March 13, 2013
Companies want to brand themselves in lots of ways and for lots of reasons. There are all the usual reasons to do with marketing but when companies talk about brand and how it is integrated with architecture and the design of their offices they are equally likely to be concerned with attracting staff and making what they think are the right statements about their business. The problem is that while nearly everybody wants to brand their workplace, the design solutions can become overly literal. There’s nothing inherently wrong with logos in the carpet but successful design will be about far more than that. It usually has to be rather less literal and rather more intelligent.
The literal can be very literal indeed. At the Longaberger Basket Company in Newark in the US, the entire office building is shaped like a basket, seven floors high. Just in case you had any doubts about what exactly they do. Then again, it is also possible for offices to be designed in ways that are both literal and intelligent. Zaha Hadid’s offices for BMW in Leipzig incorporate three tracks that silently convey cars between manufacturing processes above the heads of office workers. More subtly, the interior design is profoundly industrial, with little distinction between the contemporary factory aesthetic of the interior architecture and the offices themselves.
Yet architecture can also be a problem for firms who want to make a statement with their buildings and especially for those moving into somebody else’s space. And landmark buildings by major architects can present more challenges to prospective tenants and their interior designers than speculative boxes on business parks.
Take the Swiss Re Building. Everybody loved it didn’t they? From the thirteen thousand people who jostled for up to five hours to enter it during an open weekend in 2004, to the awards judges at the RIBA who unanimously crowned it best new building in the same year, to the world’s major international architectural practices who deemed it nothing less than ‘The Most Admired New Building in the World’ in a poll in Building Design. Not to mention the architectural practices who rushed to erect their own aggressively phallic landmark buildings in major cities around the globe.
Yet in spite of all this, there was always an important group of people who were less than enamoured with the Gherkin. The waves of love that lapped at its curved façade did not always emanate from the most important people of all: the occupiers and occupants who expressed concerns about some aspects of its design including its usable floor space. But most of all its status and image.
The question they pose is: do you want to inhabit a landmark building that’s yours or do you have something that is essentially someone else’s? What we had with the Gherkin was a building that captured the imagination of a great number of people and was closely associated with a particular and very famous architect so had a global brand of its own, much like the new generation of colourfully monikored London towers such as The Shard, The Cheesegrater and The Walkie Talkie.
This is an issue that may be different for certain types of business. It’s not necessarily an issue for a smaller firm which can develop an appropriately branded interior and bathe in the reflected glow of the building’s identity. But major blue chip organisations may not want to get into a building with a brand that may compete and even overshadow their own. This has long been a challenge for high profile buildings and especially those associated with a particular architect or firm. The Ralph Erskine designed Ark at Hammersmith in West London was lauded in architectural circles but lay empty for many years in spite of its high profile association with drinks company Seagram. The fact that many people always saw it as The Seagram Ark didn’t help it to attract other high profile tenants, so it was no wonder that blue chip businesses gave it a miss before it was subject to extensive refurbishment five or six years ago as a home for multiple tenants.
by Mark Eltringham