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3.3.2.4 Architecture and Visual Rhetoric

The last type of public communication I discuss involves architecture. Spaces can function as a nonhuman agent that speaks on behalf of organizational actors (Fairhurst and Putnam 2014) to a large number of people. With architecture, the message is transmitted over a long time period. In this section, I discuss architecture as a form of visual rhetoric used to influence perceptions of legitimacy. Visual rhetoric involves the study of visual imagery and is a newer, but flourishing, area within the discipline of rhetoric (Foss 2005; Hill 2009). Rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke encouraged the analysis of symbols in all their forms, including architectural styles. Human experiences that are spatially oriented can only be communicated through visual imagery. Visual rhetoric is defined “as a product individuals create as they use visual symbols for the purpose of communicating” (Foss 2005, p. 143), although it also applies to an analytic perspective. Three elements must be present for a visual image to qualify as visual rhetoric: (a) it must be symbolic and use arbitrary symbols to communicate, (b) it must involve human interaction either in the process of creation or interpretation, and (c) it must be presented for the purpose of communicating with an audience. Audience members, as lay readers of the visual message, bring their own experiences and knowledge to the interpretation process. Meaning is attributed to an image. The function of a visual image is on the action it communicates.

Noting that public buildings exist as visual rhetoric, Berman (1999) introduced the idea of strategic architectural communication as a form of public relations. Architecture involves structural and symbolic elements. Buildings are often designed in light of their potential for communicating values. Their structure and aesthetics are designed to persuade (e.g., the building is sound, the organization is credible, the organization cares about sustainability). Business strategy often employs constructing buildings which function as visual persuasion (Parker and Hildebrandt 1996). Architects link top managements' desire for a building that represents their company's mission, goal, and even its power and strength to the structure they design. There is a conscious rhetorical strategy behind the design, the situation or audience to which it responds, and the ways it seeks to realize its intentions.

LEED-Certified Corporate Offices

Three of my interviews took place in LEED-certified buildings. In each case, my interviewee made sure I realized the building was certified and externally directed company messages (e.g., websites, corporate publications) identified the building as LEED certified. In addition, I visited two communities (i.e., Boardman, WA; Greensburg, KS) which used buildings as a form of strategic communication about sustainable communities to deliver a standardized message to a wide group of stakeholders.

My interview with Steve Denne, the COO of Heifer International®, occurred in

Little Rock in their LEED Platinum-certified office overlooking the Arkansas River and the adjacent Clinton Presidential Library. The first LEED Platinum building in the South Central USA was built on one of the largest brownfield locations in Arkansas, a 20-acre site which had been a railroad switching yard polluted with creosote and diesel fuel. Before construction, 75,000 tons of contaminated soil were removed. The 94,000-square-foot narrow, curving, four-story building was completed for $19 million or $189 per square foot—important for an organization supported by individual donors. Since Heifer teaches sustainability-related values around the world, they wanted to demonstrate their values through the building design. Delving into the organization and its history, the building design team found a guiding metaphor in a statement attributed to Heifer founder Dan West: “In all my travels around the world, the important decisions were made where people sat in a circle, facing each other as equals” (Bond 2007). That sentiment was reflected through a set of concentric circles that create a sense of unity among the site's elements. Rippling outward from their center at a public entrance commons, the circles also illustrate the cycle of giving that Heifer calls “passing on the gift.”

In Lincoln, NE, Assurity Life Insurance began recycling in the early 1990s, has a very active Green Team, and recently constructed a LEED Gold-certified home office in an urban renewal area. Assurity Life employs approximately 420 employees and provides group and individual life insurance, disability income protection, critical-illness policies, and annuity products with approximately 420,000 customer accounts nationwide. Their home office is 175,000 square foot. Like the Heifer International® building, sustainability was stressed during design and construction. It utilizes energyand water-efficient technologies and employs external landscaping to manage storm water runoff and minimize watering. Internally, the building's open office design facilitates communication and innovation. More than 80 % of the workspaces have daylight sufficient for working; 93 % have a view of the landscape. Employee health was considered during the design phase to ensure good indoor air quality and by locating the building near public transport and

the city trail system.

When the building opened in 2012, Tom Henning, Assurity Life Insurance Chairman, President, and CEO, was quoted as saying, “The Assurity Center represents our company's commitment to being a leader in corporate sustainability. Creating a high-performance, environmentally friendly facility supports our corporate goal of ethical behavior.” I interviewed Bill Schmeeckle, their Vice President/ Chief Investment Officer, and asked him what prompted the companyto build a LEED-certified office building. He replied:

We were blessed by having a president and CEO who took sustainability very seriously. And we wanted to. When you go through the process of designing and constructing a building, it is quite a process. At the end of the day we wanted the facility to represent [the company] as forward thinking, forward looking sustainable thinkers. How do we want to look at the end of the day when we move into the building? That drove a lot of the conversation and a lot of the sustainable features that we put in the facility. There are things that you do from a sustainable point not because they are cost efficient but because you feel like they are the right things to do. There are some things that are frankly just too cost-inefficient that you can't do them. It's a little bit of a balancing act whenever you are trying to implement sustainability features in a building.

Later in the interview I asked Bill, “How does your organization define sustainability and has that definition changed over time? Do you have an official definition of sustainability that all employees might be aware of?” He responded:

I don't know that we have an official sustainability mission statement. What I would say is the fact that we achieved that LEED Gold Certification was our president's way of defining sustainability for the company. That is a nationally recognized system and you could look at it and say 'those people are sustainability conscious'. So I think that seeking out that Gold LEED certification was probably the best way we went about defining sustainability.

Foss (2005) writes that three elements must be present for something to qualify as visual rhetoric. In Bill's description, we learn the home office was designed to communicate to external and internal stakeholders. The Heifer International® and Assurity Life Insurance examples reflect the link between values, architecture, and communication. LEED certification is simply an arbitrary set of letters which communicate a quality, as do a building's design elements. The planning and design processes associated with both buildings involved intentional human interaction aimed at shaping interpretations. While both buildings include eco-efficiencies, sit lightly on reclaimed land, and have health benefits, both also act as media for persuasion. The legitimacy of both organizations is increased if their key stakeholders (e.g., employees, donors, clients, collaborating institutions, communities) see them as forward-looking, forward-thinking sustainable organizations.

Architecture and Community Rhetoric

Visual rhetoric in the form of public buildings can be used intentionally to create a sense of community (Freschi 2007). During my trip, I observed three interesting examples of this form of sustainability communication. Two involved single buildings (the SAGE Center and Ecotrust) and the other involved the town of Greenburg, KS. For many, sustainability is about empowering communities to adapt and innovate in the face of environmental pressures. Oakley Brooks, Senior Media Manager of Ecotrust, explained:

There is a fair amount of work going on in both the private sector and in environmental organizations to put place back in the discussion of how people live their lives and how they do business. There are some digital apps coming out [e.g., NextDoor, Placely].. .. So you are talking about every day minutia but you are pinning it to the map to bring out the local stories.. .. It's like creating a relationship so that people on the ground tell the story in this ongoing way, in this self-organized way.. ., It's about trying to bring things back to a very specific geography to understand how the social and economic and ecological systems interact at one place.

That was what I witnessed at the three places I describe next.

The SAGE Center, Broadman, OR Boardman is a small town of about 3,400 located along the Columbia River. It is home to the largest inland river barge terminal in the USA. The Port of Morrow, covering more than 7,000 acres, is the region's economic development leader and promotes:

economic expansion and creation of family wage jobs through maintaining a positive business environment; developing water sources; providing and expanding utility services; expanding regional transportation hub roles and capabilities; and fully developing industrial, commercial, and community development potential while supporting the region's quality of life. (portofmorrow.com/)

The port opened the SAGE (Sustainable Agriculture and Energy) Center in June 2013 to provide visitors a glimpse into the region's history, agriculture, industries, energy production, sustainability practices, and transportation infrastructure. It was designed to be a channel for communicating informative and persuasive messages. Area farms and dairies, food-processing facilities, advanced energy projects, and various operations coming through the port are promoted. Inside, a large sign proclaims “Green Is Good for Business.” Writer Terry Richard (2013) described the center's exhibits as feeling like being in an infomercial. Inside the center, a world map lights up to show where the region's products go. A simulated balloon ride allows visitors to float above the region. Visitors take turns driving a tractor simulator and learn about water-saving irrigation practices. One powerful exhibit shows local youth interviewing employees working at the various plants and farms about their jobs. Wandering through the interactive displays, you learn that the region grows ½ of Oregon's apples and 10 % of the peas grown in the USA, wastewater from the food-processing plants irrigates local farms, and low-carbon and cellulosic ethanol is produced nearby. The SAGE Center is a powerful example of visual rhetoric. It is clearly designed to be persuasive. It communicates to businesses that the port is a legitimate partner for sustainability-related enterprise.

Ecotrust, Portland, OR Ecotrust's office is in the heart of Portland, OR, in the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center, a warehouse built in 1895. In 2001, it became the nation's first LEED Gold Historic Renovation. Visitors can pick up a field guide that encourages them to “Hike the Building!” to learn of its history and about issues related to transportation, bioswales, green building, community, energy, materials, eco-roofs, neighborhood, and FSC wood. In the field guide's community section, you read:

The process of identifying a community of tenants to inhabit the restored building was critical to the seeding of this human ecosystem. The result is that today you'll find within these brick walls a roster of non-profit, for-profit, and public institutions that embody a powerful new vision for a sustainable society.

Oakley Brooks, Senior Media Manager, explained:

Ecotrust thinks of itself, not just as an environmental organization but as a social enterprise or economic development organization/conservation organization. So whenever we do things we think of the social and economic impacts in addition to the environmental impacts. This building was designed to be a hub for local enterprise for environmentally responsible enterprises. We had that economic and social element in mind when it was renovated. We wanted to bring like-minded businesses and organizations here and cross pollinate with ideas and provide a place for those kinds of folks and groups to gather.. .. It is a show piece of how we weave the different social, economic, and environmental bottom lines into what we do.

In the building's lobby, there is a coffee shop for building residents and the public to gather. The interior space of the building is designed to promote community and facilitate communication. Reaching outward, the space around the building was promoted as a gathering spot drawing in people who lived in its proximity as well as those who shared the organization's values. Behind the building, a patio and urban garden provide a space which is periodically opened to the general public as part of Ecotrust's summer concert series. A concert was scheduled for the evening I met Oakley. Best Practice: Provide signage in LEED buildings telling your story; make sure to educate employees regarding its features; train them to be tour guides. This way your building's story can be an inspiration to others.

Greensburg, KS At 9:50 p.m. on May 4, 2007, the Greensburg community of 1,400 people experienced an EF5 tornado which destroyed the town's infrastructure and over 90 % of its homes and buildings. The twister was 1.7 miles wide as it swept through town with 205-mph winds. Having 20-minute warning from the National Weather Service, only 11 people died. Within days of the storm, area residents Daniel Wallach and Catherine Hart, along with Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, began discussing how Greensburg might be rebuilt in a sustainable manner. At a gathering attended by about 500 displaced residents, Major Lonnie McCollum announced that the town would be rebuilt in an environmentally friendly manner. Sustainability was woven through the fabric of a community rebuilt as a living laboratory. Greensburg is a model green community and a town for the future. Visitors can visit 30-government, for-profit, and nonprofit organizations on the GreenTour, and numerous existing and new homes have been built to more sustainable standards. Since the vision was to power Greensburg with 100 % renewable energy, 100 % of the time, the Greensburg Wind Farm was built about three miles out of town. GreenTown was designed as an independent nonprofit business to provide education and support to residents, business owners, and municipal leaders as they sought to build back sustainably. This nonprofit reaches out to other destroyed communities (e.g., Joplin, MO). Greensburg is a symbol of how an entire town can rebuild in an environmentally sustainable way to withstand future tornados which will most certainly tear across the Kansas plains. Such a public statement conveys legitimacy to large-scale projects conceived in other towns seeking to adapt to climate change due to global warming. All who drive through Greenburg are exposed to sustainability-focused messages.

 
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