BUSINESS 2.0: Bottom Line Design  
Corporate Identity Through Architecture
Gensler designers translate brands into distinctive buildings that convey the essence of a company's values.
By Georgia Flight

(Business 2.0) – When companies like Apple, JetBlue, and Toyota want to build structures that articulate who they are, they turn to Gensler, an architecture and design firm with 28 offices, 2,000 employees, and 2004 revenues of $264 million. Using architecture to express identity doesn't necessarily mean bombarding visitors with "experiential" gimmicks like those in a cartoon-encrusted Disney Store. Done Gensler's way, buildings become a subtle expression of corporate personality. "We design everything to fit the message of the brand," says Dian Duvall, principal in the firm's San Francisco headquarters. So how do you translate the ephemeral qualities of a corporate image into tangible structures of concrete, steel, and glass? Here are a few of the tricks Gensler uses to let the walls do the talking.

Roll Out the Welcome Mat

In retail environments, doorways should entice people to enter. This also makes them an ideal opportunity to create a distinctive impression. When surfing-oriented clothing company Pacific Sunwear wanted a redesign, Gensler's team created a high-concept entryway for its mall stores. "Instead of a sign above the door," Duvall says, "we used a curved portal as an entrance." Looking through the portal, customers' eyes are drawn to the illuminated wall at the back of the store where shoes are displayed.

Use the Building as a Canvas

Brands need to reach beyond the awning to make a lasting impression. For the new terminal at the Mineta San Jose International Airport, Gensler envisioned a high-tech gateway for Silicon Valley. The facade is covered with giant sails of woven wire, onto which the designers want to project images, while the roof will glow with white light visible to passengers approaching from the air.

Encourage Interaction

For companies that pride themselves on their collaborative, community-focused values, Gensler creates spaces that encourage--or even force--social interaction. In the headquarters of Iowa manufacturing firm Allsteel, Gensler designed a community center, complete with a living room area where visitors can get to know the company (and employees can get to know one another).

Give Old Structures New Character

If starting from scratch isn't an option, Gensler must create branding statements in buildings originally designed for someone else. When teenage clothing retailer Forever 21 wanted to build its flagship store in the historic Bank of Italy building in San Francisco, for instance, Gensler reconciled the two styles by restoring the soaring, ornate ceiling and accenting its details with funky colors. The result looks like Paris Hilton's fantasy bedroom, with gilded opulence and chintzy glitter naturally blending together.