Saturday, March 20, 2010

Market Oriented Architecture (First Impressions)

There is a saying that you have only one chance to make a good first impression. That may be true in personal relationships, but in architecture, you have three chances to make a good first impression: the streetscape, the front door, and, finally, the first glimpse of interior space. All are equally important whether in speculative building, custom homes, commercial development, or pure architecture (whatever that is).

In the realm of residential design, marketing directors and real estate gurus refer to first impressions as “curb appeal.” This phrase has become trite through repetition. However, an architectural principle co-opted as a marketing truism is no less valid. In fact, good architecture often translates into good marketing and, sometimes, vice versa. Purists might want to see a conflict here. But if architecture is good it should appeal to people and if it appeals to people why wouldn’t this be a good marketing strategy?


All buildings exist within a streetscape. A streetscape is simply the first impression a building makes at a distance. While the design of individual buildings is important, so is their relationship to each other, to the community, and to the surrounding environment.

All community elements, such as water features, guardhouses, recreational facilities, gazebos, clubhouses, mail kiosks, and signage are opportunities to provide interesting architecture that establishes the first impression on a streetscape level.
The marketing advantages of considering every detail of the streetscape are clear: these elements have the potential to capture people’s interest and contribute to the overall impression of value.

Front Door

Your second chance to make a good first impression is at the front door of the building. The front door (this includes all major elements on the front elevation) is where a more personal first impression is introduced. Here we establish the mood, style, and quality of the architecture. Some call this curb appeal. It is where we literally have the opportunity to touch the architecture and have it touch us. The first impression made at the front door is the total effect of all visible design elements: materials, details, lighting, stylistic cues.

At this point, the architecture must fulfill the buyer’s (or client’s or renter’s – there really is no difference) vision of what that building should be. These visions are seldom articulated but underlay every decision the buyer makes.

The front door is a prelude to all that follows and must be exactly right for the target market. It must fulfill the market’s hopes, dreams, and architectural preferences. Sometimes assumptions about popular taste prejudice the designing process.  Jettison unfounded assumptions in favor of legitimate market research specific to your area. Market preferences are not interchangeable from one market to another. And old market preferences may no longer be true in the current market situation. That which may be desirable in one neighborhood can have the opposite connotation in another.

Of course, no two people respond in the same way to architecture. Yet the effects of architecture are certainly not at the mercy of whim and caprice. Does the buyer want a grand entrance? That is simply a matter of scale and we can design the building to satisfy that need. Does the buyer want a feeling of security and privacy? We might introduce courtyard walls with decorative iron gates. Does the buyer want a feeling of shelter and protection? Deep porches and broad overhangs may accomplish this goal. The design possibilities for front elevations in response to market research are endless.

Interior Vistas

The interior vista is the final opportunity to make a good first impression.

A dream house is fifty percent dream and fifty percent house. The house part consists of practical, left-brain requirements: shelter, safety, investment opportunity, and things like the right number of bedrooms. The dream part fulfills the need for emotional, right-brain desires like drama, excitement, warmth, and esthetic appeal. When a person enters a house – or any building -- you want to engage feelings, not invite analysis.
To achieve positive emotional responses, immediately reveal interior architectural effects that have known appeal. Show off major amenities. If a fireplace is offered, let people see how great your design is. If a beautiful patio is available, emphasize it. If overhead volume is part of the plan, let it impress the viewer upon opening the front door. While a sense of mystery and playfulness can be useful, such architectural strategies should never leave the buyer frustrated or unsatisfied. Like a story unfolding on a movie screen, the plot must be engaging from the start and hold viewers attention to the end.

Builders should know that solid design principles are at work here. The purpose of architecture is to make space interesting as well as functional. Great first impressions are made with a glance, but they are the result of carefully crafted design decisions. It is the first impressions of streetscape, front door, and interior vista that get people emotionally on your side and ready to do business.

Gatehouse architecture by Michael Knorr & Assoicates, illustration by Susan Johnk
Rancho Santa Fe exteriors by Michael Knorr & Associates
Las Vegas interior by Michael Knorr & Associates

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