The Building Need Not Stand: Why The Best of Whimsical Architecture is Found Outside the Built World

Ethan Lewis

1st Year B.Arch



Everyone does something on a whim at some point in their lives, whether an impromptu road trip or a walk through the neighborhood. But what about a building? Although the idea of picking up a hammer, grabbing some wood, and creating a structure sounds feasible, in reality building on a whim is a difficult feat. Getting permits, hiring contractors, and creating construction diagrams all require careful thought and planning.

That is not to say whimsical buildings do not exist; but rather that building any major structure on a whim is next-to-impossible, reserved only for eclectic millionaires and those living far away from the watchful eyes of regulators. Capital is needed, clients must be found and neighbors appeased.

Although reality is daunting, other mediums offer a much easier path for the wistful whimsical architect. One only needs paper and a pen for drawing, and the only limits on one’s creation are the boundaries of imagination. It is not necessary to adhere to the logic and rules of our world in the digital, paper, or movie realms. In these media, whimsical designs flourish.

The relatively recent advent of computer-aided design has led to fantastical renderings of impossible to realize projects, as well as photo collages reinterpreting reality with a whimsical bent. Video games such as Minecraft give every layman the ability to create impossibly tall buildings, vast castles, and steampunk cities. Video games feature fleshed-out fantastical metropolises that can be experienced in 3D, whether deep under the Atlantic Ocean or floating thousands of feet land.


Even in the built realm, fully-formed buildings are not the most expressive or whimsical. Movie sets need only remain standing for the duration of a shoot - from hours to months. Post-production editing and miniature models are utilized to great effect as well. In movies and television, buildings need not function as they initially appear, or at all. Structures can be bigger on the inside (e.g. Doctor Who), take on vengeful personalities (Monster House), and show glorious versions of futures past (Metropolis).

Dr. Seuss may not have been an architect but his fantastical designs for buildings were an essential component of his storytelling. During his little-known foray into movie-making, he designed numerous sets for his production “The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T”. These sets create amazing spatial experiences that stand on their own, telling the movie’s story alongside the characters. These sets would inspire the construction of numerous buildings, such as the Dr. Seuss house in Alaska.

Although logistics can be a buzzkill for spur-of-the moment construction, the possibilities are limitless if other media are used. Though sets, drawings, and new digital media, the greatest achievements of whimsical architecture can be discovered and easily disseminated to all, inspiring carefully imagined real buildings that maintain a whimsical atmosphere.