How Branding Can Lead To Healthier Architecture
PSFK talks to Anna Klingmann, author of "Brandscapes: Architecture in the Experience Economy".
PSFK sat down with Anna Klingmann for a conversation covering trends in architecture as they pertain to sustainability and health. Her agency, Klingmann, specializes in a niche area where architecture meets branding. Her book Brandscapes: Architecture in the Experience Economy demonstrates her vision both in the fields of architecture and marketing; it can be purchased directly from The MIT Press.
How did Klingmann as an agency come about?
It started while I was still teaching. For the past 10-15 years, I have been focusing on academic research which was geared towards writing Brandscapes and the intersection of branding and architecture. I always wanted to apply these principles, so the book is not of academic nature.
In exploring this intersection, we began with resort work and now urban masterplanning projects in the Middle East (i.e. Oman, Saudi Arabia, and The United Arab Emirates).
How does this trend compare in different regions?
It’s a global trend. It was really big in New York around 2006 when branding for individual properties exploded with the Richard Meier Towers, and then extended to the Jean Nouvels. Suddenly there was a new trend where accommodation in the classical sense was no longer enough.
Before that, New York was almost anti-design [i.e. individual designer]. The only designed building was really Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum and the rest is all design by committee.
Developers began working with branding agencies when the demand for high-end apartments went up. The architect’s program and design came to be involved (sometimes in pre-development) with branding agencies that tailor the property’s identity and its positioning in the market. They were turning apartment buildings into destinations. This was both about creating and responding to a particular lifestyle.
Can you envision a branded building for lower income housing? Or is it reserved for the rich only?
It’s not really a matter of money. A brand is something that brings out the identity of a particular place. How do you take the potential residing in a particular place or culture and how do you use architecture in conjunction with urban design to express the culture in a way that leads people to identify with it. You can see why it’s necessary, particularly in lower income housing, to nurture that sense of belonging.
I always distinguish between identity and image. Image is something ‘put on’, the idea is to make something identical. Image in architecture is a pre-meditated image, transplanted in a way that disregards the context of the building. So if you really want to establish a brand, it has to come from the latent qualities already there and use architecture to bring it together.
How do buildings cater to people? For example, we also see customization and sustainability as playing big roles in how buildings contribute to people’s health.
First you figure out who the building will be occupied by, and then how it will be used (the trend right now is mixed use). Then it’s the look and feel of the project and the layout of all the rooms. Sometimes an analysis of lifestyles can lead to design a particular way, such as the W Hotel.
I find it useful to differentiate the hardware (aesthetics of the building), software (the programming: amenities and configurations), and the humanware (the design of personal interaction or services provided) of a building. If you look at the Apple store, some people still believe it’s just a store, and we know it’s not. There are innovations from the service perspective with the Genius Bar, and the interactive seminar rooms, where you don’t buy anything until you approach somebody. It’s become a destination, a place to be, which is a primary concern for many developers today, whether they are developing a store or a residential building.
What developing trend in architecture makes you optimistic about the future?
It would be the meta-theme of sustainability and it’s so pervasive across cultures. Since we are doing mostly urban districts, people are asking for human scale neighborhoods, walkable streets, small shops, cool restaurants mixed in, so these developments become boutique destinations. Coupling that with green design, it becomes a different lifestyle from 10 years ago when a development was only economically driven and generic. They yield a different experience and it’s a humanistic trend
What are the benefits and consequences of the approach?
It’s the usage of local materials and extending that into the retail concept where you prioritize local business over chains. This attracts both residents and a particular kind of tourist, that is seeking locally produced goods. This is something that’s gotten lost with homogenized branding, and in many cases people want to hold on to their past, as is the case with the project we’re doing in Oman. It’s a completely different paradigm than what Dubai was doing years ago. From an economic point of view, people are simply tired of that sameness.
How do you view sustainability in architecture?
Sustainability is more of a return to something. A return to walkable, enjoyable outdoor environments that are green. Putting things in perspective, there was only a short time period when architecture was not sustainable, which is in modernism. But for the most part, architecture and cities have always been sustainable.
Can you talk to me about a current project you’re working on?
We’re working on a large masterplan for a resort/residential development in Oman. It’s on the beach, very close to an wetland eco-park. Oman, as a society, is concerned with wildlife and plant preservation since the 1980s. Our project incorporates those ecological and cultural concerns, and seeks to create a harmony between the residents and visitors (who are occupying the resorts). All of this becomes a part of the brand strategy.
Going back to your questions about how buildings cater to people, it brings up an interesting questions: how do various components of a building tie in together to create a destination? How do you create vibrant pedestrian-oriented environments where people can socialize effortlessly?
Oman is not different from suburban USA where you need to drive everywhere. Facilitating places where people can meet and enjoy themselves is our mission, so we created meeting points where residents and visitors can mingle effortlessly. It’s both economically beneficial to the developers and it gives a more satisfying experience for people. The division between profit and social concerns does not exist to a high extent because when people are happy they like to go places and spend money as a consequence; not because they have to, but because they want to hang out at a place!
As for the park, we are making sure to integrate it into the rest of the development. So when you visit the park, then you can hang out near the promenade, and then head to some outdoor cafes/restaurants and there would be opportunities for people to learn about Oman’s nature.
As a consequence, the residents will have more restaurants to choose from and it becomes a development that can sustain retail, rather than becoming a dead enclave for residents only.
Although not all applications of branding will bring about improved communities and healthier living/working spaces, Klingmann’s work clearly demonstrates the importance of branding in nurturing a sense of belonging. How the space is planned and designed can also encourage progressive goals such as a more localized approach to urban development and foster a stronger sense of community, even in mixed use buildings that infuse touristic objectives with residential ones.