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Topic for Debate
 
Architecture and branding
Dear all,
i find it as much annoying as fascinating how branding has affected architecture, branding has became part of our everyday life, one cannot imagine many things in our built environment without text, logos and sometimes website URLs on them. Architecture like everything else is being affected, from shop brands clutteing our streetscapes to buildings as icons ( or brands ) of a city. Are architects obliged to resist this commercially-led wave of branding especially most of our artistic impressions of our idealist visions of urban and rural life are devoid of any branding ? or should we give in?
Karim Elgendy
Responses
 
Architecture and branding
I am not sure if it is an either/or proposition. The public spaces in Times Square, NY; Piccadily Circus, London; and, Shibuya and Shinjuku in Tokyo, are all lively wonderful public spaces because of the signage, television screens and neon markers. Remember Robert Venturi's book "Learning from Las Vegas" or Complexity and Contradiction"? In the end, the buildings we design are in the hands of the client, developer, or resident. Are we to be so arrogant as to state their intended use over time?
Shiraz Allibhai
Architecture and branding
Nice and important topic. Thanks Karim, it has been on the back of my mind, and am glad that you opened it for discussion.

The subject can be divided into two parts: one about branding and repetitive icons used by companies, coffeshops, restaurants, hotels, fast food chains, ...etc, and their negative impact on the character and identity of places, and the ohter is about the signage and its role in the built environment where the examples that Shiraz gave fall under.

Actually, we do not often think of environmental graphics and signage as an integral component of the urban infrastructure. However, they are a vital and important part of the urban environment and their arrangement and placement has evolved into contemporary specialized field of design "Environmental Graphic Design".

Research at the beginning of the 20th century by behavioral psychologists helped to define such issues as memory, spatial recognition, and information processing, and began to shed light on how we use our senses to interpret the physical world and execute a plan to navigate to a desired destination. In the early 1970��s the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and the philosopher Charles Pierce have coined the term ��Semiology", referring to the study of environmental graphics and signage and the man quest for meaning. It is used typically for the formal study of signage systems in the urban environment, and is regarded as a general theory for the study of signs and all the visual cues and messages and a base for the non-verbal communication and meaning studies. Underlying this theory, three types of studies are important. These are: ��Syntactic,�� the study of the arrangement of elements in a sign, ��Semantic,�� the study of meanings of those elements, and ��pragmatic,�� the study of the relationship between signs, people and the environmental context.

It is an important subject that deserves attention. Simply, it is what makes places similar or different, and what helps people memorize, comprehend and find their whereabouts in the built environment. If we ask a child about the places he visited he/she will remember the Ice cream and toys r us signs. If we ask a lay woman about the places she visited she will remember the place based on her preference of a certain perfume or super market chain. Signage and branding became part of contmeporary life and it would be very valuable to think of ways in which it can be integrated into architectural facades, and treatments of streetscapes.
Ashraf Salama
Architecture and branding
Dear Ashraf and Shiraz,

I see your point clearly, they are indeed 2 points , i will leave the issue of buildings becoming icons for the time being and i will concentrate on commercial brands as we know it.

I believe apart from those examples Shiraz has given - which i think are extremes to the point that they became beautiful in their own rite - many cities are losing their identity to branding. Take the west for example, in every city and town you find the same shops with the same signages to a degree that the town or the city loses its character and becomes " another town" , and one has to exert effort to "find" the charcteristics of the city amidst this labyrinth. I dont need to mention brand names in this context but we all know those names along every high street ( or main street depending on where you are ).

Ask any local person about what is special about his town or city and he would guide you to islands of historic places, you will be lucky if they have a special piazza/square. the character of the city is gone and that is the reason people percieve the city as such, its because we failed to give them urban elements to remember. he remebers a shop cause the street is dull, and she remembers the sign cause the square is formless.

I believe i am not being arrogant requesting that developers and traders give way to allow the city to show its own self , or that the councils would have measures and rules to stop our public spaces being templates subject to the market forces of the time.

I am against the argument that branding is in itself a character of its own. As we all know branding is mobile. By the very nature of the market the brand moves where its most profitable, the brand is here and tomorrow its moved to different location. For example very few shops have remained in the same location in our streets, and of course they became icons of the city for being around for so long. Even fewer banners have somehow reserved a physical location as in a couple in picadilly circus and a few in Times square, how can we possibly depend on a volatile element as brands in building an image for a city ?
Karim Elgendy
Architecture and branding
Karim, you raise good points.
Shiraz Allibhai
Architecture and branding
Thanks Shiraz,

i believe we need to reach a compromise between what is ideal in preserving our cities, their characters and our sense of belonging to them, all on one hand, and market forces and their influences on the other.

We have to work in collaboration with local authorities to reach a legal form that governs the aesthetics of branding within certain guidelines for a particular city, one successful example i can think of now is the city of Oxford, where the graphical visual impact of branding is reduced to the minimum, and thus the city's character has been greatly preserved.

To let marketeers, with all due respect, decide the shape of our cities on the basis of what is and what is not profitable to their corporations, or in some cases what gives their graphic designers the best publicity, that is unacceptable.

On the other side of the planet in the so-called third world, although branding is not a commonly used method of marketing, yet the rediculously minimal graphical understanding and the total lack of regulation on where and what to display to the public does magic in ruining the images of their cites, and i believe there is a greater demand for a governing policy. We as architects and urban designers are responsible in that respect.
Karim Elgendy
Architecture and branding
Dear karim,

Without a doubt, the issue of branding is valid. I agree with all points you raise. However, you are assuming that architectural works produced now are good works, with good mertis, and good qualities and that branding is the problem. In many situations, the case is the opposite, branding, signs, and billboards hide the ugly architecture that we see everyday. One can refer to many places in the context of developing countries in this case.

Possible critical points can be raised for discussion in this context:

- Local towns are already in chaos, because of either mass or co-op housing projects that have poor quality, or because of the absence of governance! Everything became "informal" not only branding or signage.

- Other than branding, what about the many apartment or office buildings in Cairo where each has over fifty Doctors' "signs", or boards of individual companies. This is not branding. Still, it damages the overall image of the city.

- I believe governance is needed to solve the problem of the quality of architecture/urban environment, before solving the problem of branding. My assumption is that governance is needed for architects first then marketeers.

- If wayfinding mechaisms, signage systems, billboards are seen as part of the urban infrastructure, then they will be integrated into the overall scene of the city. The city of Paris is an example. Branding and signage are everywhere, yet different districts within the city still have their own identities.

Best,
Ashraf Salama
Architecture and branding
Dear Dr. Ashraf,
i do agree on what you are saying, it is quite a pathetic situation what the lack of regulations has got us in ,a situation where every wall, every T-shirt, and every Taxi cab has a message for you to see, a message that you dont necessarily want to take. a world of messages everywhere that has made the city unbearable.

I still believe the architects and urban designers (and not the artist) - especially architects with good intentions as i would like to call them - should be at the heart of this process, it seems to me today's artist are too busy to be aware of any context whatsoever.

let those who know about the city be given more authority and for those branding wizards and graphically talented designers, museums and the web have plenty of space.
Karim Elgendy
Architecture and branding
Karim, most airports are moving in this direction and are hiring graphic designers to come up with signage to help ease confusion.
Shiraz Allibhai
Architecture and branding
Dear shiraz
i am not entirely sure what you mean by moving in "this direction", but airports are the worst example to mention in this context, apart from traffic-like directions graphics -which are extremely important for an airport to function properly - most airports currently suffer from shopping claustrophobia.

The airports initial designs are generous and spacious people movers, that connect people's flow to their gates in a logical way. In crawl the marketing people, shopping and branding and the next thing you know is that what was once generous and beautiful becomes an opressive labyrinth, of which there is no escape, inspite of the airports function.
Karim Elgendy
Architecture and branding
There are two pioneering books that cover this issue. The first is Information Design, Robert Jacobson, ed.(2000). MIT Press. The second is Visual Information for Everyday Use, by Harm Zwaga et al., eds. Taylor and Francis publications, UK (1999).

The two books introduce research and practice issues about wayfinding in airports. I would comment here and say organized wayfinding is critical in spaces or places where people/users are normally under stress such as airports, hospital, train stations. Wayfinding issues become less important in museums, galleries, and shopping centers. Needless to say that the work of Romedi Passini of the University of Montreal in the eighties was the first to address these critical issues.

I believe in contmeporary practices and with the predominance of economic aspects over other issues we can not escape or avoid branding anyway, and the critical thing is to think of ways in which the work of the "Environmental Graphic Designer" can be incorporated into architectural works.

If wayfinding is seen as an integral component upfront in the design process where the environmental graphic designer can be involved with the architect early in the process and if wayfinding is considered an essential part of the programmatic requirements, we would not see the problems that we see in airports, hospitals, and other building types.
Ashraf Salama
Architecture and branding
I was not referring to the design of airports or the shopping areas, but rather, new airports are bringing in graphic designers early on in the design process to incorporate signage into the design rather than making it an afterthought.
Shiraz Allibhai
Architecture and branding
Exactly.

We are all on the same page, Best.
Ashraf Salama
Architecture and branding
Yeah,
i think we all are Dr. Ashraf, sorry about the misunderstanding shiraz. By the way , nice house.
Karim Elgendy
Architecture and branding
Hi all,
What i am writting is not an opennion it is my experiance. Let us consider it a case study.

I was designing cinemas in Egypt. The owner company wanted to have a 100 screen in five years ( I am stating this to give you an understanding of the investment.

Finishing the first cinema which was located in the world trade centre in Cairo. The manegment started adding advertizing and signage everywhere. You could not see the walls anymore.
It became apparent that I must include advertisments, signage and logos in my design otherwise it is out of control. My last Cinema was in 6th of october city and all the branding was intergrated in my design the manegment still had room for additions but it was so minute that it did not change the identity of the building.
Ahmed Sabry
Architecture and branding
Hello everyone,
I think that branding is not just limited to advertising, and corporations. I agree (and hadn't thought about it actually) that corporative branding has already possessed commercial architecture, and is damaging town identities. But if you think about it, some cities have applied branding principles since long ago. I don't know if it was planned or just intuitive. For example Paris, with the Eiffel Tower; NY and the Statue of Liberty (although it was a gift), Versalles and its Palace, etc. Those are the old branding examples i can think of now. They had something to say about the brand they represented, the city, the country, the economic system, political ideals, and so on. The most recent examples are Bilbao's Guggenheim, which put Bilbao on the tourism maps as a MUST SEE (either if you love it or hate it), and Im also thinking of the identity creation mechanisms behind the Olympics and Fifa World cups, which move economical/political interests. I think branding has invaded everything... what do you think?
Lisandro Sánchez
Architecture and branding
Lisandro,

Your "I think branding has invaded everywhere" hits the nail on the head. And quite frankly I am bored with the modern mass-media idea that everything has to be "rebranded" to be noticed. And I am bored because most "rebranding" is both childish and patronising, as though normal adults are not able to think for themselves.

Similarly, the idea that to "rebrand" a culture, or an organisation, you just apply signs or images as signs to everything is a simplistic dumbing-down of both culture and people. In fact, "rebranding" is a post-mass media phenomena very similar to the empty mediocrity of pop-videos which have replaced audio-only music.

And this parallels the way TV (visual and audio) has replaced the radio. I used to enjoy listening to stories,etc on the radio, because (a)you imagine most of the surroundings and (b) you can do other things at the same.

Another very boring aspect is the way TV adverts try very hard to manipulate people into buying their product by implying you can have or be whatever is shown in the TV advert. For example most brand car adverts show "lean mean machines" (usually black with blacked out windows) racing and obviously exceeding the speed limits, regardless of being a lethal danger to others. So the message is "Buy this car and frighten other people with your macho-image". But given that any car can kill when driven badly, then the real message is "Buy this car and you are automatically rebranded as BAD." as though being able to destroy is somehow better than being able to create.
Frank John Snelling
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