Until the past couple of decades, virtually no research had been done on the form of commercial structures. Richard Longstreth developed pioneering studies into commercial architecture typology in the mid-1980s. For this guide we have drawn from those studies and have expanded his typology to include public as well as commercial architecture.
Longstreth’s system of classification is based upon form, and more specifically on the façade, that portion of the building intended for public view. His analysis does not deal with the interior plans of commercial buildings, since they are usually flexible in arrangement and subject to continual change. His analysis includes a range of commercial functions, including banks, retail stores, office buildings, hotels, and theaters.
Because of the prominence of public buildings in a majority of Utah communities, we have expanded Longstreth’s typology to include city halls, city and county buildings, post offices, and court buildings. The major types of commercial and public buildings found in Utah include what Longstreth calls the one- and two-part commercial blocks, the enframed window wall, the two- and three-part vertical blocks, the temple front, the vault, the central block with wings, and the enframed block.
Commercial and industrial architectural design changed very little over the course of the 19th century. However, toward the end of the century technological progress in materials, particularly concrete and structural iron and steel reinforcement, made larger buildings possible.
Early commercial buildings typically had a narrow street façade and an enclosed rectangular floor plan that could be divided according to the needs of the user. This worked well when several buildings were tightly lined up along a main thoroughfare within walking distance from residences, and the primary source of transportation was the horse. However, one invention had more influence on commercial architectural design than anything else, the automobile. Now that people were driving rather than walking, changes to both building and site were necessary to accommodate vehicle parking and customer service.
Several building types emerged in response to increased automobile usage, including motor courts, motels, commercial courts, drive-in restaurants, supermarkets, service stations, and service-bay businesses. By the early to mid-20th century there were more advances in commercial design than any other type of architecture, and the trend in Utah was similar to most areas of the country. Listed above are descriptions of the most common types of commercial and industrial architecture encountered in the state.