Book Review: Corporate Architecture

Corporate Architecture: Building a Brand by Alejandro Bahamón, Ana Cañizares & Antonio Corcuera
W. W. Norton, 2009
Hardcover, 504 pages

A couple months ago this web page featured a book showcasing the architecture (among other secondary creations) of a fashion house well aware of the power and importance of the images their buildings convey. The coffee table book captured a number of recent architectural gems, though this awareness is hardly a newfound condition. The middle of last century saw glass box headquarters in Manhattan and elsewhere bearing the names of their corporate clients, and the ensuing postmodern skyscrapers continued the trend of using the latest style to mark the skyline. But the current wave of high-profile corporate architecture -- the office buildings, stores, banks, and even automobile museums documented in this book -- is markedly different from last century's relatively tame and homogenous designs in one main way: branding. Where last century's glass boxes and skyscrapers dressed in stone changed hands and names, exhibiting their interchangeability of not only the architecture, today's corporate architecture is tied into the company's branding of itself at levels; a building is just one more image among many reaching consumers. This book makes that fact readily apparent, while also exhibiting the impact the corporations are having on cities via cutting-edge architecture.
The three authors split the book to reflect the four types of companies that are overtly "building a brand" with architecture: fashion, banking, telecommunications, automotive. The first are primarily stores in urban centers, like Pradas in New York, LA, and Tokyo; the second and third are primarily office buildings, but also banking halls and industrial infrastructure; the fourth comprise offices, showrooms, and the newest trend, automotive museums. One can find consistencies in the architectural imagery produced by the various, mainly European companies. Fashion houses, for example, tend to focus on how a building is clothed, be it in a veil-like exterior (Louis Vuitton) or in an innovative structural solution that doubles as the building's skin (Tod's). Banks tend to be glassy buildings (putting their practices on display?) and the buildings for automobile companies are flowing, in some cases blob-like, a contemporary update of last century's streamline fad that accompanied the automobile's boom.
In this generously illustrated, large-format book the author's capture a time when architecture serves corporations in "building their brands," and when architects find clients willing to embrace experiments in form, structure, and material. Many of the buildings here are part of this century's important iconic architecture (BMW) by former members of the avant-garde. If each piece of architecture is really suited to its client as a branding device, or if we see a repeat of last century's build it and sell it condition, remains to be seen. Many of these buildings are so particular in function and planning that their longevity depends on the success of the corporations. Of course each building here can be seen as an important aid in making such successes continue.