Using Architectural Branding to Make Your Project Speak

By Gordon R. Carrier, Founding Member and Design Principal, Carrier Johnson + CULTUREJust because they’re inanimate doesn’t mean buildings can’t speak. In fact, their non-verbal voices evoke powerful human emotions about “home.” Where and how we live is an expression of our personality, hopes, fears, aspirations and sense of community. To be successful in this increasingly competitive market, each multifamily project must serve as an ambassador, issuing a personalized invitation to a particular clientele. In real estate marketing language, this message is called “architectural branding.”Define “Home”A brand is the personification of a product, expressing its core values and characteristics while “connecting with people’s hearts,” explains Marc Gobe, an international “emotional branding” guru. By projecting a statement through a product, a company can broadcast its ideals and personality. Likewise, innovative developers, managers and designers are adopting these methods by blending architectural, graphic, and environmental approaches to design. With this organic process, the identity of an apartment or condominium building is determined from the onset of the planning phase, and integrally grows into a cohesive statement of home and lifestyle.The definition of home, however, is not universal. As buyers become more savvy and finicky, the real estate industry must offer distinctive brand identities and experiences tailored to particular target segments. A building should invite potential residents to see it as a complete lifestyle statement, inherently tied to its surroundings.Infuse Every Project with CULTUREThe basic idea behind architectural branding implies that each property is distinctive.  Through a multi-disciplined design effort, the entire venture is given a unified identity, which is supported through architectural space, signage, interior décor, marketing collateral and sales message. An increasing number of architectural firms, including San Diego-based Carrier Johnson + CULTURE, have embraced this new holistic approach to the marketing/development process. With the goal of incorporating authentic identities, or “archidentity,” into the firm’s projects, Carrier Johnson recently launched our in-house strategic branding division, CULTURE. This integrated and strategic design practice provides innovative brand thinking, resulting in building, living, and communications solutions that reflect the building developer or manager’s unique selling proposition. With this approach, the project team infuses a unique, but “real,” culture into every building, connecting it with place, space and the local experience.Creating the New Landscapes of Our CitiesSome examples of how “archidentity” works in practice have responded to the recent redevelopment of urban centers, bringing people, cultural and commercial vitality to downtown street life. Responding to the modern city dweller’s awakened sense of environment and community, successful residential projects in Western cities have combined outdoorsy lifestyles with open-air socializing, even incorporating natural amenities such as mountains and rivers into the urban experience.Through architectural branding, the buildings are increasingly synchronized with their natural surroundings, from street side to rooftop, enhancing the new landscapes of our vertical cities.Whitewater Living in RenoA prime example of this changing urban dynamic is Reno, Nev., where a newly activated riverfront has become the focus of major redevelopment efforts. Bisecting the downtown, the Truckee River has historically been underutilized, serving primarily as a location for casino service roads. When a world-class kayaking attraction recently came to downtown Reno, the river became a touchstone for the entire urban renewal effort.Carrier Johnson + CULTURE was asked to design a mixed-use complex for this downtown neighborhood. To create this major development’s brand identity, we first analyzed Reno’s past, character, values, residents and the economic and governmental issues that would affect the future of the city. This research translated into a special visual vernacular that could only be Reno. Appealing to the tastes of target occupant-owners, and supported by local residents, this four-phase project was positioned as an iconic face for the new Reno.Embracing Portland’s Rainy CultureAnother example takes us to Portland, Ore., where hearty residents don’t believe that rainy days are for staying indoors. This unlikely desire to connect with the outdoors defines the local lifestyle, and inspired the redevelopment of the former Hoyt Street Rail Yards which links the downtown to the Willamette River.Carrier Johnson + CULTURE designed a dynamic, six-block, mixed-use centerpiece in the city’s Pearl District, revitalizing this historical industrial area. The draw to the riverfront, the tradition of Portland’s great parks and squares, its artistic persona, and even the rain, served as the project team’s architectural branding guidelines. Park Place Condominiums is the neighborhood focal point, with glass-enclosed dwellings, garden walks and urban corridors connecting to the waterfront. Historic proportions and materials are interwoven with more contemporary forms, while linear paths and gardens echo the train tracks of the old rail yards. The “archidentity” of the project celebrates the downtown elements that describe Portland, past and present.Living the “Skylife” in San DiegoFar down the Pacific coast, San Diego has been strategically redeveloping its city center and pioneering new concepts for urban living since the 1970’s. In evaluating the downtown of 35 years ago, planners recognized a serious design flaw in existing residential architecture. The architecture failed to embrace the city, and the outdoors. Carrier Johnson + CULTURE was enlisted to make fundamental changes in residential design and develop a new approach to San Diego’s urban lifestyle.What emerged were several new ways for multifamily buildings to connect occupants with the city. By combining unique architecture with active streets and open-air experiences, the buildings offer an experience not found in the suburbs, making residents a part of the city’s dynamics. In what would become a signature design element for the firm, Carrier Johnson + CULTURE incorporated the innovative concept of “skylife” – public roof decks and large upper-story terraces, and the like—into residential projects, as a natural extension of Southern California’s outdoor lifestyle.An early example of this widely successful building format is Renaissance, a twin-tower residential development. Evoking floating greenhouses, the towers seem to bloom from terraced gardens, providing a seamless connection with the neighborhood below. By branding this new aesthetic of outdoor vertical living, Renaissance and several other trendsetting skylife projects have offered urban residents a lifestyle idea strong enough to change the downtown permanently.Shout Your Identity from the Rivers and Rooftops!With today’s precarious economy, every residential development must find a way to stand out from competitive offerings. Finding the cultural underlayment of an opportunity and giving your property an architectural branding voice that speaks to prospective customers are powerful sales tools. Developers who integrate a studied, authentic message and architectural image from inception will find that their buildings connect with the local culture and reach people on a gut, emotional level. After all, home is where the heart is.