• September 1, 2022

When we want to find our way in a built space or understand the culture and history that inspired its design, so much of that can depend on branding in architecture, forming the details that help us recognize where we are through symbols or spark an emotion or mood when entering a room.

Applying branding, or changing preexisting branding, can be transformative—we know that from personal experience. When it’s done well, branding forms an embedded layer of visual communication that helps us make connections with our built environments in multifaceted ways, from walls coming to life with wayfinding pictograms to a great story being told about a building’s identity.

A presence communicating purpose

By integrating branding and graphic design into the architecture process, branding becomes a lot more than a logo. Designers have an opportunity to strengthen the identity of a place, relaying what a space is and what it offers accurately to the public.

“It personalizes a project and prevents it from having anonymity,” says Maryline Bédard, Practice Leader for Branding and Graphic Design at Lemay. “Branding enhances a project; it brings in artistry, graphic design, murals and wayfinding, as well as a way to express the personality and essence of a place, helping to celebrate its unique qualities.”

While architecture speaks of space, form and place, branding communicates a building’s function, purpose, message, and narrative. Take the Centre de glaces de Québec in Québec City for example: Built on the site of a former outdoor ice ring which was annexed to sports centre, this combination of new and preexisting structures required an new identity reflective of both its past and its future.

In shaping its logo and graphic design, seemingly small details ranging from the shape of an oval and a shade of blue could reflect the ice ring’s shape and the centre’s architectural ‘floating ring’, while its colour recalls the cold of the winter season. As for signage, fluid and instinctive wayfinding, orientation, and circulation came from an internationally visual language, just as recognizable for locals as it would be for visitors from abroad, no matter what service or area they use.

“This was one of those projects where a deeply rooted historical and cultural value had to be considered, while respecting its proposed architectural purity,” explains graphic designer Elisabeth Fortin. “We had to find the right balance in our interventions and use of colour so as not to destabilize regular users while informing new ones.”

“From a graphic designer’s perspective, architecture is like the body, while the branding forms a heart inside of it, bringing out the emotions of that building’s personality.”

A part of human-centric design

In communicating a vision and how that vision is received, branding in architecture makes it about both the client and the user: As a branding team of designers assess a client’s needs for an architectural project, their focus is on how they can enrich a concept or complement it.

From how a space is coloured to the types of materials being used for branding, an identity and how someone experiences that identity can stand out or be more muted, depending on how well it is enriched by branding. It’s not as simple as turning a volume knob up or down, however—ideally, there’s a collaborative, transdisciplinary process to branding and architecture working together.

“We have an opportunity at Lemay to work with architects during their creative process. Not all agencies have this privilege, but it’s become increasingly common for architectural firms to incorporate branding into their projects, and it is bound to become a standard practice,” Fortin adds. “Our teamwork incorporates branding that connects an understanding of the client’s needs with the architect’s vision.”

The result is tangible: Architecture is brought to life through this dance of image and form, where artistic disciplines come together to create connections and tell stories in synchronous ways. It communicates lasting imagery that speaks of people’s origins, milestones, and futures in the space to grow we create.

“You know when you enter a space and feel there’s a sense of place and cohesion? Our job is to bring that feeling to life,” Fortin says. “Architectural branding has to embody the space. For example, with poor signage, you’ll notice it right away, but effective signage will allow for an immersive experience.”