"Those involved in shaping our cities should celebrate individuality"

10th March 2017
Those involved in shaping our cities should celebrate individuality

If you are a major company, design label or shop on the High Street, brand is everything. It defines what you are, your values, it’s what distinguishes you from your competitors. 

But, how much do we talk about brand in the context of buildings or urban design? Rob Delius, Divisional Director and Head of Sustainability, explains more. 

Our designs often become the physical manifestation of a client’s brand, whether intended or not, good or bad. However, although we don’t usually consciously refer to ‘brand’, we are often thinking about ‘identity’ or ‘placemaking’ in our designs.

These are extremely important but what about on a city-wide scale? Are we able to take a broader view of how buildings, streets and public spaces can collectively contribute towards a city’s brand and sense of place, how they can set it apart from its neighbour? Is this even important? In my opinion, yes, because a city with a strong sense of self is a more confident city, a more engaging city, one with a sense of purpose, one that’s usually better at attracting investment, at attracting jobs, visitors and people wanting to live there.

bristol colourful houses

Bristol’s colourful houses, contributing to the city’s brand (image courtesy Sam Saunders/flickr)

Our Bristol Colour Capital campaign celebrates how Bristol’s colourful houses are becoming (only quite recently) a key part of the city’s brand, one of its defining features – that is now being noticed around the world. They strengthen its reputation for individuality, for creativity, for self-expression and sense of fun and contrast brilliantly with the uniformly honey-coloured hues of its neighbouring city, Bath.

These traits are part of Bristol’s identity. And the commissioners of design projects, as well as the Council and local design advisory groups should be nurturing and championing them in the design of new developments.

Brand was a theme I explored when I submitted an entry for the RIBA Imagine Bath competition in 2015 with an idea called Waters of Bath. The proposal, which was selected as the winning entry, wondered why the city’s waters are almost completely absent from its streets and squares, despite being the main the reason the city exists at all and is internationally famous. The city is failing to capitalise on its brand.

waters of Bath

Frolicking in the fountains: isn’t this what we should be encouraging?

The idea proposed a network of fountains around the city which would celebrate this key part of the city’s history and identity, at the same time providing a delightful addition to its public realm for residents and visitors alike. You can read more about the idea in this month’s Bath Magazine (page 16). The proposal is being discussed with city groups and the Council and Tourist Board.

So in a time where everywhere is beginning to look and feel more the same, brand is as important as ever. And those involved in shaping our cities, whether they be developers, planners or designers, should take note and celebrate individuality.