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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

AAA: Architecture Advertising Automobiles

Last year I posted about some advertising in Architectural Digest that used architects and architecture to sell cars. Well the other day I was flipping through a travel magazine and was surprised to see an ad for Buick Lacrosse using the America's Cup Building in Valencia, Spain by David Chipperfield Architects. In my previous post I focused on how Lexus used the architect's name (Richard Meier) more than his architecture for their purposes; in effect the architect was promoting the car. But for Buick it is the image of the building that matters; the architect in name or personality is nowhere to be found outside the architecture.

Remembering other advertisements with cars using architecture as a backdrop (I blogged five years ago about VW and OMA's Seattle Public Library), I think the America's Cup Building works similarly here: it does a better job of distinguishing a car from its peers than the car does itself. Given that cars increasingly look like each other and buildings do the opposite and veer greatly in form and image from their contemporaries, this makes sense. In Buick's case, the stacked horizontality of the building and the photo's strong perspective enable the car and its rounded lines to stand out and be seen as something unique. (I'm assuming it's a photograph because the building is complete, but the high level of polish of the images makes me wonder if it's a rendering). It's like a zig-zag with the building "going" one way (to the left) and the car the other way.

But beyond a two-dimensional graphic composition on the page or screen, I'm having a hard time seeing how architecture and automobiles relate in this and other ads. I think, like anything, architecture is seen as just another commodity and buildings are appreciated for its imagery more than its other traits (function, relationship to place, social role, etc.). Chipperfield's building is not a totally uninspired choice, but it does veer from the curvilinear and dynamic shapes of Gehry, OMA, and Morphosis, whose buildings are more in line with the formal characteristic of today's cars.


  1. Alas, you forgot to mention that neither - building nor car - are very original: The cantilevered terraces are a copy + paste Fallingwater, and the car is a carbon copy of the Jaguar XF, with a bit of the Lexus GS series thrown in.

  2. The Saturday Guardian (UK) Weekend magazine's motoring column "On the Road" by Giles Smith is usually illustrated with photographs of cars against a "built" background - not architecture but something close to your description of "a two-dimensional graphic composition ... [where] ... architecture is seen as just another commodity and buildings are appreciated for their imagery more than other traits (function, relationship to place, social role, etc." I find them strangely compelling (and I'm not a fan of cars!) Unfortunately the current posts online are not very good examples:

  3. it's very unfair to say that this building is a copy of falling water? why? just because it's using cantilevered terraces??? FLW made that his style but sure he did not invented the "cantilever". you can say that the formal language is similar, but the building, the program, the context, materials, use, etc. is completely different.
    This picture reminds me of Corbu, who first used the image of a modern car and one of his houses (Maison La Roche) as backdrop in "Vers une architecture".. he was trying to say that his
    building is made out of a "chassis" and parts, which can be altered during time, like a car or a ship.

  4. it's worth noting that when you look at Corbu's image of modern house + modern car, the car looks very old and outdated but the building still looks strikingly modern. It's clear that change in architecture comes usually at a slower pace than industrial design.

  5. bulut,

    You are absolutely right of course: Corbusier's buildings and their components not only 'could' but in fact HAD to be altered a great many times because they tended to come apart at the seams, like an American car for example.

    But on a more serious note I would contend that the context of the Valencia building is not that dissimilar to Fallingwater, despite the different topography: A perch / lookout at the water's edge?

  6. nick,
    In terms of context, i think they are very different. the falling water is organized around the waterfall almost like a spiral offering close & intimate views to the surrounding landscape, where the America's cup pavilion is a set of platforms that seems to deal more with a view towards openness, the horizon.

  7. Morphosis' Cooper Bldg was actually 'lightly' featured in an ad for Cadillac.

  8. E - Not surprised. That building is quite dynamic and photogenic. I'm guessing the next building to make its way into car ads will be HdM's 11 11 Lincoln Road.

  9. In Learning from Las Vegas, don't Venturi and Brown say that the buildings they were looking at, were more akin to automobiles than architecture, in regard to what their projected lifespan was.

    Hasn't this become more the norm?

    Also, with these ads; isn't it more the role of "the Architect" that's being conflated with the potential car owner, or, "the Driver?


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