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What Is Tiki Architecture?


The Royal Hawaiian Estates, Palm Springs, California

The Royal Hawaiian Estates, Palm Springs, California

Photo © Daniel Chavkin, courtesy Royal Hawaiian Estates

Tiki architecture is fanciful architecture that incorporates Polynesian themes. The word tiki refers to large wood and stone sculptures and carvings found in the Polynesian islands. Tiki buildings are often decorated with imitation tiki and other romanticized details borrowed from the South Seas.

How Tiki Architecture Evolved:

When soldiers returned to the United States after World War II, they brought home stories about life in the South Seas. The best-selling books Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl and Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Mitchener heightened interest in all things tropical. Hotels and restaurants incorporated Polynesian themes to suggest an aura of romance. Polynesian-themed, or tiki, buildings proliferated in California and then throughout the United States.

The Polynesia fad reached its height in about 1959, when Hawaii became part of the United States. By then, commercial tiki architecture had taken on a variety of flashy Googie details. Also, some mainstream architects were incorporating abstract tiki shapes into streamlined modernist design.

Tiki Architecture Has Many of These Features:

  • Tikis and carved beams
  • Lava rock
  • Imitation bamboo details
  • Shells and coconuts used as ornaments
  • Real and imitation palm trees
  • Imitation thatch roofs
  • A-frame shapes and extremely steep peaked roofs
  • Waterfalls
  • Flashy signs and other Googie details


Related Styles:

Tiki architecture is one of several types of Roadside Architecture, or Novelty Architecture, that evolved in the United States during the 1950s. Other types of Roadside Architecture include:

Photos of Tiki Architecture:

Is mid-20th century architecture historic? Share your views!

Also Known As:

Polynesian Pop

Common Misspellings:

The word tiki should not be confused with tacky, although some have said that tiki is tacky! Other misspellings: tikki

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