How a Signature Style Makes Structures Speak
Branding and architecture — two forms of design — have an interesting and overlapping relationship. How they inform one another has changed through the decades, and is likely to continue to develop into the future as new design technologies and philosophies emerge.
Consistent, recognisable, and visual at heart, these two streams of design intersect in many ways. For example, an architect might become known for their own unique ‘brand’ of design, making them highly sought after by clients who want buildings designed with an identifiable mark.
Classic examples of architects celebrated for their signature style or ‘brand stamp’ include Frank Lloyd Wright, known for his revolution of domestic, Prairie-style architecture and organic forms during the early twentieth century, and more recently, Frank Gehry, acclaimed for iconic buildings like the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, Walt Disney Concert Hall, and Biomuseo in Panama City.
The architects themselves are the brand, and the architecture becomes the outcome of that brand.
Then, there is also the way architecture and organisational brands interact. This relationship has evolved significantly over the last century. The easiest example of how the two began to cross paths probably traces back to the USA in the 1950s and 1960s, where buildings began to physically mimic the brand and product they related to.
This was when we started to see hamburger joints built to look like hamburgers.
Another example is the famous KFC bucket. Architects would be asked to design a KFC restaurant to include a giant bucket on a support tower that people could see from a distance.
Subsequently, there was a move towards architecture that incorporated a brand logo and even colours — through large-scale signage, as an example. Las Vegas pioneered this in its massive neon lights, with The Sands Hotel and Casino sign designed by Wayne McAllister being a famous example.
In some form, this idea persists today, albeit in a more sophisticated manner. Branded environments, developed largely by interior architects for their corporate clients, provide a way for people to experience a brand through physical touchpoints. For example, if you’re familiar with the Starbucks brand, you’re likely to recognise the interior of a Starbucks coffee shop wherever it is in the world. The physical space incorporates more than a logo and brand colours — there is a specific look and feel that relates to the brand.
When it comes to incorporating a brand into a building’s design, an architect will look to understand what the brand stands for — its values, the people it needs to connect with, and the purpose it serves — and then find ways to represent these things through structural elements. It’s no longer a case of designing a school that looks like every other school, or a hospital that replicates previous hospitals. It’s about translating the client’s purpose, vision, and brand into a building that will be functional, practical, and tell their story.
Architects use the client’s narrative to translate stories into the built environment. Each building tells its own story, and the way we tell those stories has changed in tandem with the evolution of material technologies and the functions of different spaces. At the moment, with all the regenerative work we’re seeing taking place, it’s a case of adapting existing buildings to support new stories.
While styles and trends will come and go and brands will evolve, architects will continue to be the storytellers of civilisation, capturing narrative through the built environment.
Principal, Director and Founder