’It’s not architecture, it’s advertising,’ sniffed the Architect’s
Journal when Sainsbury built its Homebase store on Warwick Road in West
London ten years ago. Such hubris demonstrated a failure to understand
advertising and architecture.
Buildings have a functional role in confining space just as advertising
provides information to consumers. Buildings, too, can be rich sources
of humour, symbolism and metaphor.
Our inability to notice buildings, to be able to talk about them, to
describe our emotional responses to what are, after all, part of the
warp and weft of our lives is extraordinary. The canny, knowledgeable,
discerning consumer has hit the brick wall when it comes to brick walls.
We can’t tell our squinches from our spandrels or even our Eisenman from
The lack of corporate daring has forced us to suffer too many bland,
undemanding steel frameworks draped in mean concrete. I don’t blame the
architects but would ask whether the marketers have attempted to exploit
every medium available to them.
Acres of newsprint, like some self-penned obituary, have been devoted to
the coming of the new media but the sheer drudgery of getting to it
leaves me unconvinced that it will ever match the media that earns its
living by demanding my attention. There’s no booting up for looking at
buildings, there’s no tedious segmentation of audiences within
The excitement and imagination applied to much commercial communication
has been lacking in the boldest, most permanent expression of corporate
brand values. Nobody can say of a building that it’ll be tomorrow’s fish
and chip wrapper. The consideration of a building as a medium with a
message might encourage a return to the forward-thinking and
long-termism which is slipping away from the management of brands.
The decision by the RAC to build dramatic, highly visible demonstrations
of a modern, 24-hour operation at major motorway intersections has done
more for my perception of that organisation than any of their current
advertising. The Disney Corporation must also rank as one of the world’s
most remarkable patrons of an architecture. The blur between reality and
fantasy, the distortion of the history it claims to represent and, most
importantly, the control of its environment leave one in no doubt that
Disney understands ’integrated communication’.
Apply this test: go outside your office building, take a hard look at it
and decide whether or not it contributes to your colleagues’ perception
of the company. What does it say about your corporate brand?
If we think we’re building brands we need to consider branding
Can you imagine how pioneering the first electric staircase for public
use was when it opened in the Harrods building in 1905? Better than the
first interactive informercial, I’ll bet.