An interesting question was posed by @LloydDavis in his recent blog contrasting two building entrances for two firms in the same industry in the same part of London: did their form owe more to “new ways of working” or “new ways of marketing” …?
The “expression” component in any new building is in fact a slice of each. The balance clearly shifts in each case, but nevertheless a composite they are. In many instances they pull in opposite directions, reaching out to would-be employees to say one thing, and to existing and potential customers, and the wider world, to say another.
My response was to create a new word – “braggle” – composed of bragging and puzzle – to describe the gap between the way in which an organisation believes its building represents it, and the way it actually represents it. The two are rarely the same. There is always a braggle.
And like so many aspects of building creation, natural obsolescence can be swift and cruel. On day one, what you see is what was conceived 2-3 years ago – and after a few years, it is often saying a lot about the organisation that ideally it would rather not be said at all.
Just consider some of the traps.
We want our building to shout about how amazing our brand and products are, encapsulating our achievements – yet customers perceive it as where the premium charged for the products was spent.
We want our building to be low-key, with minimal presence, packaged like a Factory Records disc from the early 80’s – yet visitors are frustrated by the over-confidence and unhelpfulness of its contrived anonymity.
We want our building to be the best place to work – with places to chill, have fun, enjoy work, meet people and feel part of the family – yet prospective employees realise that in being part of this family, they are unlikely to see their own.
Whichever way you look at it, placing a new building in a thriving urban environment and then locking the front doors is inherently an act of extreme arrogance. In this sense, the negativity that arises from the braggle is justified. I did allude to this once in a pecha kucha:
The whole notion of “expression” as is presently understood and practised is entirely misplaced. The solution is to avoid the issue altogether, in the most positive and endearing manner possible.
The giant footfall of a new building in any city of the world should say nothing at all about brand at the street level. It should be public spaces, open to and integrated with the surrounding environment, co-working spaces in its own right for the occupant organisation and anyone passing through. Even braver would be to graduate access as you move up through the building, increasing security only when absolutely necessary – flexible working and interaction environments that facilitate access to as many people as possible from inside and outside the organisation. A genuine integration of the organisation with the urban landscape.
In terms of expression, that would really say something.