"It's about winning clients sympathy"

"It's about winning clients sympathy"
Jan Esche, Henn Architekten, perceives corporate architecture as serving to externalise a businesss inner values, thereby heightening employees identification with their company.

What does the corporate architecture of a building aim to express?
Corporate architecture internalises and externalises a company in structural form. It is one component of a businesss corporate identity, part of its strategically planned and actively adopted self portrayal and of the way it acts internally and externally, based on a defined corporate philosophy aimed at creating a lasting image of itself within the company and without.
Corporate architecture can help externalise inner attitudes and values (for example a sense of responsibility, environmental awareness, the striving for quality). Corporate architecture is one of the most immediate and impactful ways that a company or institution can distinguish itself from others in the public perception and can foster trust and credibility through its internal and external demeanour. It can motivate employees; good corporate architecture can enhance the sense of wellbeing and sympathy, and boost identification. In this sense it is a major value adder. Corporate architecture, that is to say a company's architecture with brand-status, is all about winning clients sympathy through architecture. Traditional forms of customer approach no longer suffice for a business to hold its own on a global market. The encounter with the brand remains an analogue process at the real location, which can only unfold additional effect by virtual means.

How do you manage to peel away the layers and penetrate to the core and essence of a brand or company? What tools do you use?
What may certainly sound reminiscent of motivation and sales techniques is a method of generating the necessary information from the client in such a structured and in-depth way - and, most importantly, at the earliest possible stage - that you can steer a project accurately between "business needs", in other words cost and efficiency imperatives, and "user requirements", that is the subsequent users contentual, functional and qualitative requirements.
It begins with an analysis of the assignment. From this we evolve a demand profile, arrive at a strategy, and that brings us on to a concept or master plan even before the first draft - at a point where, as a rule, the architect begins with a demand profile in the form of a spatial programme. In this context advertisers and consultants talk of "briefing". At the beginning of a project you have the maximum decision options with the minimum cost repercussions. The further a project progresses, the smaller the scope for decisions becomes and the more expensive it is to correct a course once adopted. It was Winston Churchill who said "First we shape things, then they shape us"...
A team of several people generally conduct the talks with the client, with moderation and visualisation in the form of charts and maps to the fore. From the programming you obtain a quantitative programme, as well as a qualitative and functional one - the contents, in other words: the requirements of the building, the design of rooms and workplaces and the company's organisational structures, processes and interfaces that determine the way it works and that must be replicated in the building.

In the Auto City Wolfsburg or at Bugatti in Molsheim everything revolves around the product. Where does that leave the human element in all this architectural expression?
The most important issue is communication awareness. Dialogue is key. There are some complex contexts that cannot be conveyed through classical marketing or an advertising spot - things like health, education, religion and mobility. They are issues not products; they affect your lifestyle, your living standard. And such complex themes cannot simply be dealt with in a TV spot; you have to create platforms on which to conduct a dialogue about them. They have to be handled narratively; there are stories to be told.
The Auto City or Bugatti Molsheim are communication platforms. They are automotive experience and competence centres. They celebrate the (auto-)mobility experience while at the same time giving insight into values, technical aspects and brand strategies.

Your projects are designed to outlive their times? How, then, can your conceptions of corporate architecture be realised in temporary buildings?
True avant-garde is not to be found in design alone. Form alone is not avant-garde - avant-garde is all about developing new realities. If architecture wants to contribute by giving shape to these new realities, it must act accordingly. It must set itself up through new strategic visions - not just seeking ever-new isms, but finding ways of embedding itself again firmly in the economic and social reality of the present and playing an active part in shaping this. Architecture and communication as built-around and practised interaction is of very special importance here. Because communication means addressing buildings and not just topics and media. Knowledge management and communication can be fostered systematically by building design; the three fundamental brand strengths and image components origin, competence and character can be conveyed by means of architecturally embedded communication; architectural consequences can be drawn for interaction-based communication in our society.

What experience have you had with your own exhibition appearances, in Dubai for instance? Where are the real challenges?
There must always be a balance between concentration and communication. Both must be made possible. We have to communicate with other people, but we must also be able to screen ourselves off visually and acoustically in order to work individually.
Interview: Annic Kolbrück

m+a report Nr.1 / 2007 vom 13.02.2007
m+a report vom 13. Februar 2007