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The Re-signifying of Habitual Architecture

In many ways Buford Highway is like a parallel suburban universe: It's a place where the signifiers are familiar, but their meanings have changed. A quick glance from the highway overpass at the familiar linear landscape, identical to so many other motor-scapes in the ever-sprawling US, one could assume that the area is yet another strip of Waffle Houses, gas stations, and fast food joints. And they'd be right...sort of: the usual assortment of strip malls and chain stores do indeed populate the area. But the familar architecture can, unintentionally, be misleading.

Of course, one of the features of the franchise business model is the establishment of a unique, repetitive, and easily-identifiable architecture to ensure maximum recognizability in order to encourage habitual consumer patronage. However, from time to time a franchise will change its conceptual model and completely scrap it's older architecture (often nationwide) in favor of a newer, more "up-to-date" style. We've seen Pizza Hut, for example, lose it's family/soccer team-dining style in favor of the more on-the-go "Express" style. Taco Bells are no longer exclusively ersatz-pueblo. In the last ten years or so, we've seen the proliferation of the what we call the "Ken-Taco-Fried-Chicken" model, where fast food franchises share a space with each other or a convenience store.

So, as business models change and franchise owners go out of business, moto-consumer landscapes like Buford Highway are left with countless out-moded yet highly recognizable shells of chain-stores. Many of these are simply torn down either because they are thought to be too closely associated with their former identity or to make way for new, often equally generic developments. For lower budget, less image-conscious new ethnic businesses, however, it makes sense to settle for a few alterations and keep the perfectly good building, especially if expensive restaurant equipment is already in place. In addition, many of these buildings are sold as "retail-condos", in which the building is sold but not the property it sits on, making it even more affordable than building a new structure for both the landlord and new owner. This arangement also appeals to the prediliction of entrepeneurs of many nationalities towards actual ownership over rental of one's own building.

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