Hoffman Leakey Architects 

O: 814.466.7811

110 West Main Street, P.O. Box 865, Boalsburg, Pennsylvania 16827

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Branding the Physical Environment

August 3, 2016

Branding is a powerful method of communicating a company’s core beliefs and values, it defines who and what the company is today, as well as their future direction. Branding is not just for ad campaigns, websites, merchandise, and print material; branding appeals to the very feeling you get when you enter the space of an organization. A feeling that sends a distinct message, giving you an immediate sense that you already know what they endorse. Proper, well-executed expression of a company’s brand and culture can attract clientele and potential employees, while retaining existing employees who buy-in to the company’s culture. Successful work environments are created when this identity is consistently integrated into corresponding physical spaces. We, as architects and designers, have the opportunity to not only design functional and aesthetically pleasing buildings for our clients, but also to assist in promoting this brand awareness; not only in graphics and color choices, but in the very architecture of their spaces. It is important to note that branding can be employed on even the smallest of projects, however subtly or aggressively the brand requires.


Hoffman Leakey Architects LLC recently assisted Inter Collegiate Athletics (ICA) at The Pennsylvania State University (PSU) in developing unique branding for the newly renovated Morgan Academic Center. In order to accomplish this task, we first had to gain a deeper understanding of the culture, identity, and values that ICA and PSU prioritize. Over the course of four months, HLA worked very closely with ICA to understand the hallmarks and key values they embody. These messages were then carefully translated into the physical space by way of graphics, materials, and even the space plan itself. From this experience, we reaffirmed our own ideal of highly involved, inclusive client-centric design being an absolute necessity to effective implementation of brand identity into the physical environment.


How can you incorporate your brand message into your own spaces? We thought you might ask! We have boiled it down to four key ways to effectively promote and increase brand awareness through physical space:


1. Art work


Posters, photographs, or anything that is focused and targeted, rather than too personalized, or, worse yet, arbitrarily selected – but that’s a topic for another post. For Example: In our experience working with ICA on The Morgan Academic Center, the art work includes current photographs of each, entire athletic team at PSU, motivational posters, and large graphics showing athletes competing in the classroom as well as on the field.




2. Material Selections


Is your brand a cozy lifestyle brand, promoting luxury and elegance? Or maybe you promote sleek, modern, simplicity. These elements, hallmarks of your brand, should be translated into your physical space. In the case of The Morgan Academic Center the space is comprised of various materials in blue, white, and gray, as is typical of all PSU Athletics and Academics. Students must cross over a ‘blue line’, achieved by a change in the flooring material, to enter the space, signifying that all attention must be given to academics at that point. Fixtures were carefully selected to promote the athletic environment, including lighting that closely resembles stadium or field lighting. The space is subtle in color, allowing the students and staff to bring life to the space.




3. Graphics and Logos


Honoring contributors, founders, or prominent figures, or promoting a specific message, mission, or achievement of your organization may be a priority in your physical space; as was the case at the Morgan Center. Emphasis was placed upon honoring the Morgan Family and benefactors of the center, as well as top honors student athletes, academic successes, and the key phrase, “Success with Honor,” coined by Coach Joseph Paterno; a motto long held by Nittany Lion Football and adopted by all of ICA. These items were clear ‘must-have’ messages and graphics in the space. Today they serve as a reminder to all to conduct themselves honorably on and off the field of play, and to set their goals higher than the next point scored.




4. Space Planning


Core values can be thoughtfully translated into the architectural space by carefully choosing each design element to reinforce the brand message. Even the overall space plan can reaffirm the brand message. For example, if a company embraces an open and collaborative environment for its employees to work together, their space may lack walls to encourage collaboration. The goal at The Morgan Academic Center was to unify previously segregated study locations and promote an environment that accounted for various learning styles in a world class facility meant to attract and retain top talent in students, as well as staff. There are open areas that are meant to encourage communication and team work, there are areas that are semi-open and specific for small group work, and there are areas that are individual private rooms to encourage focus, or presentation rehearsal. However, regardless of the function all of these spaces are openly visible due to a wall of glass, to promote an environment of transparency and collective support for academics. The ceilings are kept high as much as possible for functionality, but also to symbolize that ICA reaches to great heights to ensure academic success. 



As you can see, a branded environment is a powerful way to promote your message, attract clients and staff, and reinforce your culture, but it takes careful consideration and understanding of core values that a brand embodies. Do you think there are ways you might be able to better include your brand identity into your physical space? How do you communicate brand awareness now? These are things that, if you have not already, you should carefully consider so as to be sure that your message is clear and consistent. How can we help you incorporate your brand message into your space? 





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