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Design For Authenticity

<![CDATA[The Virginia Beach (VA) Library celebrates civic partnership with a 400-ft.-long circulation spine in a 125,000-sq.-ft., two-story solution offering 360-deg. approachability.]]>

How can commercial architecture become more authentic? The best way is to create building solutions that are true to their places, people, and legacies.

The Virginia Beach (VA) Library celebrates civic partnership with a 400-ft.-long circulation spine in a 125,000-sq.-ft., two-story solution offering 360-deg. approachability.

The Virginia Beach (VA) Library celebrates civic partnership with a 400-ft.-long circulation spine in a 125,000-sq.-ft., two-story solution offering 360-deg. approachability.

Gordon Carrier, FAIA, NCARB

A new wave in architectural design combines strategic, sustainable design ideas with full-service architecture, interiors, branding, marketing, and graphics. We call it dimensional branding, a way to integrate brand identity on every level. This design approach helps organizations capitalize on their essentials: who they are, and what makes them successful.

The method demands a hard look at the past, present, and future. The histories of client and location are essential, but so is the future vision. The present—the client’s culture and trajectory—matters too. Taken together, these reveal the truest and fullest brand story. The design team translates the findings into built space, in partnership with the client, telling the story with experiential architecture and interiors, environmental graphics, spatial relationships, signage, and wayfinding.

The result is a genuine and consistent message—a totally unique experience true to culture and heritage—as the following case studies illustrate.

Interview with Gordon Carrier
Learn more about making commercial architecture authentic in our interview with Gordon Carrier of Carrier Johnson + Culture.

A Virginia Beach Library for All

“It takes a whole village,” goes the African proverb, and this modern library embodies one community’s desire to collaborate for a better future by creating a village-like place for reading and research. Tidewater Community College and the city of Virginia Beach, VA, envisaged a future of shared resources built on former farmlands marked by hedgerows and irrigation ditches. Here, college students and city residents would share knowledge and learn together, in an efficient, collective way.

The building celebrates the notion of civic partnership and engagement with a 400-ft.-long “Main Street” circulation spine in a 125,000-sq.-ft., two-story solution offering 360-deg. approachability (no back door) and a welcoming face to the entire coastal community. Its shapes come from nature, which connects all users. To honor the community’s heritage, we preserved the area’s gardens and green views, even using the hedgerow grids to organize the landscape.

University Elevates Science, Faith

The leaders of a smaller university in San Diego with robust STEM programs asked us to create a major new science center. This type of building is a rather common, large investment for most colleges. But it’s different here. Point Loma Nazarene Univ. is not only Christian, it’s an evangelical institution.

Yet, going back to its 1800s roots in Los Angeles as Pacific Bible College, PLNU is a notably progressive organization committed to liberal arts education and scientific discovery. Even on matters such as evolution, the school seeks truth through faith and science, throwing an uppercut into tedious religious stereotypes. So does PLNU’s new academic and laboratory building: 13 new labs wrapped in glass and smooth concrete are equipped for biology and chemistry classes. A curved environmental screen of perforated metal panels shields students and classrooms from the southern sun. Light streams through the laser-cut Greek letters alpha and omega, which carry religious and scientific meaning. Our design principal, Ray Varela, likens the dappled effect to the interiors of a cathedral.

Loyal Business Supports Its City

Debra L. Reed, CEO of energy company Sempra, wrote, “We are pleased to remain headquartered in downtown San Diego … the vibrant economic center of one of the world’s few developing megaregions,” and “the perfect home base from which to manage and grow our global business.”

This commitment to its legacy and location is symbolized in its new headquarters in San Diego’s downtown East Village, a ballpark district known as much for art galleries and trendy restaurants as for innovative workplaces.

Simple and sleek, the new glass-wrapped 16-story headquarters tower is a “showcase” of sustainability and innovation that reflects the “extraordinary company” within, said Steve Black, president of Cisterra, the building’s developer. “We’ve worked with them a long time to build a project specifically for their needs.” Next door is the 1930s Fire Station No. 4, preserving early San Diego history. The HQ location also injects more vitality into this blossoming area on weekdays, a valuable contribution.

These project stories illuminate three essential aspects of authenticity in architecture. First, the best designs honor their heritage, telling the world why the building does what it does. Second, they commit to living in the present—if the mission says support the community, for example, every aspect must be supportive. Third, the building, interiors, and graphics must shape the future, reinforcing brand values going forward.

The result is lasting, purposeful, and authentic architecture.

Gordon Carrier, FAIA, NCARB, is founding design principal at Carrier Johnson + CULTURE, San Diego, a leading global architecture, design, and strategic-branding practice known for innovative building, living, and communications solutions, reflecting the unique three-dimensional brand opportunities for each situation (

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