What Makes a City a Brand? Find out in LA!

What makes a city a brand? How does a constellation of culture, sports, entertainment, and natural attractions link and shine as an experience? Los Angeles is the poster child for city branding, and you’ll find out why at Be |The Branded Environments Event August 20 in The City of Angels.

SEGD’s Be | Branded Environments—a one-day event on the campus of Woodbury University—will explore all aspects of brand in the built environment, from retail to healthcare and from entertainment to corporate.  It will be led by a team of top branding consultants including Peter Dixon, Prophet; Graham Hanson, Graham Hanson Design; Joe Zenas, Thinkwell; Lucy Holmes, Holmes Wood; Simon Borg and Brian Mirakian, Populous; Katie Sprague, RTKL; and Hillary Jaye and Tom Horton, Gensler.

On Friday, August 21, the exploration will go afield, with a guided tour of LA’s downtown core. Led by local designers and SEGD’s Director of Education Justin Molloy, the Downtown LA Walking Tour was designed to show how branding plays out in the city.

“We’ve planned a 101 for city placemaking and how brand is being used to activate public spaces, old and new,” says Molloy. “We’ll also be throwing in some great studio tours of local firms.”

LA is a city of luminaries and a unique hybrid for placemaking and brand. Historically and literally shaped by the placement of freeways and the dominance of the automobile culture, the city has been working hard in recent decades to transform its gritty urban image. LA Live’s infusion of retail and entertainment venues into downtown in 2007 started the ball rolling, and new developments are making the downtown core more attractive as a place to live, walk, and even ride a bicycle.

In 2014, The Guardian named Los Angeles the world’s top city brand. And Mayor Eric Garcetti has made efforts to maximize the LA brand a top focus of his administration. Among numerous new developments in recent years, a new museum will soon open in downtown and Frank Gehry’s plans to redevelop the Los Angeles River were announced just this week.

“This urban transformation has been going on for more than ten years, and it’s now past the tipping point where people actually believe that downtown LA is cool,” says Katie Sprague,senior vice president at RTKL’s Los Angeles office. “It used to be abandoned after the 9 to 5 work day. Now demand for rentals and condos is way up, restaurants are opening, some retail is even emerging, and businesses are considering real estate downtown. What used to be considered a fringe movement is now a full-on Millennial happening.”

Sprague will launch the Be event August 20 with her presentation “To Be or Not to Be: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Branded Environments.” She’ll provide a fast-paced perspective check on branding, from its origins in cave paintings to its historical emergence in urban planning in Paris, and how UK department store Selfridges defined retail theater and changed the dynamic from selling objects to creating experiences. And she’ll talk about how LA is managing its brand and changing the experiences people have in the downtown core and beyond.

DTLA Walking Tour
Who knew Los Angeles was so walkable? The Downtown LA Walking Tour will hit the highlights in LA’s urban core, with breaks for lunch and personal exploration.

The tour begins—appropriately—at the intersection of the old and the new. Opened in 1939, Los Angeles Union Station is an architectural mash-up of Art Deco, Mission Revival, and Streamline Moderne elements and a registered historic landmark.

Selbert Perkins Design, in collaboration with Gruen Associates and Metro, recently completed the design and implementation of a comprehensive wayfinding system as part of the station’s revitalization. The wayfinding system was unveiled at the station’s recent 75th anniversary celebration. Key elements include wall-mounted LED signs for arrival/departure information, a large interactive pylon with four touchscreens to help travelers with trip planning, and identity pylons around the perimeter of the station.

The next stop is Grand Park, which opened in 2012 on a sloping site that stretches down Bunker Hill between Grand Avenue, the site of Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, and Los Angeles City Hall. Deborah Sussman made her bold mark on it—completing one of the last projects of her career with 16-ft.-tall green-and-silver internally illuminated totems that proclaim “The Park for Everyone” in 26 languages. Rick Weidner of WeidnerCA, fabricator of the signs, will be on hand to provide insight into the environmental graphics.

Additional stops include the RTKL offices, Grand Central Market, the iconic Disney Concert Hall, and the soon-to-open Diller Scofidio + Renfro-designed The Broad Museum, part of an overarching rehabilitation of Bunker Hill. Another tour highlight is Gensler’s studio hub in a Mid-century Modern jewelbox sited on what was formerly known as Arco Plaza (headquarters of the Atlantic Richfield Company and site of one of the West Coast’s first comprehensive corporate signage programs, designed by John Follis). Vestiges of the old Arco Plaza still remain, including Herbert Bayer’s iconic public sculpture Double Ascension. The nearby Standard Hotel, the Ace Hotel located in the former theater district, and newly emerging retail centers including Urban Outfitters in the historic Rialto Theatre building will round out the tour.

“It should be a fascinating couple of days, first exploring the state of the art in branding and the convergence of digital and physical experience design, then a first-hand look at how brand has shaped a major city,” says Molloy. “We’ll learn a lot about how brand and placemaking plays in the city, how it can connect old and new, and how a new visual brand construct is emerging in LA.”

See LA shine at Be | The Branded Environments event August 20! Sign up for the tour separately but hurry, spots are going fast!!

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Upcoming SEGD Events

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2021 Exhibition and Experience Design
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