland, and they were ubiquitous in the South. And they were a home grown Mississippi company. Talk about architecture and signage, they were the best.



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