Fashioning Architecture Weighs in on Brand as Place

This is the first guest post on my blog. Recently, you might have noticed my series on the branding of spaces and places. I thought it fitting to have the perspective of a student of space weigh in here and offer some insights from someone less obsessed with the graphic articulation of complexity and more obsessed with the origins of much of that complexity. I have long been a fan of architecture, but still have much to learn. Thank you to Miss Bozzi over at fashioning architecture for her myriad perspectives and for being a constant source of inspiration. I hope to publish many more of our long evening discussions in the future as I find they keep me grounded and help me to find a balance. Enjoy and thanks again!

When Foster first started this branding series, I was inspired. And then he asked me to write a guest post about branding, specifically branding of cities/countries, from an architectural perspective, and I was honored.

Right off the bat without much research into the topic, I really question if architecture can be branding? Does architecture need to be branded? Why do we need logos and typefaces for cities if the space can brand itself?

But then on the other hand, ‘architectural branding’ has become the new buzzword of the architectural industry in the last decades and rightfully so, since architecture becomes an expression of the newly developed experiential brands. Despite our increasingly virtual world, we still need physical buildings to establish personal relationships with brands and architecture plays a vital role in this equation by not only confining customer experience, but defining it, which is more than any brand can do. I really question the ideology that architectural branding adds significant value. And I am still waiting for a good reason for why architecture itself can’t brand the cities.

Take a look at skylines. I think that you could probably guess which planning committees in the United States use their skyline as a branding form. In some cases the city skyline is a brand. When I look at the silhouette of Seattle, I know right away, “oh hey, that’s the space needle!”  And when I see the Washington Monument peering up, I immediately think “oh hey, that is Washington D.C.!” The proof is in the pudding and the postcards.

Seattle
Iconic Space Needle in Seattle
The District's Obelisk
The District of Columbia’s Obelisk

To be more critical, I really have to examine architecture at a human scale, not from the vantage of a hot air balloon. When you look at a downtown skyline, there is no sense of what the city really feels like, what culture is like, or the people who live there. What about cities that do not have a memorable skyline? What goes on their postcard?

I recently became fascinated with how the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao was constructed as part of a revitalization effort for the city. It turns out that the Bilbao, as it has come to be known, has defined the new cultural position of the city because people come from all over the world to see Frank Gehry’s design.  In a way, the museum has transformed the city and made way for gentrification in the surrounding areas. Although the success of this single piece of architecture constructed in a run-down environment is remarkable, I am left wondering what would Bilbao be like if Frank Gehry hadn’t been commissioned.

The Guggenheim Bilbao
The Guggenheim Bilbao by Frank Gehry

The Guggenheim Museum was supposed to create a new image of the city in an effort to attract development. Since the city’s decisions did attract this outside development, it is now deemed successful. When people visit the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao they leave in awe of Frank Gehry’s Decontructivist work, but are they fascinated by the city and the people of Bilbao? In fact, in Chicago, you can experience a piece of Bilbao at Frank Gehry’s Pritzker Pavilion. Ironic. Or you can go to the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and experience Bilbao. In the end, are all these little pieces of Bilbao spread throughout the world, in fact, pieces of the brand of Gehry?

Image links:

Seattle’s Space Needle: http://www.visitingdc.com/picture/seattle-skyline-picture.asp

D.C. :  http://blogs.state.gov/index.php/site/entry/young_legislative_fellows_dc

Guggenheim: http://www.guggenheim.org/bilbao

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New Orleans Branding Different Here

Roof Copy
Roof Copylines
Water is Rising
Water is Rising
Katrina
Katrina

“It’s New Orleans. You’re Different Here.” Or are you? How does one ‘brand’ a place that has just been devastated? Where does it even start? Does the process of design or visual communication even matter at this scale of suffering? To the people of New Orleans–who depend on tourism after major economic shifts in the 50s and 70s–it does.

After the physical devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the ensuing media maelstrom resulted in a tarnish settling over the image of the South’s multi-faceted and multi-cultured gem. So the problem is then very specifically a branding one. The people of New Orleans and Louisiana would take care of the physical space. Peter Mayer Advertising would help handle the image with a multi-faceted campaign explained in part here.

http://www.aminworldwide.com/showcases/details/41/

Though this is not a full look at the incredible body of work Peter Mayer produced for its city it brings to mind some intriguing questions about the role branding places in defining place, or redefining it. Commercial art has not ever been shy about its role in manufacturing image. When combined with the discipline of design and the psychology of Peter Mayer’s public relations team, the city of New Orleans was beneficiary to a positive aspect of branding. A real physical city with real and tangible and hurting people needed real help to bring the tourism dollars back.

Youre_Different_Here_Logo
You’re Different Here Marque

I have heard arguments on the impossibility of branding something as public and multi-variabled as a modern city. In this case, we see undeniable evidence of success. Though we in America will forever remember the travesty of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, some songs ultimately go unsung when things are being rebuilt. In this case, New Orleans is still standing and probably stronger than ever. The city’s people are survivors. The campaign to keep the economy going through tourism dollars was not only a success in branding, but also a shining example of the benefits of commercial art in our society.

I was privy to a lecture fully explaining this body of work through my local Pensacola Bay Area Advertising Federation. Though I understand the ethical implications of generating this type of work for something as ephemeral as a city and its people, it was an incredible experience to witness firsthand the effect the work could have. The potential for art and creative thinking to influence people around the world into visiting a specific region is no small task. It was a pleasure to more fully empathize with the reasoning behind attempting such a task, but also in grasping that ‘re-building’ a city is not always about plywood and nails. Our cities are complex. Keeping them going often requires complex systems of communication and influence that have a global reach. Who better to attempt this mammoth task than a local and passionate agency with Peter Mayer?

Follow their work here. They’ve grown with their city. What type of relationship do you have with yours?

 

Vladimir: Transforming Russia, One City at a Time: Khramov

Kursk
Kursk: Case One

From the city of Samara in Russia, Vladimir Khramov has set himself and his studio Stilistica.ru ahead of the curve with its positioning of cities. Bridging the gaps between graphic design and architecture to create unique and powerful brands, Vladimir’s work is about the experience of form. We are confronted with a city’s physicality in his work as well as its unique story, a rare experience, but one often felt when visiting an urban area. Vladimir’s thoughtful exploration of line, texture, and dimension gives a viewer the chance to experience not just a city but also the history of a place through space in the form of a marque and its range of applications. Keep a close eye on Vladimir and his work as it is representative of something new and something distinctly Russian. In today’s global world, Russia is a powerhouse of design, music, and luxury. Branding happens here. Russia is repositioning itself not just as a place and culture, but also in the world of design. Vladimir’s work provides beautiful evidence of this fact.

Kursk Applications
Kursk Applications
Kursk Progression
Kursk Progression
Kursk: Progression
Kursk: Progression

Another Body of Work for Kursk.

Kursk Case Two
Kursk Case Two

For the city of Samara.

Samara: Explanations
Samara: Explanations
Samara: Map
Samara: Map
Samara marque
Samara marque
Studies
Studies
Samara Brand
Samara Brand
Brand Pin
Brand Pin
Marque Variations
Marque Variations
Samara shirts
Samara shirts
Marque Application
Marque Application
Samara applications
Samara applications
Samara Application
Samara Application
Samara at Night
Samara at Night
Samara Buildings, Travel
Samara Buildings, Travel
Samara Theatre and Arts
Samara Theatre and Arts

The Bahamas c/o Duffy & Partners & Co.

Bahamas Marque
Bringing Together Distance and Diversity through Design

“Every island in the Bahamas needed to be represented and their independent personalities expressed within the overall message. The graphic design solution of the Bahamas identity was the foundation that brought the Bahamian islands a common message that could be broken into differential parts as needed.”

–Bart Cleveland, Adage.com

In 2008, I had the uncommon experience of seeing and meeting the indubitable Mr. Duffy for the first time as a student at SCAD. I watched his presentation, listened to his thoughtful careful words and viewed his breathtaking work with hungry eyes. This chapter meeting of the AIGA in Jacksonville was what graphic design was supposed to be all about. But what was this word ‘branding’? What did it take to ‘brand’ an island chain as disparate and uncommon as the Bahamas? There were so many of them. They all had their own unique characteristics, culture, music, food. And yet, they were all politically and economically connected. Much like any other place. Is it even possible to ‘brand’ something as ephemeral and meaning-packed as a place?

Duffy and Partners work, in cooperation with Fallon Worldwide, raises many questions about place. How do we define ourselves as part of a nation? Can we describe the process of what it takes to become a Floridian, an Ohioan, a Cincinnatian, a New Yorker, a Madrider, a Havanite? What do these places mean to us? What does it mean to grow up there? To eat there every day? To work there? To sleep there?

Think on all these questions and then attempt to think about how the people in the city 50 miles away might answer them. How are they related? Is there some common or shared experience? Now think if this place, this city were an island separated by many dozens of miles of water. These are not just tangible, physical challenges, but problems of identity and boundary, politic and economy. These are the things that make us similar and at the same time, make us alike as humans. The best solution is part of Duffy’s holistic approach to branding. Go there. Meet the people. Listen to them. Allow them to provide the solutions. Allow the work to flow from what they say, what they do, how they do it, and who they are as people and citizens and brand ‘partners.’

Setting the mood of the Bahamas
Setting the mood of the Bahamas

In commercial art, we are often presented with a client and a communication problem whose undertaking may seem impossible. Bringing together so many islands in the Bahamas might have seemed that way on first glance. Patience and the open minds of thinking designers proved different. Here is some of the evidence. However, I highly recommend Duffy’s Book, A Brand Apart, for a more complete and wholesome elucidation.

Bahamas Patterns
Bahamas Patterns
Range of Materials
Range of Bahamas Materials
Full range of islands
Full range of islands

ChromeToaster’s New Zealand On Screen

New Zealand On-Screen
New Zealand On-Screen

A fantastic collaboration between New Zealand On Screen, Chrometoaster, and Storybox, this marque and the accompanying graphics again fit into the overall scheme of products and services offered by New Zealand. Within the nation itself, there is a reverence for where they come from as a place and a simultaneous love of film. A few of my favorite things. Nation-branding, mixed typography, pixels, cargo containers, traveling exhibitions and celluloid. Visit Chrometoaster’s site for a study of the work.

New Zealand On Screen Experience
New Zealand On Screen Experience
New Zealand On Screen Experience
New Zealand On Screen Experience
New Zealand On Screen Experience
New Zealand On Screen Experience

TKO’s 100% Pure New Zealand Honey

TKO's 100% Pure New Zealand Honey
TKO’s 100% Pure New Zealand Honey

TKO Advertising Agency and Design Studio uses both the % sign and even the phrasing 100% Pure to highlight the Honey’s relationship with New Zealand, but also with the brand of New Zealand itself. This cross-communication increases the strength of the National Crown Entity’s Brand, but also the strength of the packaging and marque for the honey.

New Zealand, a nation of branding folks and branded products that are from a proud people. There is a simplicity and an excellence here that makes the products warm and approachable. In this case, I think it works for the brand and the people of the nation unlike some of our own nation’s companies’ globalistic and unhealthy branding practices. Though I am not from there, I cannot compare these examples to the likes of a McDonald’s or a Nike. It seems to me like what you see is what you get.

TKO's 100% Pure New Zealand Honey
TKO’s 100% Pure New Zealand Honey

South African Tourism and Choices

On 5 November 2009, BizCommunity.com reported that South Africa’s Cabinet approved a new and official international marketing logo that would replace some 70 logos used in the past for the quickly rising nation.

South Africa Marque designed by Grid Worldwide
Brand South Africa designed by Grid Worldwide

The importance of this marque to a nation is perhaps second to none in their preparation for the 2010 World Cup. But the execution, as seen on BizCommunity’s comment board, gets mixed reviews. Something else is present not in the work, but in the commentary itself.

As a designer, I feel the execution could have been better. There are certain things I enjoy about the marque. The directionality of the gestalt, the looseness of the typography, the iconic nature of the reference and deference to the flag and its colors and their meanings. (It is subtle, but this is not the actual flag. The geometry references the shape of the actual flag in a very sophisticated way, however.) It’s readable, it’s fun, and it performs the function of inciting people’s curiosity about a nation. The color palette specifically emphasizes the black which symbolizes the people of the nation, its most important resource and the best reason to visit any nation not your own.

Pick up any airline’s in-flight magazine, you might notice its fitting in nicely with other brands from around the world. It has that distinctive ‘this belongs here’ emotional quality to it that takes time to craft and requires engagement to initiate. And yet, it retains its distinction. Some of the commentary shows confusion

“Isn’t there a law that prohibits any writing on the flag? it looks good though.”

-energy guide

The execution is such a simple solution it gets confused for the historical flag. It is not. For a simple breakdown of the symbology of the flag read here… http://www.vexillologymatters.org/south-african-flag.htm

As for the execution, Eek says it best

“Its shockingly bad, even if it was OK, the placing of the ‘South Africa’ is too close to the left hand side and it shows absolutely no creativity, this is the first and most obvious solution!”

There is a paradox there. Sometimes, the first solution is the best. Think on the CitiBank logo and its now-famous napkin rendering. There is nothing wrong with finding something right the first time. It doesn’t happen often–but when and if it does–why would that decrease its inherent value? It’s communicative of a place and a people and the South African people’s elected representatives made a decision they were elected to make. Perhaps, in this case, we would be wise to look more closely at how design happens. It is not about one person, or even a small group of people and all their little combined idiosyncrasies. Design often occurs “by committee” and, Beirut’s “Poor, Lonely Obvious” is the proper solution.

All controversy aside, the marque works as seen during the now famous World Cup 2010. The flexibility of the brand unfolds and now we have a narrative of “1,001 Unique Experiences.” This book is beautifully crafted with much hand-rendered typography, beautiful illustrations, stark photographs, and insight into the unique mythos surrounding some of South Africa’s heroes and artists.

"1001 unique experiences" by Grid Worldwide
“1001 unique experiences” by Grid Worldwide
"1001 unique experiences" by Grid Worldwide
“1001 unique experiences” by Grid Worldwide
"1001 unique experiences" by Grid Worldwide
“1001 unique experiences” by Grid Worldwide
"1001 unique experiences" by Grid Worldwide
“1001 unique experiences” by Grid Worldwide
"1001 unique experiences" by Grid Worldwide
“1001 unique experiences” by Grid Worldwide
"1001 unique experiences" by Grid Worldwide
“1001 unique experiences” by Grid Worldwide
"1001 unique experiences" by Grid Worldwide
“1001 unique experiences” by Grid Worldwide
"1001 unique experiences" by Grid Worldwide
“1001 unique experiences” by Grid Worldwide
"1001 unique experiences" by Grid Worldwide
“1001 unique experiences” by Grid Worldwide
"1001 unique experiences" by Grid Worldwide
“1001 unique experiences” by Grid Worldwide
"1001 unique experiences" by Grid Worldwide
“1001 unique experiences” by Grid Worldwide

The people here as with the color black in the marque play a starring role again. Through simple ideation, Grid Worldwide fleshes out a concept not easily rendered. But now I am confused, both as a designer and a simple viewer. The bottom right of the book displays another marque. Bolder, more textural, more dimensional, but still representative of both South Africa as a nation and its myriad peoples.

End Frame of commercial by Inition
End Frame of commercial converted to 3d by Inition

We now have choices as a viewer, a strange and disconcerting thought in the land of Nike, FedEx, and the NFL. This gives the identity a specific flexibility that translates across multiple mediums as seen in the work of Inition, here.

Specially commissioned geodesic dome in London's Broadgate circus.
Specially commissioned geodesic dome in London’s Broadgate circus.
Specially commissioned geodesic dome in London's Broadgate circus.
Specially commissioned geodesic dome in London’s Broadgate circus.
Specially commissioned geodesic dome in London's Broadgate circus.
Specially commissioned geodesic dome in London’s Broadgate circus.
specially commissioned geodesic dome in London's Broadgate circus
Specially commissioned geodesic dome in London’s Broadgate circus.

Note the beads of geodesic dome referencing the beads of the marque at the end of the 3 minute commercial. Though Inition was responsible for bringing the commercial to the 3rd Dimension in video, the additional brand experience of being surrounded by the ‘beads’ of the South African people and the essence of their video adds another layer of brand inception.

Love it or hate it, I have more friends that have been to South Africa than to London. Perhaps this is the true test of a brand’s strength. Regardless of the logo, I want to visit South Africa. Perhaps it is a sign of our times that brands–especially for nations–will become more and more simplified as individuals making travel decisions move away from the travel agent and into their own research. At times it may seem branding goes over the top, but for the people of South Africa and their rich culture and resources, no dome goes unturned.

All work © Grid Worldwide, 2012. For an exciting look into the conversion of video from 2d into 3d, check out Inition in the UK and their exciting work.