//
you're reading...
Uncategorized

Architecture + Branding: Seemingly ebbing in prevalence, iconic Whataburger A-frame design continues to maintain brand relevance

1-Bigger. Better. Burger.

Although Chipotle has recently made news with its recent trademark application for the phrase “better burger”, it would be a late entrant into a crowded field (source: cnbc.com, businessinsider.com, usatoday.com, bloomberg.com, washingtonpost.com, fortune.com). Numerous other restaurant chains, including Five Guys, Shake Shak, BRGR, Burger Fi, have a multi-year head start, having ridden the better burger wave as it gained momentum.

DSC09309 WAB-Chipotle_Five Guys 1290 Arsenal Street Suite 7_Suite 6 Watertown NY

Five Guys/Chipotle, front 3/4 view, 1290 Arsenal Street Suite 6/Suite 7, Watertown, New York

20150831_064609 WAB-BRGR 287 7th Avenue NYC NY

BRGR, front view, 287 7th Avenue, New York City, New York

Nonetheless, the better burger mantra pre-dates the recent headlines.

True to the old adage, “Everything is bigger in Texas”, Whataburger co-founder Harmon Dobson was dreaming large in 1950. Making a bigger, better burger, that required both hands to hold, and tasted so good it would have customers saying “What a burger!” upon their first bite was Dobson’s goal (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org).

On August 8, 1950, the first Whataburger opened on Ayers Street in Corpus Christi, Texas (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org). Unassuming, the small burger stand offered drinks, chips, and a burger so big that customers had to hold its five-inch bun with two hands (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org).

WAB-Whataburger no1

Whataburger, front 3/4 view, (location no. 1), Ayers Street, Corpus Christi, Texas (source: Whataburger.com)

The initial success also came with division between the founders, and Burton and Dobson ended their partnership  in 1951 (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org). While Dobson would retain the Whataburger trademark, under the terms of the settlement, Burton would end up owning the Whataburger franchises in San Antonio, Texas (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org).

WAB-Whataburger no 3 Corpus Christi

Whataburger, front 3/4 view, (location no, 3), Corpus Christi, Texas (source: Whataburger.com)

WAB-Whataburger no 7 McAllen

Whataburger, side 3/4 view, (location no. 7), McAllen, Texas (source: Whataburger.com)

In the following years, through a combination of corporate and franchise ownership, Harmon Dobson would see the brand add several additional locations (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org). By 1960, Whataburger was nearing two dozen restaurants scattered across Texas, Florida and Tennessee (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org).

2-Establishing an identity

However, it was not until 1961 that Whataburger would build its first A-frame styled store in Odessa, Texas (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org). Designed by Dobson, and inspired by his passion for flight, the orange and white striped A-frame store would soon become a familiar element of the Whataburger brand (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org).

WAB -Whataburger A-Frame

Whataburger, front 3/4 view, original A-frame design (source: Whataburger.com)

In part due to the building geometry, the linear A-frame design has a small effective/usable area relative to its overall footprint, as the building edges, parallel to the ridge beam, are essentially lost/abandoned spaces due to the low-to-zero head height. As such, the narrow but deep A-frame design, resulted in a building with a very distinct public (front facade) and private (rear facade) persona. Where the front facade was clear, open, and clad in glass, the rear would have been left mostly blank, as it was not for public view. Front facing, the entrance/approach side was dominated by window framing and glazing, and clear glazed doors were typically centered within the front facade, integrated into the uninterrupted window wall.

Excessively tall, the enclosed attic space could serve to locate mechanical equipment, while the increased height allowed for the restaurant to stand out, and above, many of its competitors. The roof line essentially stretching from grade level to the ridgeline above, the roof cladding was painted to create a series of orange and white stripes, aligned on the long axis of the roof. Emulating the roof in material composition, the exterior, gable ends and soffit, were simply finished off in white, thus highlighting the orange and white roof stripes.

WAB-Whataburger A-Frame Iron Frame

Whataburger, front 3/4 view, original A-frame steel structure (source: Whataburger.com)

Typical of the “drive-in” restaurants of the mid-century era, whereby customers would “drive-in” to parking lanes/serving stalls, place their order, and wait for a carhop to bring their order back to the vehicle, the A-frame Whataburger design featured a large detached front canopy which projected at the front of the building to provide cover for patrons.

WAB-Whataburger no 32 A-Frame

Whataburger, side 3/4 view, (location no. 32), A-frame design (source: Whataburger.com)

Throughout the 1960s, the Whataburger brand, and its menu, would continue to expand (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org). The untimely passing of Harmon Dobson in a plane crash in 1967, would see Dobson’s widow, Grace, take control of the brand (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org). Led by Grace Dobson, the company continued upon its upward trajectory into the 1970s (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org).

3-A++

Invariably, each successive Whataburger to sport the A-frame design would add evolutionary changes to the design lexicon.

However, substantial modifications came in 1974 (whataburger.com, wikipedia.org). Retaining the spirit of the original A-frame, the “Modern A-Frame” design was better suited to accommodate drive-thrus, as well as larger indoor dining rooms (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org).

WAB-Whataburger A-Frame Modern

Whataburger, front 3/4 view, “Modern A-frame” design (source: Whataburger.com)

Blending an A-frame design with continuous shed dormers on either side, the new design prototype significantly enlarged the usable floor area without increasing the building footprint.

Addressing the largest shortcoming inherent to the A-frame design by recapturing the lost floor space at the roof edges, the modern design enclosed previously forsaken spaces. New functions would benefit from the additional indoor space, and the classic Whataburger A-frame shape built up over the previous decade could still be discerned within the modern interpretation.

WAB-Whataburger 105 West Retana Street South Padre Island TX 4 2011 https___www.google

Whataburger (circa 2011), front 3/4 view, 105 West Retana Street, South Padre Island, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 1930 Garth Road Baytown TX 7 https___www.google

Whataburger, front 3/4 view, 1930 Garth Road, Baytown, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

Retaining a centrally located entrance/access point at the gable end of the A-frame, window openings on the front face and the sides punctuated the elevations and drew daylight into the reclaimed spaces at either side of the roof edges.

WAB-Whataburger 5500 Lemmon Avenue Dallas TX 4 https___www.google

Whataburger, front 3/4 view, 5500 Lemmon Avenue, Dallas, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 6205 North Lamar Blvd Austin TX 4 https___www.google

Whataburger, right side 3/4 view, 6205 North Lamar Blvd, Austin, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

Designed to accommodate drive-thrus, the modern A-frame still carried over the front-of-the-house/back-of-the-house separation that existed in the original iteration. Proposing windows and a higher incidence of storefront transparency in the front public facing portion, the rear of the restaurants is largely unadorned, uncluttered, and laid out in a manner to allow for support functions such as loading/unloading, receiving, and trash removal. Additionally, the emblematic A-frame is truncated in the rear in favour of a flat roof portion to house rooftop equipment.

WAB-Whataburger 6205 North Lamar Blvd Austin TX 2 https___www.google

Whataburger, rear 3/4 view, 6205 North Lamar Blvd, Austin, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 105 West Retana Street South Padre Island TX 11 2011 https___www.google

Whataburger (circa 2011), rear 3/4 view, 105 West Retana Street, South Padre Island, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 5500 Lemmon Avenue Dallas TX 9 https___www.google

Whataburger, left side view, 5500 Lemmon Avenue, Dallas, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

As the original A-frame design was reworked and tweaked, the “Modern A-Frame” would itself see its design components rearranged, and modified over time.

WAB-Whataburger 1225 North Fry Road Katy TX 4 https___www.google

Whataburger, right side 3/4 view, 1225 North Fry Road, Katy, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 1225 North Fry Road Katy TX 6 https___www.google

Whataburger, left side 3/4 view, 1225 North Fry Road, Katy, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 7165 Philips Highway Jacksonville FL 2 2011 https___www.google

Whataburger (circa 2011), right side 3/4 view, 7165 Philips Highway, Jacksonville, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 7241 Interstate 10 East Orange TX 5 https___www.google

Whataburger, left 3/4 side view, 7241 Interstate 10 East, Orange, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

As few designs remain static, evolutionary changes are quickly be absorbed into the Whataburger design language.

WAB-Whataburger 2201 North Mesa Street El Paso TX 2 https___www.google

Whataburger, right side 3/4 view, 2201 North Mesa Street, El Paso, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 2201 North Mesa Street El Paso TX 6 https___www.google

Whataburger, left side 3/4 view, 2201 North Mesa Street, El Paso, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 6405 San Felipe Street Houston TX 5 https___www.google

Whataburger, left side 3/4 view, 6405 San Felipe Street, Houston, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 6405 San Felipe Street Houston TX 7 https___www.google

Whataburger, right side 3/4 view, 6405 San Felipe Street, Houston, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

By the end of 1989, still under the tutelage of Grace Dobson, Whataburger had expanded to well over 400 locations, broadened the menu to offer breakfast items, and several locations now served patrons 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org). Subsequently, in 1993, Tom Dobson, son of Harmon and Grace, would take over the reins of the company, becoming CEO and President (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org). Throughout the mid-1990s, Tom would oversee the company surpass the 500-store mark, and earn the distinction of becoming eighth-largest hamburger chain in the US (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org).

4-The 1/2 century mark

Tom Dobson firmly at the helm of the family owned and operated business, “Whataburger by the Bay” opened in Corpus Christi, Texas, on May 6, 1999 (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org). As a tribute to Whataburger’s upcoming 50th anniversary, the flagship restaurant, measuring in at 6,000 square feet, features water views and a life-size bronze statue of Harmon Dobson (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org).

WAB-Whataburger 21 N Shoreline Blvd Corpus Christi TX 2 https___www.google

Whataburger, rear 3/4 view, 21 N Shoreline Blvd, Corpus Christi, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 21 N Shoreline Blvd Corpus Christi TX 5 https___www.google

Whataburger, side 3/4 view, 21 N Shoreline Blvd, Corpus Christi, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 21 N Shoreline Blvd Corpus Christi TX 8 https___www.google

Whataburger, front 3/4 view, 21 N Shoreline Blvd, Corpus Christi, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

A significant departure from the “Modern A-frame” design predecessor, the flagship’s newer, contemporary design would go on to proliferate within the Whataburger system.

WAB-Whataburger 4888 E 21st Street Tulsa OK 2 https___www.google

Whataburger, side 3/4 view, 4888 E 21st Street, Tulsa, Oklahoma (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 4888 E 21st Street Tulsa OK 7 https___www.google

Whataburger, side 3/4 view, 4888 E 21st Street, Tulsa, Oklahoma (source: maps.google.com)

Increased building footprint, basic linear geometry, simplified roof line/parapet, and the A-frame rotated 90 degrees, these contemporary locations clearly look towards the future. The use of the A-frame in this manner splits the building neatly into the public and private ends. Additionally, window openings or lack thereof, and parapets of different heights on either side of the A-frame, also serve to highlight the front and back divide.

WAB-Whataburger 7760 South Olympia Avenue Tulsa OK 5 https___www.google

Whataburger, front 3/4 view, 7760 South Olympia Avenue, Tulsa, Oklahoma (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 7760 South Olympia Avenue Tulsa OK 2 https___www.google

Whataburger, rear view, 7760 South Olympia Avenue, Tulsa, Oklahoma (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 7760 South Olympia Avenue Tulsa OK 8 https___www.google

Whataburger, right side 3/4 view, 7760 South Olympia Avenue, Tulsa, Oklahoma (source: maps.google.com)

In a nod to the original design, the main entrance remains within the gable end of the A-frame.

5-Model citizen

Iconic, and revered, Whataburger has developed a loyal following over its near seven decade history. Principally family owned and operated by the Dobson’s, Whataburger has grown from the single burger stand in Corpus Christi, Texas, into a 700-plus location chain spanning the American South from Arizona to Florida (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org). Additionally, reflecting its unique status in its home state, in 2001, the 77th Texas Legislature passed a bill proclaiming Whataburger to be a “Texas Treasure” (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org).

Yet, although the brand benefits from one of the most distinctive architectural identity in the restaurant industry, there are a number of Whataburger that do not adhere to the preordained brand script.

In several instances, the powerful imagery of the A-frame restaurants is non-existent, instead substituted for an application of the brand colours, several orange and white stripes, and a logo/wordmark across the building facade. Largely refuting the A-frame altogether, several locations attempt to broaden the Whataburger design and architectural identity.

WAB-Whataburger 601 Barton Springs Road Austin TX 4 https___www.google

Whataburger, front 3/4 view, 601 Barton Springs Road, Austin, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 463773 SR 200 Yulee FL 3 https___www.google

Whataburger, front 3/4 view, 463773 SR 200, Yulee, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 1320 High Street Jackson MS 6 https___www.google

Whataburger, left side 3/4 view, 1320 High Street, Jackson, Mississippi (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 9500 Candelaria NE Albuquerque NM 8 https___www.google

Whataburger, front 3/4 view, 9500 Candelaria NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico (source: maps.google.com)

Often inexplicably squandered, the brand instantly recognized by its iconic building type seemingly settles for repurposing another brand’s tired location, with limited effort to apply a Whataburger exterior aesthetic.

WAB-Whataburger 5402 E Speedway Blvd Tucson AZ 3 https___www.google

Whataburger, front 3/4 view, 5402 E Speedway Blvd, Tucson, Arizona (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 5402 E Speedway Blvd Tucson AZ 4 2011 https___www.google

FUTURE Whataburger (circa 2011), 5402 E Speedway Blvd, Tucson, Arizona (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 2955 North Hayden Road Scottsdale AZ 2 https___www.google

Whataburger, (Former Pizza Hut), left side 3/4 view, 2955 North Hayden Road, Scottsdale, Arizona (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 2955 North Hayden Road Scottsdale AZ 5 https___www.google

Whataburger, (Former Pizza hut), right side 3/4 view, 2955 North Hayden Road, Scottsdale, Arizona (source: maps.google.com)

Additionally, considering the similarly named What-A-Burger chain of family operated restaurants located in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, and the North Carolina based What-A-Burger Drive-In chain, it seems confusing to exhibit such a lackadaisical effort to apply the brand’s distinct design (source: whataburger.com, wikipedia.org).

Indeed, in certain instances, applying the prototype design is difficult, if not impossible.

WAB-Whataburger 12768 Hwy 84 East Joaquin TX 3 https___www.google

Whataburger, front 3/4 view, 12768 Hwy 84 East, Joaquin, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

WAB-Whataburger 412 East Commerce Street San Antonio TX 1 https___www.google

Whataburger, front 3/4 view, 412 East Commerce Street, San Antonio, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

Invariably, as brands grow, the task becomes ever more daunting to maintain a standardized aesthetic across all locations. Nonetheless, even though Whataburger holds a special place in the hearts of its fans, longer-term failure to maintain, nurture, and institute the distinct design and architectural identity may subsequently dilute the built-up brand association, and blur the iconic imagery intertwined with the Texas treasure.

 

Disclosure:

All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

Advertisements

About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.

Discussion

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: