Come on, admit it. You've never bothered to think about who designed the blasted places. You've never pondered entryways, or worried about how high the counter should be. All you've ever done is walk in, walk up, pick out a burger and leave.
But behind every McDonald's is an architect. And behind a young architect from College Park is an unusual and recent success.
Mahmood Saniie, a University of Maryland student, has just captured a national prize offered by the hamburger chain that, by now, must own the earth. Saniie was honored for designing a "McDonald's of the Future." Believe it or not, his winning "baby" didn't even include a golden arch.
What it did include was four cubes and a pyramid, and nothing more. The cubes join together in a loose square. In the center of the square sits the pyramid. The exterior of all this is done in glass and brushed aluminum.
Put it all together, and the Saniie concept is space-age and shiny, even a little stark. It most closely resembles an art nouveau quonset hut. Or maybe an Egyptian motel. Whatever, you'd never mistake it for a place to gorge on french fries.
"The building, I agree, does not look like the McDonald's you find today," acknowledged Saniie, who is 24 and a fifth-year student at Maryland.
"But that is the point. The whole point. I think the building is interesting enough for people to walk in there and buy hamburgers."
Saniie's design was one of 420 submitted to McDonald's. The judging was done in Chicago in mid-December by an all-star panel of practicing architects. Saniie was one of 12 winners.
His reward was a check for $500. But the more satisfying and lasting reward -- the one all architects covet -- will never be. McDonald's retains all rights to the ideas submitted, but the company has pledged not to build an outlet that is exactly like any of the 420 concepts submitted.
In some cases, that might be just as well.
"I didn't believe some of the other entries," said Saniie, a softspoken, studious Iranian, who goes by the nickname of Matt. "There were a lot of flying saucers. There were a lot of -- what is it? -- Spaceship Galacticas?"
One winning entry consisted of a glob of what could have been swiss cheese. In the architect's sketch, one could clearly make out spaceships at each "porthole."
Mommies and daddies and kiddies were in the spaceships. The daddies were driving, the mommies were riding shotgun and the kiddies were in the back. In each case, the family spaceship was being parked right under a golden arch.
Another winning concept, furnished by a New York architecture student, was "McDonald's of the Four Seasons." Its emphasis was trees.
As they lost or gained leaves, or became one color or another, the motif would change to match. Thus, one would get green placements and green napkins in the spring, white drink cups in the winter, et cetera.
But Matt Saniie did not approach the contest by turning the knob on his fantasies to high.
For months, he says, he hung out in front of the McDonald's on Rte. 1 in College Park.
"I wanted to watch how people came and went, how they used the doors and the rest of the space," he said.
Then came a rethinking of how space is used in the burger bars of today. "It isn't good architecture because it doesn't cater to eating as a social experience," said Saniie. Thus, only one of his four cubes is for food preparation or counter space. The other three are picnic-style seating groves, and one of those has no roof over it.
Finally, having settled on a simple cube concept, Saniie decided that the sharp angles of a pyramid would set it off better than a parabola or circle. "I was looking for something that stands out, that becomes a symbol," he said.
But Saniie was no fool. He knew who was running the contest. He left off any and all arches because he wanted the "purity and distinctiveness of my design to emerge clearly." But on any side of the pyramid, and on the sides of the cubes that face the mythical streets, someone could nail up a golden arch any time one felt like it.
There is a huge McIrony in Matt Saniie's life these days. During the year it took him to plot his award-winning McDonald's, he came to dislike McDonald's food.
"I used to eat it once in a while, but now I really don't. And I really don't miss it," Saniie said.
But do not construe that to mean that Saniie dislikes or misunderstands the role of McDonald's in modern America.
"Doing this was great," he says, "because it has cultural value. I now understand the immense, big feeding machine of the U.S."
His goals? Very serious ones. Saniie will graduate from Maryland this spring and plans to continue graduate study in architecture. Down the road, he wants to teach and/or do research.
But along the way, he says, "I'd like to build. I don't care whether I build 20 buildings in a lifetime. But one, yes. I'd like to build one. So I could walk around it."
And what, pray tell, would it be?
"I wouldn't mind trying a 7-Eleven, or a Howard Johnson's," said Mahmood Saniie. "And it definitely won't be a conventional one."