Architecture as Brand Communication: Cathedrals of Modern Time


 Article_1  We have NO VISION by Verena Vogler

Verena Vogler

Buildings that communicate a message are the continuation of the centuries old tradition of prestigious architecture. Decorative columns and architraves, bell towers and domes, the impressively decorated palaces built by the nobility in bygone centuries and equally the modern skyscrapers – cathedrals of capitalism – have always been, and still are, designed as a statement of social status, not purely as practical considerations.

Prestigious buildings also have “something to say”, they have always intended to send a message:

Towers have always been a symbol of power and influence. The Crysler Building was the first building to surpass the Eiffel Tower in hight, until the Empire State Building won the title of the tallest building in the world.

Today buildings are about to literally incorporate the expression of a brand which are the manifestation of lifestyle choices through the intermediary of products and services.

There is no doubt that products of fashion, luxuary articles such as cigarettes or fragrances and certainly cars are contemporary lifestyle products. People buy specific brands because they feel an affinity with the style they represent, adapting the latter in their own lives. It is surprinsing that only a few of the biggest and best known global brands such as Coca Cola have grasped the opportunity of making use of architecture in their communication strategy. But for fact, in present, the large car manufacturers who base the design of their offices and showrooms on a distinct corporate identity and the transport industry is effectively the only sector to have truly grasped the extent to which architecture can underline and even enhance a service.

Calatrava’s futuristic TGV station in Lyon domonstrates the potential of expressive architecture in functional buildings for travellers.

A new trend towards corporate identity appropriate architecture started to develop in the 1990s, in an area of buisiness activity that uniquely exemplifies the evolution and future of brand communication: the design of exhibition stands for the world’s major trade fairs. At the bianual Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA), the major German brands such as Mercedes or Volkswagen take over an entire hall of the trade fair center and, for the 13 days of the show , completely revamp the interior to such an extent that the average visitor has no idea of the physical structure of the building. They create a brand environment that fully negates the structural context. The exhibitor, by contrast, builds a stage set on which to produce a tangible experience of the brand, and that is a completely different matter.

What is the intension of communicative architecture? Its aim is not merely to create a recognisable image, communicative architecture tries not to visually represent the brand.  Instead it tries to translate brand values into the language of architecture. And because brands represent modern- day values, the architecture must also be modern- today with an opening towards tomorrow.

Cathedrals of Modern Time: Zaha Hadid’s BMW factory in Leipzig. BMW, one of the German major brands in the automobil industry, tries to communicate the brand value “dynamic: joy in driving”. Architects such as Zaha Hadid and Coop Himmel(b)lau collaborate mainly with BMW and are estimated by the company because they transmit best these values into architecture. Likewise, the Dutch architect Ben van Berkel works together with Mercedes Benz.

 Sex sells – and today? “Architecture. The New Sexy Subject for Fashion Moguls.” (1) Understood from this perspective, constructed reality, architecture, provides a visible, tangible setting and a symbol through which self-perception can be conveyed. This may not be a really new concept, in addition to its actual function, architecture has always served to express the philosophy and identity of its patrons.

The historical proclivity “form follows identity” paradigm was largly forgotten in favour of the rationale “form follows function” in the mid- twentieth century. Obviously a greater emphases was placed on functionality. Only recently has a symbolic content of architecture enjoyed rebirth through communicative and image- values. The famous architect has come to be considered a status symbol. The client is now happy to scale back his practical requirements in favour of of a more pretigious result. The architect himself becomes a brand. The goal is “form follows identity”- and objective that naturally takes functional requirements into account, while at the same time expressing the essence of the brand.

(1) Suzy Menkes, “Architecture. The New Sexy Sunject for Fashion Moguls”: International Herald Tribune, 23.01. 2001




Zaha Hadid, Architektur- architecture, Ostfildern- Ruit 2003.

Architektur als Markenkommunikation: dynaform + cube, Basel 2002.

Mercedes- Benz- Museum, Konstanz 2007.

Bauhaus, Koeln 2006.

Wolfgang Hofmann, Goldener Schnitt und Komposition, Wilhelmshaven 1973.

Manfred Omahna, Plurale Räume, Muenster 2006.

Zaha Hadid, urban architecture Wolfsburg- Rom- Cincinnati, Berlin 2000.

Robert Venturi, Learning from Las Vegas, 1978.


One Response to “Architecture as Brand Communication: Cathedrals of Modern Time”

  1. Hi there, I enjoy reading all of your article. I wanted
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