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INTERNATIONAL STYLE

 

Corporate Architecture as we think of it today was invented by Mies van der Rohe in the 1920's in a series of charcoal drawings that depicted steel and glass skyscrapers (Friedrichstrasse, Berlin). He proceeded to coin the term "International Style" which was a banner under which a lot of the Modernist architects of the day produced minimal steel and glass structures for everything from houses to office buildings. They were supposed to be the perfect structure that could inhabit any climate or site without having to adjust to circumstance. The houses produced in that period became a historical style whereas the office buildings were endlessly reproduced filling up the downtowns of every big city in the world. In the end the glass and steel box became the style that dressed up all corporate intent.

As the market for these corporate buildings expanded in the 70's and 80's so did the architecture firms that produced them, becoming themselves corporations. There, a whole team of architects is be assigned to design pluming diagrams for a single megastructure, working a bit like a production line. But even though these corporate buildings are produced by corporate architectural firms, they are not a corporate product. Each one is designed for a specific purpose and a specific site and only the design process can qualify as corporate. The building itself is most of the time required to act as a kind of landmark for the city it inhabits- the bigger the corporation the taller the building has to be.

In the outskirts and suburbs of all these cities corporate architecture has taken a slightly different turn. The mirror box still exists, living a significantly less glamorous life where it is no longer a landmark and it has no longer to impress anyone, it just has to be cheap and fast to build. Then there is the Dumb box, one door and no windows, which houses corporate shops like Ikea or K-mart and the only difference between each one is the logo. On a slightly smaller scale there is the gas station, a nearly perfect example of corporate architecture where it not for the fact that all gas stations regardless of the brand look very much alike: Stripped down versions of Mies' Barcelona pavilion without the marble and the chic furniture. Instead you get a plane or mushroom on thin columns that you know you have to park under to fill up your tank. If its "Shell" it will be yellow and gray, if its "Mobil" red, white and blue and there will be a mini brick building next to it where you have to pay.

But a little further down the street, whether its Los Angeles or Budapest, the most complete manifestation of corporate architecture has once again opened its doors, not to calculate stock or trade insider information, but to serve pizza. Its a small, one story white building with a plastic red roof that just says "Pizza Hut" and you know exactly what it means. Even though you haven't seen it, you probably know what it looks like because there is one just like it down the street from where you are. The building itself is based on a corporate prototype that is then applied in the same way everywhere the marketing team has deemed profitable. It is the perfect example of corporate architecture because it is not just a building, but a building as registered trademark or logo, doing for architecture what Nike did for shoes.

Finally, it's a structure that can inhabit any climate or site without having to adjust to circumstance. Pizza Hut is the new International Style.