I was recently shown an article about overt consumerism from Domain Design that poses an interesting question:
What is the impact of extreme wealth on design and what is the role of design professionals when retained to participate in obscenely expensive projects?
The article discusses the role of branding in design as well as in development and construction. I, for one, believe there is a place for branding and marketing in the world of design - just not necessarily in a way that creates predictable architecture, devoid of place and cultural identity. I believe that individual designed landscapes and buildings have a great potential to be marketed and branded as a way to define their identity and place in an ever-fluid culture - i.e. The Highline, Brooklyn Bridge Park. However, the idea of branding a certain style of architecture or a certain composition of landscape to be essentially mass produced as if it's for sale on the global market, defeats the purpose.
Architecture is not commodity. Landscape is not commodity. Most people will say, 'ok, well you just contradicted your above statement about branding. How can you brand and market something and remain luxury over commodity?' Simple. It goes back to the idea of designing something very much "of the place," specially designed to blend with culture, tradition, while at the same time being very much of the time. Some of the most used or recognizable buildings and landscapes are the ones that are unique to their region, city or community but at the same time very well developed in their image, their program, their fun-factor, for lack of a better term.
So this brings up the next question. How can you brand and market your firm and remain unpredictable, unique and visionary? Look at Apple, for one (of course, prior to the last few quarters since they've become miserably predictable). If we brand our firm identity as energetic, fun, innovative and curious then we can continue to advance built work, intellectual concepts and the design fields at large. This is synonymous with the notion of the individual building or landscape that is well branded, but still, 'of the place.' However, once we develop a style, or a kit of parts and that becomes our brand and our identity it's harder and harder to transcend that. This is synonymous with an architectural style or landscape composition as mass commodity (ok, modernism was cool for a minute).
But, think about it: how do we want to be perceived as a firm? As a profession? There's a role for branding and marketing as well as a fine line for its effectiveness or its detriment.