The power of architectural storytelling

Effective branding and marketing are all about telling stories, and one simply cannot negate the importance of architecture and scenography as a medium for storytelling. Physical constructions can tell us stories of values, achievements and technological developments, just to name a few. And when used effectively, architectural elements and the act of setting a scene can transport people through time and space, convey beliefs and trigger powerful emotions.

Architecture is usually driven by a pre-existing story and the structure itself should communicate that story, in addition to possibly inventing a new story of its own. This takes place when visitors to the space become part of the storyline and learn the story as they move through the structure. A perfect example of this can be seen in the country pavilions created for the World Expo, where each pavilion embodies the flagship character of its host country. The way visitors explore the pavilions takes them on a journey that reveals that country’s story as they move through the space.

The art of telling stories with language and architecture

Our job as builders and general contractors, in collaboration with the architects and designers, is to break down this story by translating it into spatial and architectural elements. It is our job to embody spatial narratives and make buildings and spaces speak. The narrative starts with the story the client brings us from the very beginning and is then combined with the designers’ and builders’ interpretation of how to effectively communicate that story back to the client in a brand-new setting. This storytelling is the real reason why every project is unique. Despite the fact that all construction projects have some similar basic requirements, the ability to truly tell stories through architecture and scenography is one of the greatest differentiators in what sets master architects and general contractors apart from other service providers.

Branded architectural stories for cities and companies

Architectural storytelling plays an essential role in branded architecture for cities and companies. The narrative in this context drives the design from the beginning and is often inspired by the activities undertaken by the people within the space. Some brands incorporate this by reflecting the company identity in architectural elements like the floor plan, building materials and color scheme. The $5 billion Apple campus headquarters in Cupertino, California, is but one example of this kind of branded architecture, proving that when done correctly, this kind of iconic corporate office begins an exchange with outsiders through the simple act of observing the building.

The Bilbao Effect

Cities also strive for that kind of instantaneous connection when they seek out “signature buildings” that contribute to the city’s story and help create a distinct character for the city, capitalizing on what is known as the Bilbao Effect. The Bilbao Effect refers to the city of Bilbao, Spain, and what happened when the city hired Frank Gehry to design a new branch of the Guggenheim museum.

The gorgeous structure became a city landmark, boosting travel and tourism in the city almost instantaneously upon its opening in 1997. According to The „The Guardian“, increased visitor spending in Bilbao offset the costs of the building within three years, and the structure is estimated to have had an economic impact of over €168 million within five years. This is one of the most famous examples of how a signature building, when done well and with heart, can have an enormous impact on a city’s local community and economy.

But cities and companies don’t necessarily need a Bilbao-level construction to have a dramatic architectural impact that leaves a lasting impression. Take for example Stücki Village, which is located within the Stücki Park shopping mall in Basel, Switzerland. The three-story, semi-permanent structure of the Village was designed by the prestigious Diener & Diener Architects and built by Expomobilia. Its uniquely stacked appearance makes it an extremely attractive and versatile business hub, featuring business meeting rooms and co-working spaces that are seamlessly nestled amongst the mall’s shops, restaurants and other businesses.

The cube-like construction features a wooden façade that gives the entire Village an organic, warm and welcoming feeling. The modern furnishings and abundance of windows simultaneously communicate a modern vibe and a feeling of state-of-the-art facilities. And seeing as the business hub component of Stücki Village is primarily used by the life sciences community and multiple medical practices, that’s exactly the kind of ambiance one wants to communicate, which makes Stücki Village a powerful branding tool in of itself.

Event and occasion-based storytelling

Stories regularly inspire construction and design, which can be seen in occasion-based buildings like the newly refurbished Mehr! Theater in Hamburg, Germany. The theater was built to host the hotly anticipated German premiere of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” in late 2021. For the occasion, a round 1,660 square meter semi-permanent Theatre Pavilion was erected, which needed to embrace the magic of Harry Potter as a showcase for the performance. The building was designed as a wooden structure covered with an undulating aluminum façade that transforms it into something that resembles a silver flying disk.

The now iconic building was widely recognized in the architectural community and won 1st place in the BDA Hamburg Architecture Prize 2020 from the Association of German Architects. The jury praised the building as a “magical place” with a style that’s “cozy, quirky, spartan, yet full of character,” proof that the building embodies the magic spirit of the very stories that inspired its design.

Yet another way that storytelling comes to life through architecture can be seen in the construction of pop-up branded spaces at events. This is common practice at sporting events for example, where event sponsors build pavilions, VIP lounges, and branded experiences for event participants and spectators. This type of branded construction is particularly effective at storytelling when it embodies the imagery, colors and values of the sponsoring brand. Take for example the Kennedy Pavilion, built for the 2019 Spring Racing Carnival equestrian event in Melbourne, with Expomobilia on board as general contractor. Designed by architects at  La Cellula Lab, the Kennedy Luxury Group’s Pavilion is an intricate modular building that will be erected and dismantled several times over a five-year period, a smart strategy that requires ultra-high-quality manufacturing and assembly.

That high quality aligns with the Kennedy Group’s branding, and the pavilion’s distinguished materials – like wood, leather and brass that recall racing stables – convey the feeling of entering a prestigious club. The two-story pavilion serves multiple functions: the ground floor is home to the Exhibition of Wonders (a showcase of luxury timepieces) and is also a lounge and bar, while the first floor features a front row, track-facing terrace on what is known as Millionaires’ Row. Overall, this distinguished pavilion embraces the elegance of equestrian sports and reflects the brand’s signature values and traditions; a perfect merging of worlds that is clearly communicated at first glance.

Taking it one step further: scenography and sensory elements

While the Kennedy Pavilion is a great example of event-based branded storytelling through space and architecture, some events lend themselves to taking it even further. When scenography and sensory elements can be added to the mix, the result is often profound and emotional for visitors, and a brilliant example of this can be seen in the Swiss Pavilion being built for Expo 2020 Dubai (now taking place in 2021).

The Swiss Pavilion is designed around the term “Reflections,” which is applied in the pavilion’s construction both physically and on a mental level. The pavilion is presented from the outside as a cubic structure with a large mirrored façade of inverted lettering and a reflection of the Swiss cross built into the roof of the modular construction. The entrance to the building then appears as a crystal cave, where a foggy incline takes visitors on an Alpine-inspired hike that culminates in a summit of panoramic Swiss mountain views.

The experience of hiking what feels like a real mountain in a sea of real fog, only to burst through the fog cover at the summit, is a powerful sensory experience that embodies reflection, discovery, and changing perspectives. This spatial and scenographic experience places visitors in the heart of their own Swiss story and evokes a powerful emotional connection to the Alpine nation of Switzerland. It’s a beautiful example of a temporary event structure embracing its full storytelling potential through experience, entertainment, senses, and emotions.

This kind of “all in” emotional experience is where architectural storytelling really thrives. At Expomobilia, we believe that creating that sort of sensory journey is a powerful medium for creating lasting impressions, and we strive to bring that spirit into everything that we do. If you’ve got a story to tell and are looking for a temporary or semi-permanent construction that will resonate with visitors, get in touch to see how we can help you bring that story to life.