11,700 Free Photos from John Margolies’ Archive of Americana Architecture: Download, Use & Re-Mix

Many con­nois­seurs of archi­tec­ture are enthralled by the mod­ernist phi­los­o­phy of Le Cor­busier, Frank Lloyd Wright, and I M Pei, who shared a belief that form fol­lows func­tion, or, as Wright had it, that form and func­tion are one.

Oth­ers of us delight in gas sta­tions shaped like teapots and restau­rants shaped like fish or dough­nuts. If there’s a phi­los­o­phy behind these insis­tent­ly play­ful visions, it like­ly has some­thing to do with joy…and pulling in tourists.

Art his­to­ri­an John Mar­golies (1940–2016), respond­ing to the beau­ty of such quirky visions, scram­bled to pre­serve the evi­dence, trans­form­ing into a respect­ed, self-taught pho­tog­ra­ph­er in the process. A Guggen­heim Foun­da­tion grant and the finan­cial sup­port of archi­tect Philip John­son allowed him to log over four decades worth of trips on America’s blue high­ways, hop­ing to cap­ture his quar­ry before it dis­ap­peared for good.

Despite Johnson’s patron­age, and his own stints as an Archi­tec­tur­al Record edi­tor and Archi­tec­tur­al League of New York pro­gram direc­tor, he seemed to wel­come the ruf­fled min­i­mal­ist feath­ers his enthu­si­asm for mini golf cours­es, theme motels, and eye-catch­ing road­side attrac­tions occa­sioned.

On the oth­er hand, he resent­ed when his pas­sions were labelled as “kitsch,” a point that came across in a 1987 inter­view with the Cana­di­an Globe and Mail:

Peo­ple gen­er­al­ly have thought that what’s impor­tant are the large, unique archi­tec­tur­al mon­u­ments. They think Toronto’s City Hall is impor­tant, but not those won­der­ful gnome’s‑castle gas sta­tions in Toron­to, a Detroit influ­ence that crept across the bor­der and pol­lut­ed your won­der­ful­ly con­ser­v­a­tive envi­ron­ment.

As Mar­golies fore­saw, the type of com­mer­cial ver­nac­u­lar archi­tec­ture he’d loved since boyhood–the type that screams, “Look at me! Look at me”–has become very near­ly extinct.

And that is a max­i­mal shame.

Your chil­dren may not be able to vis­it an orange juice stand shaped like an orange or the Lean­ing Tow­er of Piz­za, but thanks to the Library of Con­gress, these locales can be pit­stops on any vir­tu­al fam­i­ly vaca­tion you might under­take this July.

The library has select­ed the John Mar­golies Road­side Amer­i­ca Pho­to­graph Archive as its July “free to use and reuse” col­lec­tion. So linger as long as you’d like and do with these 11,700+ images as you will–make post­cards, t‑shirts, sou­venir place­mats.

(Or eschew your com­put­er entirely–go on a real road trip, and con­tin­ue Mar­golies’ work!)

What­ev­er you decide to do with them, the archive’s home­page has tips for how to best search the 11,710 col­or slides con­tained there­in. Library staffers have sup­ple­ment­ed Mar­golies’ notes on each image with sub­ject and geo­graph­i­cal head­ings.

Begin your jour­ney through the Library of Con­gress’ John Mar­golies Road­side Amer­i­ca Pho­to­graph Archive here.

We’d love to see your vaca­tion snaps upon your return.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Stew­art Brand’s 6‑Part Series How Build­ings Learn, With Music by Bri­an Eno

Frank Lloyd Wright Designs an Urban Utopia: See His Hand-Drawn Sketch­es of Broad­acre City (1932)

A is for Archi­tec­ture: 1960 Doc­u­men­tary on Why We Build, from the Ancient Greeks to Mod­ern Times 

Watch 50+ Doc­u­men­taries on Famous Archi­tects & Build­ings: Bauhaus, Le Cor­busier, Hadid & Many More

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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