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Architecture + Branding: The role of the built environment in brand building

1-A thing of beauty?

During my formative years, an often repeated mantra from one of the more colourful instructors was that the sole guiding principle of designers and architects alike should be “to do beautiful things!”. That was the expectation, and for the most part, there are numerous buildings that could be classified as beautiful. However, the unspoken truth is that as Architects and Designers we do many “less than beautiful” buildings. In fact, we do some downright unattractive, even ugly buildings. Buildings that one would not want included in their portfolio, or to take credit for, or ascribed to them. Ever.

Unkind words perhaps, but what is missing in the previous is that architecture is not just about buildings. The discipline is incredibly broad and touches multiple facets, as some practitioners rarely ever come close to a building during the course of their day. Yet, buildings, beautiful or not so, are the measuring stick for the profession.

2-Willed into being

Some would point the finger and try to suggest that this absence of beauty exists because architecture is increasingly done by architects and non-architects alike. There are numerous other professionals and non-professionals who overlap, dabble and operate in the realm of architecture. Yet, honestly, this is a short sighted and poor excuse.

Frankly, architecture is not, has not been, and might never be, just about pretty, fanciful, and idyllic buildings. Some buildings are categorically and unequivocally not artful at all, but they all serve a purpose. Unlike natural occurrence or phenomena like sand dunes, rock formations, ant hills, under water caves or volcanos, architecture occurs because someone willed it into being. By sheer desire, drive, energy, and ego, someone undertook the project and brought art and technology together, with an agenda and a purpose, to express a point of view.

3-Cult of the Form Givers

Authors, musicians, film makers, the creative fields are populated by a myriad of talented professionals, but few are tasked with the role of Form Giver. Moreso than any other, designers fill that role.

Whereas others can create in the abstract, designers must work contiguously both in the realm of the imagination and of the real, struggling against very real constraints, pressures and physical limitations. Designers bestow ideas a tangible, 3-dimensional tactile form, they give rise to new objects, new means of production, and new ways to interact with the world around us.

In summary, the tangible aspect renders ideas and concepts, real Real, real Fast.

4-Branded architecture everywhere

In this discussion, Architecture is considered to encompass several dimensions, from the physical built environment to the psychological dimensions of how an occupant might feel experiencing the structure.

For better clarity, Architecture, in this application, professes to be an all-encompassing term, inclusive of the entire built environment, from the macro to micro; urban planning, streetscapes, site, structure, building, interiors, finishes, colours, lights, shadows and emotional responses. One dimension which I feel has been lacking in attention and in need of further discussion is the role Architecture has in relation with Branding.

Branding, short of any more meaningful definition, is simply, a promise. It is an expectation from the user to the prescribed features and benefits purported by the marketer, some real, some imagined, some manufactured, and all of them, part and parcel of the promise. Most importantly, brands have a need to be real, relevant and true to self. The brand is the contract, it defines, outlines and codifies the user’s expectations.

Architecture, by its physical dimension, can perform multiple feats at once. At times, it can reflect, redirect, influence and enhance the brand message. Conversely, it can also detract, diminish, constrict and tarnish the brand message. Architecture sets the stage, defines the parameters, frames the activity to occur, coaxes engineered and designed responses and attempts to direct how the user is to experience the event. It affords physical places to build, establish, and forge relationships with the brand. 

There is in effect a symbiotic link between architecture and branding.

This link can be exemplified by pointing to examples of iconic, landmark or signature buildings that have become associated with the brand either in namesake, such as the Chrysler building in New York, the Pentagon in Virginia, and the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. Other buildings have a direct brand association in form, like, the Longaberger Company of Ohio (a.k.a.the basket company), and the Kansas City Public Library, Missouri.


Chrysler Building, New York, NY

The Pentagon, ArlingtonCounty,Virginia

Burj Al Arab, Dubai

Longaberger Company, Newark, Ohio

Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri

Architecture can also detract or diminish the branding message when it develops or acquires negative associations, with such poignant examples as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland, or the Estadio Nacioanl Julio Martínez Prádanos, Chile (former Estadio Nacional).

Auschwitz-Birkenau, Oświęcim, Poland


Estadio Nacional Julio Martínez Prádanos, Santiago, Chile

However, a more dynamic sphere is the innate ability of architecture to become not only part of the branding message, but to be “THE” branding message, or even form part of the brand logo.


Landmark and Civic buildings




Individual Buildings or Particular Building features


5-Architectural Identity: The role of the built environment in building brands

Brands are pervasive, abundant, present and Architecture can play an important role in the overall brand strategy. In the realm of branding, architecture can be a conduit and the physical manifestation of brand values. Without question, Architecture can, should and does impact brands, and to ignore this fact can be damaging, short-sighted and detrimental to the overall brand message.

Creating, refining and maintaining an Architectural Identity (AI) should be part of the brand mix. In a densely crowded marketplace, it can only be beneficial for any enterprise, government, commercial or non-profit, to develop, refine, adopt and promote an Architectural Identity to set it apart from others. In the case of commercial enterprises, especially retail, crafting an AI is not only beneficial, it is patently essential in an already congested consumer marketplace.

Ideally, the goal should be to align architecture and brand into one unified voice. At times, it may require the brand to tone down and blend into the surroundings, forming a cohesive and complete landscape. At other times, it may require the brand to step up creatively and tastefully stand out. The art is to challenge the brand perception without blurring the lines into the unfamiliar.

Architecture, much like art, is hardly inert or static. Both are framed and influenced, challenged and impacted, representative and reactionary of the times and social mores in which they are conceived. Skilled designers can assist in striking a poetic balance to effectively communicate brand values and image, and are progressively becoming a requisite talent in a comprehensive Branding toolkit.

Notable digital experiences excluded, there are conceivably few areas which are not touched by architecture. Most, if not all, of human activity happens in a physical place. As such, architecture and shaping an Architectural Identity, will remain an integral part of the Branding realm, and a powerful tool to those market makers that can best harness it to create a total brand experience.

All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.


About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.


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