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Architecture + Branding: HUMMER honours military heritage from product to profile “Like nothing else”

1-Military grade to civilian issue

After taking a leading role in the Persian Gulf war circa 1990-1991 (Gulf War Operation: Desert Storm), the military Humvee became part of contemporary culture. The High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV or Humvee) was a 4-wheel drive vehicle designed and built by AM General Corporation for military duty under contract for the United States military.

The Humvee was to be versatile and adaptable, serving such functions as Ambulance, Troop carrier, Cargo carrier, along with being outfitted with a variety of military-based assault and recognizance equipment.

US Marine Corps HMMWV in difficult terrain, Afghanistan (source: wikipedia)

Igniting with a slow boil, the brand’s masculine and audacious image, combined with its military associations, quickly built an audience. In 1992, a civilian version of the Humvee, based on the proven structure and mechanical components, enhanced with passenger car accoutrements, was being marketed to the public by AM General under the Hummer brand name.

Nearing the end of 1999, AM General sold the brand name to General Motors. Under the tenure of General Motors, the original military derived model was renamed H1, a civilian-market platform derived H2 SUV and SUT were introduced, and the midsize Chevrolet Colorado truck platform based H3 was launched. HUMMER’s narrowly focused philosophy appealed to a core group and it rapidly became a status symbol of the brash, affluent and upwardly mobile.

HUMMER H2 model on auto display ramp, front quarter view

In 2008, the smaller two door HUMMER HX Concept vehicle was revealed but never made it into production. Shortly thereafter, General Motors in dire financial straights and forced into corporate bankruptcy, GM found itself unable to secure a buyer for the brand and after several attempts, shuttered HUMMER in 2010.

HUMMER HX Concept vehicle (source: wikipedia)

2-What identity crisis?

Adhering to a narrow product focus, HUMMER remains the only auto brand in the United States whose entire model range lineup came equipped with a low-range transfer case, relatively high ground clearance and off-road tires. This particular trait would be both a blessing and a hindrance.

HUMMER brand model lineup, model year 2006 HUMMER H3, H1 and H2 models (source: wikipedia)

As a brand, HUMMER possessed a vaunted attribute, a clear, concise and cohesive brand message, that of unparalleled off-road capabilities. Despite this attribute, few other automotive brands suffered the ills that HUMMER did. Poster child for all that was wrong in the world at the moment by environmentalists and politicians, HUMMER shouldered the load as only it could.

Bold, brash and unapologetic, polarizing, incendiary and divisive, HUMMER never aspired to be all things to all people and never attempted to water down the message. As a brand, whatever tribulations HUMMER might have experienced, it never suffered from an identity crisis. This characteristic was evident in the product, and reinforced by the architectural design at the customer interaction touch points, the brazenly distinctive HUMMER dealerships.

3-Brash from the outset

Brash, loud and unmistakable, these brand attributes carried all the way into the built environment. Pavlik Design’s Quonset hut inspired “Urban bivouac” design theme for the HUMMER brand was on point, and captured the elemental ethos of the brand without ambiguity or vacillation (HUMMER H3, Larry Edsall).

Quonset huts Laguna Peak-Point Mugu 1946 (source: wikipedia)

The Quonset hut profile, tracing its origins to WWII, is a clear association to the brand’s military beginnings. In many ways, the polyvalent, adaptable and versatile Quonset hut design, which served as mess hall, hospital, munitions depot, sleeping barracks, is a fitting metaphor for the HUMMER brand. This superbly fitting choice of the built environment transcends, echoes and reflects the polyvalence built into the original military grade Humvee (HMMWV).

Quonset hut emplacement in Japan 1947-48 post-WWII Japan (source: wikipedia)

Instituting a Quonset hut inspired vault design, the typical showroom architectural design made extensive use of steel, glass and concrete. The resultant arch created by truncating the Quonset hut form was impressive, anchoring one side of the showroom and cresting over to the opposite side to form the roof plane. Massive expanses of glass, framed by structural steel columns and beams, would allow abundant amounts of natural light. The interspaced steel elements would either be left exposed and painted, or clad in break-metal or sheet-metal to blend in with the window framing.

HUMMER Dealership, Exterior view, Rogers, Minnesota (source: mjs-inc.com)

HUMMER Dealership, Exterior view, Houston, Texas (source: asreme.com)

Adding a sense of ruggedness and mass as well as anchoring the design at grade, concrete was utilized in the overall aesthetic. Several exterior wall surfaces and finishes would stop at the concrete base. In many instances, the roof beams would extend and ultimately terminate into concrete piers, anchored to the base, ostensibly cantilevering to form the roof profile.

HUMMER Dealership, Exterior view, Cicero, New York

Furthermore, a stylized “H” forming part of the showroom would often complement the exterior design. At times, it would be clear glasswork integrated into the overall glazing. In other cases, it would be opaque, clad in similar adjacent or complementary materials to the remainder of the façade.

HUMMER Dealership, Exterior view, Davenport, Iowa (source: DDHStorefront.com)

HUMMER Dealership, Exterior view, Las Vegas, Nevada (source: treehugger.com)

The unique attitude extended into the site design also. Along with the unique dealership architecture, an adjacent rock-crawling, water-fording, side-hill-sloping, angle-of-approach-and-departure challenge demonstration test-drive area was provided (HUMMER H3, Larry Edsall). The unmatched off-road capabilities of every HUMMER model could be best experienced, demonstrated and tested over the purpose-built course.

HUMMER Dealership, Exterior view, Cicero, New York

HUMMER Dealership, Exterior view, Las Vegas, Nevada (source: yourautostuff.com)

The overarching message was more explicit than implicit; this was an altogether different automotive animal, a beast among beauties if you will.

4-Blatant bravado inside

Premium priced, HUMMER was not a refined old-world brand with a long distinguished history like Range Rover, or some quasi off-road luxury vehicle. HUMMER was a true no-compromise, no-excuse capable off-road vehicle that proudly displayed its military roots. As much as the exterior communicated that this was a different experience, the interior design reinforced and amplified the message.

HUMMER Dealership, Interior view, Louisville, Kentucky (source: vbnarch.com)

In many instances, due to the expansive use of glass, many of the interior design features could be perceived. The exposed structural members, bare corrugated metal ceilings, huge pendant lights, exposed ductwork, massive ceiling fans alluding WWII plane propellers, everything served as in your face reminders, galvanizing the notion that the dealer experience is a divergent departure from more timid and pedestrian brands.

HUMMER Dealership, Interior view, Mahwah, New Jersey (source: pascaleelectric.com)

The macho overtone was pervasive, and the bravado was everywhere. Outdoor activities, rugged, athletic, masculine, adventure-seeking extroverts were heralded and celebrated in print advertising that hung from the exposed ceilings inside the dealerships like pennant banners from the rafters of sports stadiums. The interior finishes were basic, utilitarian and functional. Ornamentation was limited.

HUMMER Dealership, Interior view, Mahwah, New Jersey (source: pascaleelectric.com)

The message was clear; a HUMMER dealership is different, and instantly identifiable.

5-Architecture as legacy brand trait

In the case of HUMMER, every part of the built environment, exterior, site and interior, spoke in unison to strengthen and reinforce the brand message. It truly was a brilliant example of architecture adopting and fully integrating into the role of brand advertising.

At the height of  SUV popularity in the United States, the brand had broadened far beyond its core base, turning an off-road icon into the portrait of quintessential conspicuous consumption. Pinched by stubbornly high gas prices in 2008, combined with a faltering housing market, HUMMER found itself with a product mix for which desirability was decelerating.

HUMMER Dealership Service Bay, Exterior view, near Boul des Sources and Highway 40, Montreal, Quebec

Even though the product faded into the history books, the brand name continues to remain relevant as numerous licensed items, from HUMMER branded colognes, flashlights and bicycles, continue to be sold in retail stores and online. Nevertheless, the astute alignment of brand and architecture could not salvage a product line that was waning persistently.

HUMMER Dealership, Exterior view, Oxford near Wonderland Road, London, Ontario

Although the buildings might find another use, the Architectural form will serve as a recurrent reminder to the brand that was the genesis of its being. Failing to re-imagine the architecture, the lineage to the brand will not be broken. As such, the HUMMER brand name will continue to be associated with the building shape and architectural profile, thus extending the brand perpetually forward into the public consciousness even as the product has faded away.

Disclosure:

All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

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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.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Architecture + Branding: HUMMER honours military heritage from product to profile “Like nothing else”

  1. Love your site. I’ve bookmarked your site in my bookmarks to follow-up with later. Thanks again!

    Posted by Sell A Dealership | July 13, 2012, 11:31 am
  2. Dear Sir,

    Hummer reminds me the fate of Ford Edsel in the ’40s, probably America’s worst failure in automotive industry, but also a misunderstood creation. The Hummer has been a fantastic vehicle, but it set too big a gap between its overpowered performance and the customers’ intention of use. It became, all of a sudden, too distant, almost scary in its outburst of energy, to a public that witnessed the war on tv, the oil crisis, terrorist attacks at home and felt an overall sense of profound fragility. Hummer and Edsel probably share a fate of bad timing and, well, bad luck. No matter what, there is always an afterlove for products that fall into disgrace. Like the leftovers after a rich meal, they turn out to be tasty the day after. Hummer will come back as a great classic in 2030.

    Best Regards,

    Carlo

    Posted by carlo | July 18, 2012, 5:39 pm

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