Identity driven brand buildings

Wolf in sheep’s clothing

“WWF makes money off of child labour”, “WWF dumps chemical waste into the North Sea”, “Caged polar bear found in WWF main office” …

Just to be clear: these headlines are fictitious, completely made up. But imagine if they were to be published, a massive wave of indignation would occur. Why?

  • Not because there’s a polar bear in a cage somewhere.
  • Not because some children are being put to work.
  • Not because there’s chemical waste being dumped.

No. Because the WWF is keeping a polar bear captive. Because the WWF is making a child work and dumping chemical waste. The most unlikely of culprits is behind these atrocities. And that’s why we’re so offended. The WWF has turned out to be a conniving liar. We have been artfully fooled. For years this organisation was putting on a front on its behaviour, verbal and (audio)visual communication etc. Our trust in the WWF brand has been damaged because it turned out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.


Identity driven brand building

It’s the biggest breach of brand building legislation: giving off mixed signals to your consumer. At best, this weakens your image towards your customers. At worst you just take a total nosedive, as demonstrated by the fictitious WWF examples above.

Identity is the alfa and omega of brand building. Strong brands have a clear vision of who they are, where they’re going and how they plan to get there. This gives them an important head start compared to the competition. These brands are able to present a unified front in whatever they do. Their image towards the consumer and employer is a perfect representation of their identity. The way the consumer and employer see the brand is the same as the way the brand sees itself.

A strong brand just oozes with corporate identity. That identity becomes clear through which products are launched, the verbal and visual messages that are conveyed by campaigns and through the use of many symbols, such as the style guide, the logo, the pay-off, the architecture of the building … and of course: the colour of the soap in the restrooms!

We all know the Belgacom tower in Brussels, the KBC tower or ‘Boerentoren’ in Antwerp and the Chrysler Building in New York. They’re good examples of the way enterprises use their headquarters as a billboard for their brand.

The buildings below take it to the next level: the corporate design of their buildings is an essential part of their strategic brand building. Their offices have turned into 3D ‘brand vehicles’. Architecture and interior design aren’t a goal. They are a medium. They are a means to express themselves and convey their identity to employees, customers and the entire market.

Let’s take a virtual peek inside some stunning ‘identity driven buildings’ by famous brands.


The WWF radiates its corporate identity throughout their entire brand: through their famous panda logo but also through the design of its Dutch offices in Zeist. This building is the personification (sort of) of the WWF values.

Architect Thomas Rau didn’t choose to build something new, but to reanimate an existing complex. “Animation” is an even more appropriate a word, since he turned the middle part of the building into a warm, beating heart. Everything that is emitted by the building gets re-used, the building works as a self-sufficient organism, says Rau. It has wooden panelling against solar heat and when it needs to, it circulates roof water in order to cool itself off. Energy waste or CO2-emission are non-existent, of course. Rau even provided a heating power plant that runs on vegetable oil. All materials were checked for child labour and the size of their ecological footprint. And finally, the bat caves and integrated birdhouses even provide a spot for the local fauna.

All in all, the WWF is using this building as a beacon on the right path. They are proving that it’s possible to build, work and live in a durable way; in harmony with nature.


Jump Studios created a building for Nike in London that is every bit as flashy as the Nike logo itself. It’s an inspiring and up-beat work environment that fits the brand’s culture perfectly. Employees and visitors are immediately absorbed by the dynamics of the building and its aura of corporate Nike culture. Fluorescent rays of light everywhere give off a sense of movement, “like lines blurring past on a highway”, Jump’s director Shaun Fernandes told Architectural Record Magazine.

“Typical Nike” works of art are scattered throughout the building: a giant footprint of a running shoe and phenomenal portraits of professional athletes in action. The experimental shapes, the innovative technology and materials (like basketball court floors) are also typical for the brand.

In short, this building just screams out Nike’s ‘Let’s Do It’ lifestyle. Employees develop new products here that are perfectly aligned with the brand identity. This is the place where top athletes are convinced to become Nike brand ambassadors.


Red Bull’s pay-off, “Gives You Wings”, symbolises the stimulation that the energy drink provide you with. If you visit the Red Bull offices in London, you sprout a pair of wings in your stomach, because you enter the building through an elevator, which takes all visitors and employees to the lobby / socializing zone on the top floor where they are met with a dramatic entrance: a spectacular view of the West End and even a peek inside the building through peeping holes. Jump Studio’s intentions are clear: this is an experience, a ‘personification’ of the Red Bull mission to ‘stimulate body and mind’. This is what the architects have to say about it:

“This is something that we wanted to encapsulate in the central design; a building that would stimulate its employees and visitors alike and that would manifest the adrenalin and dynamic excitement associated with the brand and its activities.”

Obviously the brand colours red and blue are dominating. Dazzling peepholes are placed all around. There’s even a video wall that’s three stories high. A dramatic floating staircase takes you where you need to go. There’s even a slide!

In short, this building will make the Red Bull energy course through your body without having a sip of the drink. We suspect the employees stay on the Red Bull zone for quite some time: you don’t just lose all that adrenaline by closing the office doors after working hours. They’re probably still flying down their imaginary slides at home!


‘Googol’ is a mathematical term for the numeric unit of 1 followed by 100 zeroes or ‘googol’ zeroes (ten billion to the ten billionth). Google uses a variation to this word to clarify their mission: organising a googol amount of information on the Internet. ‘Googling’ is looking through googol data. These are the basic properties of the Google brand identity.

The Carmenzind Evolution Architects took this corporate identity as a starting point for their design. In the lobby there’s a real-time projection of all the searches around the world. The office’s designs tell the story of googol, because the employees are free to customise their own working space. This results in a decoration mix that’s just as diverse as the information available on the Internet.

The interior design also embodies Google’s ‘innovation and work-is-play’ culture. The environment “stimulates its employees and visitors to browse their brain”, the architects claim. The interior is just as colourful as the Google logo.

The employees have googol amounts of playful and informal meeting places at their disposal: a metro compartment, an igloo, an egg… They always find something they like, just like on the Internet. They get around quickly on slides or fireman’s poles, just as fast as the search browser brings you to your result. In the relaxed atmosphere of the playful meeting rooms they are able to browse their brain and have creative discussions.

The architects summarise what’s so Google about this building:  “the completed Google building is a true reflection of a forward-thinking company that was prepared to adopt innovative approaches proposed by the architectural team.”

These were only a few – granted, pretty extreme – examples of companies that use the design of their offices as a part of their strategic brand building. If you want to convince your boss to go the way of corporate architecture, you can confront him with the following websites: