Friday, October 31, 2014

Architecture & Packaging: Wrigley's Spearmint Gum

I am not sure what this means, but I'm a sucker for good product packaging. Apple products get my admiration for many reasons, in part because they are so cleverly packaged and such a thrill to open. After much thought I have decided that my favorite example of good packaging is a simple one - Wrigley's Spearmint Gum. For me, the ceremony is even better than the product. As a child I recall begging my mother for some of her gum. I would take the container, pull the little tab, whip it around the end, then pluck it off. I could then select my stick of gum and pull it out. The sticks were cloaked in a paper label, which would be flicked off to reveal a foil wrapper. Spreading the foil exposed the stick of gum. Finally I could fold it in half and stick in my mouth; but to be honest, the actual taste of the gum was nothing particularly special.  It was the packaging.

Packaging isn't restricted to product merchandising. Architecture often employs many of the same principals. In 1893 (the same year that Wrigley's Spearmint Gum was introduced) a monumental event was taking place in the world of architecture - the Chicago World's Fair. Daniel Burnham served as the master planner for the fair. Burnham assembled a collection of the country's most prominent architects to populate the fairgrounds with their variations on neoclassical architecture. The result was a "White City" comprised primarily of temporary buildings. The buildings first goal was to attract attention and draw the public to them. Without that, the contents could not be explored. It was all about packaging. 
1893 Chicago's Word Fair
Neoclassical Buildings surrounding the Grand Basin
A visitor to the Fair could see the buildings in the distance, especially at night. (The Fair featured the first extensive use of the electric light in the country.)  As they drew closer they could begin to see some of the play of shadows and lights, the contrast of solids and voids. The building entry was usually contained within a featured form, and was often terminated in an axis or some other ordering devise. The buildings revealed more detail as one moved in, around, and through them. Once inside, the emphasis on the exhibits overtook that of the architecture. The exhibits were the product. The buildings were the packaging.

In fact, buildings are still all about packaging and buildings sport all kinds. Far too often the packaging is banal, like the monotonous rows of cereal boxed at your local grocery store. Sometimes the package is explicitly branded, as in the case of Manhattan's Apple Store or the classic Coca-Cola bottle. Occasionally the package is new and refreshing, as in the case of the CHEGS Campus Canteen or the new Puma bag.

Assorted Cereal Boxes
Dollar General by Unknown Architect

Apple Retail Store by Peter Bohlin
Classic Coca-Cola bottle

Puma Clever Little Bag

CHEGS Campus Canteen
by KnowSpace

Today, all but two of the two hundred plus buildings of the Chicago World's Fair are long gone, but Wrigley's spearmint gum is still around! The use of packaging for products and for architecture, like the gum, is just as prevalent as ever. Architects and their clients have learned that the way a building is packaged is just as important as the way consumer products are packaged. While packaging isn't usually associated with art, architecture often is. There are numerous connections between this pair, one of which will be made in the next post, First Impressions.