Built environment, the basal medium for an advertisement to act, is an assemblage of character and cultural expression that has its own degree of blending with the media communication such as advertisements.

The set building character with its present language of communication with the user, encompasses advertising to accentuate the public impact.

Contrastingly, at times of unplanned execution of such efforts, advertisements are perceived as ‘visual pollution’. The perception varies across various cultural and historical importance of places. Places with rich culture and historically significance such as London, U.K., have the perception of visual pollution, since they tend to break the actual language voiced by the building. The choice of modern materials for advertisement boards do not get synchronized with the traditional material surfaces of the buildings and tend to bring an inharmonious assemblage that puts forth a sense of ‘confusion’ before the users.

The love-hate relationship between Advertising and Built Environment - Sheet1 Reference to advertisements as visual pollution in the streets of London, UK

In metropolitan cities such as New York City, U.S., advertisements are linked as a key to drive the commercial nature of the city. The newly developed structures with updated materials and technology incorporate the advertisements in a new acceptable language to the diverse population. The population, being a mixture from various parts of the world, has created a new common city for them- A city with a new character of its own. This new character has made the users open to new possibilities, new perceptions.

The love-hate relationship between Advertising and Built Environment - Sheet2 The love-hate relationship between Advertising and Built Environment - Sheet3 The day and night displays at Times Square, NYC, US

Times Square, being one of the most happening places has embraced ‘advertising’ for creating a character for itself. The buildings have facades that don’t talk themselves but for others. Billboards create the actual facades of the buildings while their changing content reflects the changing lifestyle of the people. This constantly transforming image of the places has established a character of itself, that connects to the users with its massing amidst the central void. The square has evolved as a place of gathering where people come for exposure, to get the glimpse of the trends in the city that are majorly communicated through the advertisements.

In such a context, the scale of the billboards, the proportional relation to the actual human scale and the visual angle from the nodal points in the square play a major role. Large billboard preferences reduce the visual complexity while the ruling graphic trends exhibit the communication in a harmonious manner where- Advertisements stand out with their uniqueness while they could be related to the rest with their style.

Because ‘being similar to’ and ‘being relatable with’ are two different things.

Other modern contexts such as the growing cities are at a risk of experiencing ‘disruptive advertising’. When unplanned macro developments take place, the advertisements exhibited by the built environment could be highly individualistic in the intention to stand out from the rest. Contrastingly, their difference dominates the visual harmony and tends to lose its key intention- User connection. These happening at public places create a zonal character that is often misunderstood by the audience. Furthermore, they let the ‘strategy’ be taken over by ‘fortune’ where the user goes for what happens to view first.

The love-hate relationship between Advertising and Built Environment - Sheet4 A visual hodge-podge in the narrow shopping streets of Japan

Here, the consideration of the target audience, user culture and space restrictions are primary. The scale of the space must allow points from where the audience could halt, to get their vision to the advertisements. In case of dynamic advertisements, the time of halt that the node provides allows for the clear perception of the ad movement.

For example, a beach side advertisement could incorporate more movement since the user movement in the sand surface would be slow and easy for visualization. The ad placement over the structures (along a promenade) trace the linear user movement to communicate better. In roadside advertisements, static means could be preferred since the speedy vehicular movement would restrict the visualization time with the user. Here, high displays on the top of the structures that do not disturb the building nature can be preferred.

Along with the physical nature, the communication also plays a major role. Certain advertisements that create an impact on the user mindset also vary across contexts. Restriction of profuse advertising in schools and other child-sensitive zones is done to prevent their impact on child development.

Mapping of zones and strategic distribution of advertisements over the diverse urban fabric would accelerate the economy of both domains without disturbing the natural vibe of the place.

Beautifying a place by utilization of the existing built fabric to bring a better vibe with the communication means opens new lifestyle possibilities in the developing cities.

The love-hate relationship between Advertising and Built Environment - Sheet5An IKEA ad that effectively communicates its information utilizing the newly built bus stop structure’s surface, bringing better user experience inward.

A well-functioning planned area lets the advertisement coexist with the built environment by creating a contextual user-specific response, together.


Akshaya Muralikumar, an architect of thoughts. Passionate human being looking for the essence in user experiences. Because, perception matters.

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