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Journal of Architectural Education


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Architecture and Advertising


Elizabeth Hornbeck

University of California , Santa Barbara , USA


Published online: 05 Mar 2013.

To cite this article: Elizabeth Hornbeck (1999) Architecture and Advertising, Journal of Architectural Education, 53:1,
52-57, DOI: 10.1162/104648899564349
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1162/104648899564349

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Architecture and Advertising

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ELIZABETH HORNBECK , University of California, Santa Barbara

THE ARCHITECTURE OF FRANK O. GEHRY DEFINES SANTA MONICA AND


Venice like that of no other single architect. From the Santa Monica
Place to the Edgemar Center on Main Street, as well as several
smaller businesses and residences in Venice, Gehry has created a
corrido r of distinctive high-art design along Los Angeles
westernmost edge. Apple Computers advertising campaign tries to
capitalize on that association, using both the architect and his buildings to promote its product.
One building to be exact: the well-known Binocular Building,
designed and built from 1986 to 1991 by Frank O. Gehry Associates
(Figure 1). The building is owned by Omnicom, parent company of
the buildings original occupant, TBWA Chiat/Day, the advertising
agency responsible for Apples Think Different ad campaign. Divided into three radically different exteriors designed to suggest a ship
on the north end and a tree on the south end (or, as suggested by
Gebhard and Winter, a rusting steel ruin 1), separated by a pair of
three-storey high binoculars, the building stops traffic along this colorful section of Main Street.2 For most of 1998, its north side sported
a large banner with a head shot of Gehry in front of his new
Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, captioned by Apples new slogan, Think Different (Figure 2).3 The ad serves as a sort of signature to Gehrys work, as well as an advertisement for the architect;
because of TBWA Chiat/Days status as a client of Gehry the banner
advertises TBWA Chiat/Day as well.
Unlike Apples other outdoor advertisements, which can be
seen around town, this ad is not located on a billboard. Instead,
Gehrys building itself becomes the billboard, the carrier for this
commercial message, inserting it in a public space which is otherwise relatively free of outdoor advertising. To my knowledge, this
is the first time that an example of high-art architecture has been
used for this purpose, and I am concerned about its implications.
Apples ad campaign, launched Fall 1997, features a wide
variety of creative individuals, including artists, scientists, and great
leaders. Among them are the Dalai Lama, Bob Dylan, Mahatma
Gandh i, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Ted Turner, Alfred
Hitchcock, Amelia Earhart, Maria Callas, Martha Graham, and
Rosa Parks. Even Muhammad Ali and Jerry Seinfeld appeared in a
recent television spot. The demographic spread of the group is telling: More than three-quarters of the group are male; a similar proportion are white; and about two-thirds are dead. What these
people have in common is not their use of Apple computers. Instead, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, Apples goal is to celJournal of Architectural Education, pp. 5257
1999 ACSA, Inc.

September 1999 JAE 53/1

ebrate geniuses, defined as people who push the human race forward.4 Apple plans to spend about one hundred million dollars
annually on its advertising campaign.
The inclusion of Frank Gehry in this distinguished group of
Apple geniuses is not surprising. The label genius is intimately
connected with Modernist discourse about art and architecture. In
fact many people in our society understand art purely in terms of
geniuses and their works, i.e., the parade of masterpieces that generally make up a college survey-level Introduction to Art History
course. And the construct of the genius has likewise been fundamentally based on the image of the white male creator. TBWA
Chiat/Days Emmy award-winning television commercial for Apple
includes two more North American architects, Frank Lloyd Wright
and Buckminster Fuller. Wright, of course, is the most recognizable
figurehead of the architect-hero stereotype, the symbol of extreme
individualism immortalized in Ayn Rands Fountainhead.
Perhaps moreso than some of Apples other creative types,
architects represent Apples message because their vocation is regarded as being both creative and technical. Frank Gehry, especially, is known for his high-tech style of architecture. Gehrys office
uses computers to help construct the sculptural and curvilinear
forms of buildings like the Bilbao museum. The office uses CATIA
software running on an IBM RS 6000 computer; the software program was originally developed by the French software firm Dassault
Systems to build Mirage fighter jets.5 Gehrys firm also uses an
autoCAD program, designed in-house, running on IBM equipment. But Gehry himself does not use a computer, and Apple computers do not figure at all in the technological solutions that
contribute to his professional achievements and to his identity as
the author of such technologically advanced structuresthough
computers are becoming increasingly more essential in architectural
firms and schools across the country, representing a large potential
market for Apple. 6
In a study of how architects are depicted in print ads, Diane
Favro found that male architects are depicted as creative and selfassured individualists . . . the reader is meant to identify with the
independent, affluent, confident male individual. 7 For TBWA
Chiat/Day, in its promotion of a message that advocates creativity
and nonconformity, the white-male-genius epitomizes the cultural
ideals of the elite corps of advertising executives who, as pointed out
by Jackson Lears, have built an industry that seeks to universalize
the experience and values of their own socioeconomic class.8 But
Apple Computers attempt to create a hip new image for itself (with
the likes of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, for example) is consistent
with the growing corporate trend to embrace hip as its official
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1. TBWA Chiat/Day building, by Frank O. Gehry, Venice CA,


19861991. Photo by author.

culture. As Tom Frank has pointed out, hip is not only exhausted as a mode of dissent, but it is complicit with the ever-expanding corporate colonization of everyday life.9
Apple does not pay any of the geniuses who appear in its
ads. In exchange for Gehrys appearance, they donated computer
equipment, valued between $15,000 and $20,000, to a local school
with which Gehry is involved. Gehry generally refuses to appear in
advertisements, but Apples charitable gesture, added to the persistent request of TBWA Chiat/Day, with whom Gehry has a longstanding client relationship, were enough to persuade him. He has
not agreed to appear in television or print ads.
Today our visual culture is dominated by advertising images.
Perhaps it is inevitable, then, that the lay person responds to advertisinglike arton an aesthetic level, often without bringing any critical response to the way in which it operates in society: the power
relations it calls into play, the values it aims to produce and reproduce,
and the methods of manipulation that it carries to ever new heights
(questions which apply equally to art). The fact that Emmy awards are
now given to television commercials confirms the uncritical stance
with which they are received by the public. But when advertising is
imposed on our public spaces, these questions demand our attention.
Apples Think Different campaign is extremely popular
with people who work in the computer industry, though less so
with non-Apple users. As one computer consultant told me, people
in his field would much rather think of themselves as creative types,
like jazz musician Miles Davis or Muppets creator Jim Henson,
than align themselves with the stereotype of the computer geek.
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2. Frank Gehry in Apple Computers Think Different ad, 1998.


Photo by author.

Never mind the fact that most of the people in Apples ads dont
use Apple computers. The campaign suggests that, given the
chance, they would have.
Fans of the campaign generally think of themselves as people
who really do think different. They see themselves as nonconformists, reflected by the fact that they use a computer that has around
12 percent of the market share. Apple users are proud to see themselves being put in the same category with the likes of the Dalai
Lama and Martin Luther King, Jr.; the commodification of these
people apparently doesnt trouble them. Nor does the incongruity
of comparing purchase of a computer to dedicating and even sacrificing ones life for a cause like religious freedom or civil rights. 10
The commercialization of King and the Dalai Lama does not
seem to trouble the producers of the Emmy awards, either, who
presented the second annual Emmy award for a television commercial to the Think Different television spot and its director, Jennifer Golub of TBWA Chiat/Day. 11 King and the Dalai Lama
promote the sale of Apple computersand particularly the brand
loyalty of current Apple usersthrough the cultural capital that
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3. Advertisement for Mercedes-Benz, 1927. Monografias de


Arquitectury y Vivienda.

they bring to the product. (A spokesperson for Apple says that the
company wants to avoid overcommercializing these people by using their images for only small periods of time.12)
In fact, the use of mostly dead culture heroes who often have
nothing to do with computers helps to mask the commodity nature
of the advertising campaign. According to Golub, The message
that being different is something to rejoice in touches people very
deeply. . . . I think it [the television advertisement] almost serves as
a piece of public service work. 13 Indeed, the campaign has been
highly successful in tapping into a collective aspiration to be unique.
In response to a survey, one Los Angeles Times reader was quoted as
saying, How often do you see these people [Apples geniuses] in
commercials? Almost never. It wasnt like an advertisement; it inspired our nice memories of these figures. Another wrote, Their
[Apples] use of great people inspired a higher level of consciousness
and encouraged people to find out more about these people.14
Golub describes the television spot as a tribute rather than as a
commercial,15 a claim that I find rather disingenuous. Do Golub
and these readers honestly believe that Mahatma Gandhi and company need Apple and TBWA Chiat/Days public service announcements to rescue them from obscurity?
Ultimately the commodification of an architect is far less disconcerting to me than the commodification of King or the Dalai Lama,
September 1999 JAE 53/1

but the issue deserves attention nonetheless. The use of architects and
of avant-garde architecture in advertising is not a new phenomenon.
Recent scholarly works have scrutinized the symbiotic relationship of
early Modernist architects such as Le Corbusier and Richard Neutra
with advertising. While manufacturers used avant-garde buildings to
symbolize the height of modernitythen considered a strong, positive
selling point in a world fascinated by the possibilities of the future
the architects used industrial products in their own discursive practices
to heighten the appeal of their own work and social ideals.
A 1927 advertisement for the Mercedez Benz model 8/38
(Figure 3) depicts a female model standing next to the car, which
is parked in front of one of Le Corbusiers houses that was part of
the Weissenhof Siedlung modern housing exhibition in Stuttgart. 16
In the ad, the avant-garde home towers over the car and the model,
dominating the image both spatially and ideologically. Conversely,
Le Corbusier culled advertising images of cars, airplanes, industrial
equipment, and mass-produced consumer goods to illustrate his
avant-garde journal, LEsprit Nouveau. In her recent book, Privacy
and Publicity, Beatriz Colomina discusses how the existence of mass
media has radically altered the role of art in society, suggesting that
Modern architecture is itself, from the beginning, a commodity.17
Yet architects routinely resist this situation, and attempt to
police their professional image. In 1995 an anonymous, photocopied poster (Figure 4) appeared on the walls of SCI-Arc, the high-art,
design-oriented architecture school located in Mar Vista, California. The poster included a photograph of a billboard advertising the
sale of oceanfront condominiums designed by the architect Michael
Graves. The billboards slogan read, Own a Michael Graves Original. Graves himself appeared in the advertisement, reclining, in
front of a picture of his condominium complex at a much reduced
scale. Beneath the image of the billboard, the author of this
posterevidently an idealistic young architecture studenthad
written his or her own slogan: Dont Let This Happen to You!
Gravess participation in the selling of his own cultural capital was interpreted as selling out, and inspired the disdain of future
architects certain that they would never do such a thing. Gravess
professional prestige has suffered tremendously in the last several
years since his invo lvement in merchand isin g of designer
housewares and other products, his work for the Disney Corporation, and the widespread imitation of his signature style that regularly appears in strip malls around the country.
Frank Gehrys appearance in an Apple adand even the use
of his building as a billboarddoes not arouse such ire. Architects
feel that the ad portrays a positive image of Gehry, and hence of
their profession. As one architect told me, [the ad] raises the pub54

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4. Anonymous poster from SCI-Arc, 1995.

lic impression of the creative thinking that architects provide for the
world, and the value of architects as creative thinkers in our society. And certainly, Gehry has not financially profited as directly as
Graves has from his endorsements. Yet I would argue that the placement of the ad on Gehrys TBWA Chiat/Day building, which is intended to provide greater significance through association, is an
even more radical infringement on the perceived autonomy of architecture as an expression of communal identityone of the primary roles of monumental architecture in an urban environment.
In other words, the problem is not the commodification of Frank
Gehryarchitects have a long history of thatbut rather the imposition of a new layer of meaning on our public spaces, transforming them in the service of Apple Computer.
On a basic level, architecture defines spatial relationships and,
by extension, social relations as well. Architecture defines the spaces
in which we live and work, as well as the urban spaces which serve
as the backdrop for our daily lives. Gehry has executed a number
of private and public commissions not just on the West Side but
throughout the city, including Hollywood, MacArthur Park, and
Exposition Park. The Disney Concert Hall, when completed, will
far outstrip Meiers enormously popular Getty Center in terms of
creativity and risk-taking. Gehrys buildings ask us to think about
architecture in a new wayto Think Different, as Steve Jobs,
currently Apples interim CEO, might say.
Gehrys creativity does not preclude the use of his architecture for commercial purposes. In the context of the
commodification of Modern architecture, it is no coincidence that
two of Gehrys most successful nonresidential works are shopping
complexes: the Santa Monica Place mall (19791981) and the
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Edgemar Center (19881989). These two designs, while formally


innovative, are also highly functional and successful as commercial
venues. I am not arguing that architects should avoid association
with commercial clients; indeed, there is a strong case to be made
that architects services are most valuable when they enhance the architectural quality of these everyday or vernacular buildings rather
than just the elite arena of private homes and world-class museums.
Gehrys works insert architectural discourse into the realm of
the everyday, and into the communal identity of their neighborhoods. The Deconstructionist style of architecture practiced by
Gehry presents radical spaces and facades that challenge the notions
of what architecture should be, notions that have been established
and reinforced both by classical humanist architecture and by the
avant-garde architecture of Modernism in this century. In De-Con
architecture, human beings are no longer the measure of all things
standing at the center of the space (both real and imagined) because,
at a basic level, there is no center any more. The human subject
no longer specifically male or specifically Europeanis cast in a
new relationship to her or his surroundings. Some like this and
some do not, but in either case, Gehrys imperative to think different goes far beyond choosing between two not-so-dissimilar
consumer products like the Apple versus the PC. Gehrys Edgemar
Center, for example, invites creative use of that space in ways not
seen in most minimalls. And in Los Angeles, whenever a minimall
is not a minimall, we have something to be thankful for.
Some critical historians would challenge this interpretation of
De-Con architecture. In her engaging and provocative book, Architecture After Modernism, Diane Ghirardo attacks its practitioners and their
works as formal exercises [that] offer little toward the construction of
a theory different from that of Modernism, and even less to rethinking the role of the architect. . . . In their absolute indifference to issues
of context, their exaltation of the role of the architect as form-giver and
interpreter of society, it is difficult to discern significant departures
from dogmatic Modernism except in the particularities of form.18
While I agree that De-Con architects retain many of the basic assumptions and goals of the Modernist tradition they have inherited, I have to disagree with Ghirardos dismissal of the value of
their formal experiments. The experience of space that one finds in
Gehrys Edgemar Center, for one, resists the label shopping mall,
providing pedestrians with a unique and complex social space in
contrast to its neighboring store fronts along Main Street. Ghirardo
points out that commercial space is qualitatively different from truly
public space, a difference that she explains in her analysis of the public sphere theory of Habermas and his critics. 19 Yet, far from infringing on the public sphere, the commercial aspects of the marketplace
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have been an intrinsic part of public space for several centuries in the
West. In early Modern Europe, the marketplace and market fair,
virtually coextensive with fairs and carnivals, created a commercial
event that became the stage for uncontrolled and often subversive
public activities. 20 Commercial activity has the capacity to provide
space for political and other noncommercial forms of expression;
whether this happens or not depends on a number of variables.
Social spaces have always been fraught with advertising and
salespeople of varying repute, like the traveling salesmen and patent
medicine vendors of nineteenth-century America. As Lears has
pointed out, such salesmanship promising transfigured selfhood has
evolved into the highly polished global industry that we know today.
But while the former operated on a local level, with some degree of de
facto accountability and an identifiable voice, todays advertising machine lacks all of these characteristics. While sanitizing and rationalizing its imagery in order to enhance its legitimacy, the modern
advertising industry has created an increasingly homogeneous culture
as it advances the ideological goals of corporate, managerial culture.21
So, in light of this connection between architecture and commerce, the questions remain: Why shouldnt TBWA Chiat/Day use
Gehrys building as a marketing vehicle for Apple? Why shouldnt
the buildings owners be able to use the building in any manner
they wish? Here the question of ownership comes down to the conflict between capitalism and community. The Frank Gehry advertisement is intended to appeal not just to architects, but also to the
residents of Santa Monica and Venice whose own self-identity is
closely associated with the community that Frank built. I refer
mainly to those who value buildings like the Edgemar Center as a
public space, or those who walk along Venice Beach past the
Norton House, with its distinctive crows nest, and feel how essential that building and others like it are in defining the character
of the West Side. The TBWA Chiat/Day building is a landmark in
an important stretch of public space, the Main Street of Santa
Monica and Venice. When public space and prominent landmarks
become subordinated to a single-minded advertising message, they
begin to lose some of the complexity of meaning which they hold
for the community at large. If the Frank Gehry Apple advertisement
were displayed on a billboard, it would be less insidious; but attaching it to a Gehry building subordinates the buildings artistic and
social value to Apples advertising message.
In other words, Gehrys architecture has played a big part in
defining the community visually, not just the community of South
Santa Monica and Venice, but the greater Los Angeles community
as well. Richard Meiers Getty Center may be the most ostentatious
feature of our landscape, but Gehrys signature architecture is a
September 1999 JAE 53/1

thread that runs through the entire fabric of the city. If the interest
that Angelenos take in this Canadian-transplant-turned-native-son
can improve Apples corporate image, then by all means Apple will
take it. Will this change the way Angelenos perceive the famous
Binocular Building? What about Gehrys other buildings
throughout our city? Frank Gehrys buildings have a lot to say
about our community, about how we inhabit architecture, and
about our relationship(s) to culture. Will the artistic statements they
make be muffled by the incessant shouting of Apple Computers
advertising campaign, and its reduction of architectural identity to
that of the architect-creator and the corporate sponsors? Will the
idea of thinking differently become just another inane phrase that
loses its meaning through over- and misuse? That is up to the users
of architecture, one and all.

Notes
1. David Gebhard and Robert Winter, Los Angeles: An Architectural Guide,
4th ed. (Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith, 1994), 38.
2. The centrally placed binoculars were conceived and created by Gehrys
firm in collaboration with the Pop artist Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.
See: GA Architect 10: Frank Gehry ed. Yukio Futagawa (Tokyo: Global Architecture, 1993), 116.
3. TBWA Chiat/Day moved out of the Gehry building in September 1998
to more spacious offices in Playa Vista; the Gehry Think Different advertising
banner was scheduled to be removed when new occupants move in.
4. Yumiko Ono, Apple Is Trying a Different Image Polish, Wall Street
Journal no. 203 (October 10, 1997): B8.
5. Paul Karon, Built on the Process of Architecture, Los Angeles Times
115 (Aug. 12, 1996): D3.
6. Architecture schools vary greatly in the extent of computer usage, but at
some, such as Yale, CAD courses are now a core requirement. See Alexander Stille,
Invisible Cities, in Lingua Franca: The Review of Academic Life, vol. 8, no. 5 (July/
August 1998):4048. My thanks to Kenneth Breisch for bringing this article to my
attention. CAD technology is primarily PC-based, though some Apple-based applications are now available.
Architecture per se is not one of Apple Computers primary marketing targets; instead, their three focuses are design and publishing, education, and consumer use (i.e., for the home and small office); Rhona Hamilton, Apple Computer
Corporate Spokesperson, telephone conversation with author, 21 August 1998.
7. Diane Favro, Ad-Architects: Women Professionals in Magazine Ads,
in Architecture: A Place for Women, ed. Ellen Perry Berkeley (Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), 191.
8. Jackson Lears, Fables of Abundance (New York: Basic Books, 1994). My
thanks to Margaret Crawford for directing me to this source.
9. Tom Frank, Hip Is Dead, in The Nation, vol. 262, no. 13 (April 1,
1996):1618; my thanks to Lisa Monti for bringing this article to my attention.
Franks interest in corporate colonization derives from Guy Debords analysis presented in La socit du spectacle (1967).

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10. In reference to the Dalai Lama, this point was made by Michael Judge,
Apple Should Think Different About Asia, in The Wall Street Journal, no. 78
(April 20, 1998): A18.
11. Marla Matzer, A Different Stroke of Genius Earns an Emmy, Los
Angeles Times (September 3, 1998): D6.
12. Rhona Hamilton, telephone conversation with author, 13 May 1998.
13. Jennifer Golub, interviewed in Matzer, A Different Stroke of Genius
Earns an Emmy, Los Angeles Times (September 3, 1998):D6.
14. Matzer: D6.
15. Jennifer Golub, telephone conversation with author, 11 September 1998.
16. Franz Schulze, La poca de Weimar: Vivienda y vanguardia, in
Monografas de Arquitectura y Vivienda 6 (1986), 38, as cited in Mark Wigley,
Fashioning the Modern, in Architecture: In Fashion, ed. Deborah Fausch, et. al.
(New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1994), 149.

57

17. Beatriz Colomina, Privacy and Publicity (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press,
1994), 195.
18. Diane Ghirardo, Architecture After Modernism, World of Art series
(London: Thames and Hudson, 1996), 3637.
19. Ibid., 43. Habermass public sphere was necessarily a space in which
democratic political participation could occur. His critics point out that exclusionary practices based on class, race, and gender made these spaces inaccessible to
many, and that commercial interests stifle free expression.
20. Studies of the carnivalesque were pioneered by Mikhail Bakhtin in his
Rabelais and His World, and have spawned a number of followers. Among them see
Lears, op. cit., and Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, The Politics and Poetics of
Transgression (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1986).
21. Lears, Fables of Abundance (New York: Basic Books, 1994).

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