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278. How Do You Brand A Monument?

I had the pleasure of attending the opening ceremony for the Burj Dubai last night here in the United Arab Emirates. It was an epic show of lights, sound, water and some amazing fireworks — basically what you'd expect from the Emirate, a flashy show of style. (View a few pictures of my facebook account here.) Now, I would not have been surprised if they simply demolished the building and announced plans for an even taller structure on the site and I would not have blinked had the building took off like a rocket launching the royal families in attendance into orbit. Such is the way around here.

But there were two big surprises on the night. The first was an announced height that was ten meters higher than previously thought, which is a big deal if you're building the world's tallest building—you want it to stay that way for as long as possible. The second big surprise was the renaming of the building from Burj Dubai to Burj Khalifa. Khalifa is one of two families in the UAE that share power, and as I understand it they are rulers of Abu Dhabi. The ruling family of Dubai, the Maktoums, switch off and on as Prime Minister/Vice Prime Minister of the UAE. The public was caught off guard on the name change to be sure, and the locals say it's huge.

Now, there was a lot of branding work done on the Burj Dubai, forgetting about the reasons for the name change (which range from paying back Abu Dhabi for the bailout money, to just being a kind gesture.) All of the branding work was made obsolete in one day. Consider that not just the building but the entire surrounding neighborhood has been called Downtown Burj Dubai and all the signage and business cards and addresses will now presumably become Downtwon Burj Khalifa. The reason I mention this, is to say that there was a lot of work done in terms of design that now has to be adjusted. Who knows how long the branding team knew about it. In the end, at least up until this point, the design stayed pretty much the same and just reflected the name alteration.

From what I gather there were two main entities involved in the branding of the building and square. Strategically, well-regarded and internationally awarded design consultancy The Brand Union, provided guidance. Here's an excerpt from the press release discussing their involvement:

"Using a seven step mastery system, The Brand Union built out from a core 'bright idea' into a compelling and distinct brand world. In the case of Burj Dubai, the agency needed to assess the current identity and collateral and refine the identity and developed the following brand story.

  • I am the power that lifts the world's head proudly skywards, surpassing limits and expectations.
  • Rising gracefully from the desert and honouring the city with a new glow, I am an extraordinary union of engineering and art, with every detail carefully considered and beautifully crafted.
  • I am the life force of collective aspirations and the aesthetic union of many cultures. I stimulate dreams, stir emotions and awaken creativity.
  • I am the magnet that attracts the wide-eyed tourist, eagerly catching their postcard moment, the centre for the world's finest shopping, dining and entertainment and home for the world's elite.
  • I am the heart of the city and its people; the marker that defines Dubai's shining dream.
  • More than just a moment in time, I define moments for future generations.
  • I am Burj Dubai.

"By aligning the brand identity with the brand's behaviour and performance to build a compelling and consistent brand world, we provide the framework, training and tools to ensure that what Burj Dubai promises is delivered through every little detail and experience."

They go on to say that their goal was to change the perception of the building from simply the world's tallest to a 'living wonder.' The other firm involved was Brash Brands. They designed the old identity system as well as the newly (slightly) adjusted design for the Khalifa change. Apparently Brash is a new agency here in town and this was the first project under the name. That's quite a way to start, to be sure. Design of the global launch events, communications, and visitors centers for the Burj Khalifa have also been created by Brash Brands as well as the roadshow exhibition for the Armani Residences, which are part of the Armani Hotel within the Burj Khalifa, which toured Milan, London, Jeddah, Moscow and Delhi.

The Original Burj Dubai:

The Burj Khalifa:

Basically it's a typeface (Foundary Sans) set spaciously in silver on a field of black with an intersection of two thin silver strokes. The type runs both horizontally and vertically depending on the placement. It looks pretty conservative for something as interesting and bold as the project itself. The architecture and courage to build an 828 meter building shows up nowhere in the identity unfortunately. I'm not saying it's ugly by any means, as a matter of fact it's rather nice. It would perform perfectly on just about any other building and in my eyes would feel at home on Park Avenue in Manhattan. Just about any other building wouldn't need more than a type-set name, but the Burj deserved a design much more daring from the design team. It's unfortunate that most of Brash's portfolio is really strong but this project will garner the most attention for obvious reasons.

The Burj Dubai Website (Click to enlarge - Trust me, you don't want to wait for the site to load. At least for the next few days.)

Another aspect of the identity that I think is interesting (or just wrong) is the fact that the identity is just as often set horizontally as it is vertically. Whether the design focused on being the world's tallest buiding or living wonder, the design should still have been vertical. Yes, that's obvious but sometimes we designers can make things more difficult than they need to be and miss the most elegant solution. If I had worked on this project, The Burj Khalifa would always, always, always be set vertically and would have been designed to look good going visually up and down. Again this work isn't bad, it's just not quite right.

Sample Identity System:

Sample Interior Signage:

The new exterior signage oddly doesn't feature the new look, which is unfortunate:

Of all the sample design work that I have seen so far, the following graphic is the piece that I liked best and think the best visual solution could have come from setting the building's vertical shape in a variety of graphic forms. This identity could have been dynamic, different almost everytime you see it but consistent in shape. It could have been as cool as the building. View the graphic below and tell me this isn't a better start for the identity. You could build this form using an almost infinite number of graphic elements and it would still be recognizable. Afterall, the building itself is the building's identity and should play a bigger part in the design.

The Building is the Building's Identity:

So, I think the identity work is serviceable just not nearly as exciting as it should have been. But I did see something related that had a solid design approach and that is the identity of the observation deck in the building called, At the Top. It takes an overhead view of the building's unique shape and uses those forms to establish their corporate identity. I think this is a solid look and would have been another approach to use for the building as a whole that would have more impact - even if it isn't vertically-based. Unfortunately, this is the largest sample image of that design I could find and I'm not sure who is responsible, Perhaps Brash.

At The Top Burj Dubai:

Here's a larger version I just found:

I'm going to try and nab a few more sample images for the Burj Khalifa identity, particularly signage and wayfinding as soon as possible. More to come.



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Reader Comments (1)

Yeah the interior signage is awesome, exterior not so much. Wish I could have been there, the video is sweet. Happy New Years!
January 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterA-N-D

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