Carls Jr.

Secular public space is a modern invention. The emergence of memorial architecture has brought about welcome change but hasn't affected the need for new forms of social space and urban density.

Plunging into this void is the abstract geometric composition that makes up the latest design from Rothenberg Sawasy Architects Inc. This award-winning Los Angeles firm, long recognized as experts in residential and hospitality design, has achieved yet another unique, even cutting-edge triumph, this time in the world of Carl's Jr. drive-throughs.

"This new design evokes the image of a building in motion," said Renea Hutchings, executive vice president of development and franchise sales for Anaheim-based CKE Restaurants Inc. "The fluid design and sleek shape of the building says, 'Look at me! I'm new, I'm different, and I'm fun.'"

The prototype—constructed in Downey but slated to be the design of all future Carl's Jr. outlets—certainly is new, different and fun, but it is also much more. It is a work of abstraction with retro vision. It captures both the fractured state of shock and the seductive spirituality of premodern society. It is a powerful polemic that crystallizes restless energies.

It is nothing less than full-thrust contemporary architecture. It is more than a fast-food burger joint—it is a startlingly aggressive tour de force burger joint.

The elevation of the public realm is the design's most emphatic statement. The jutting rectilinear forms restore the totemic images of transition as well as the city's spatial texture. The upward-tapering curve and graphically dynamic contours dissolve the barrier between inside and outside, creating a porous spatial boundary—a symbolic dimension of the overlap between our inner and outer worlds.

The play of sunlight will give a cosmic slant to worldly history, and the pavement—more than a mere metonym—surrounding the overlaying transparency explores larger issues of globalization. In short, the jagged skyline and sunken plane trade sentimental appeal for historical awareness.

Certainly, there is the school of thought that insists retrograde architectural aesthetics are a byproduct of cultural isolationism. But here, the vertically organized complex does not impose literal meanings on the viewer, leaving her free to devour Double Western Bacon Cheeseburgers.

Apologies to Herbert Muschamp ofThe New York Times.


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