Typography in architecture

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Megan Weston's picture
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Typography in architecture
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Hi,

I'm a graphic design university student going into my final year and have chosen to do my dissertation on the use of typography in architecture.

Most of the resources on this topic focus on signage or wayfinding systems, but I would like to look at buildings where typography is much more integral to the overall design; this could be as part of the actual building (such as the wales millennium centre) or separate but in a way that really adds to the overall impact of the design.

I'm struggling to find good examples of this, especially in the UK where I stand a better chance of being able to talk to architects/typographers involved in the project – I'm appealing for suggestions please! I know there are a couple of other posts in this forum related to this and I've already checked the references out. REally helpful but I jsut need more examples really

Any suggestions of buildings that use typogrpahy or related resources would really be appreciated, thanks!

Rainer Zerenko's picture
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A friend of mine is an architect whose studio is called x architekten in Linz, Austria. In 2001 they built a house for a family in Upper Austria where one of the supporting pillars was formed as a giant x. The copy of the architectural database nextroom says: »… this pillar is simoultaneously sort of a signature of the architects …" and the well-known newspaper Der Standard has seen this also in his architectural essays: »… this X can be read as an architectural label and links to the authors of the house …«

See more images and stories at the Nextroom. (german only)

Hope this is what you are looking for.

(Image copyright: Herta Hurnaus)

Satya Rajpurohit's picture
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Rainer Zerenko's picture
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There is another one in my surrounding: The Lentos, muzeum of Modern Art in Linz. It is a clear concrete building with a glass surface. And in this glass there are hundreds and thousands of little signatures »lentoskunstmuseum« seen, which give the glass structure a translucent feeling. At the empty spaces the word LENTOS is formed. At night the glass is highlighted with different coloured lamps, so the building is shining violet, green and red (if I remember the colours correctly)

See more pictures at the website and at google/images with the keyword »lentos«.

Tim Daly's picture
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James Mark Hatley's picture
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This may not count, but Mr. Ando's building in Fort Worth features a large Y column.

http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/texas/ftworth/ando/pavs2.jpg

Now this was not intended as a letter by the architect, but the form is obvious enough that no one protests the use of the letter as descriptor.

Rainer Zerenko's picture
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Have you seen the Steingruber Alphabet? Where »each letter of the alphabet is made into a plan of a palatial building.«

Quite interesting … but don't know if you are looking for these things.

Lorenza Pavesi's picture
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Smart kid. It's a fantastic topic for a dissertation. Please, make sure you don't miss Nicolete Gray. If there's an authority on this issue, that's her.
http://www.typophile.com/node/31044
If you have access to the AR issues mentioned on the thread you'll find great photos. Unfortunately, I only have photocopies.
Good luck! I'm very interested in this topic, I'd love to know how works is proceeding.

Endre Berentzen's picture
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I did this ID for an architectural developer & contractor last year. The x drawn in the ID is composed out of two seperate shapes working as individual architectural elements. This allows the company to embed the brand in the viewers mind without it feeling forced upon you. More images will be uploaded when the project is completed.

kris sowersby's picture
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Yo,

Not quite architecture, but these sculptures by Catherine Griffiths are amazing. And this is a house she wrapped in type!

Forrest Vess's picture
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The House of Terror in Budapest.

http://wwwold.terrorhaza.hu/index3.html

Megan Weston's picture
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wow, thanks everyone! This is all really useful stuff. It brings up some interesting questions that I've been trying to work out myself too e.g. where does the line come between type that is truly integrated with the building and type that is just an addition? At first I thought I'd just assume that if the type is 'part of the building' e.g. carved into it, then it's integrated, but I think it's more complex than that – loads of old buildings have engraved letters that don't really make much impact on the design and then you'll find a building that has type effectively as a sign stuck onto it, such as Fukutake House suggested by satya, but the type is much more integral to the overall design. Any thoughts?

If people are interested here are some of the best examples I've found so far:
OXO tower, Wales Millennium Centre, TVAM building in Camden, Milan Polytechnic College, Graduate House of Toronto University, ESISAR school of engineering in France, South African Constitutional Court. I've also happened across some mentions of Fortunato Depero who seemed to be part of a futurist movement and designed structures/buildings that were entirely type for advertising purposes, but I haven't been able to find much information on him. Does anyone know anything about him?

The Steingruber Alphabet suggestion is really interesting – I'll definitely be looking into this more! As for Nicolete Gray, I agree; she is definitely the main source of writing on this subject. I've found her book Lettering on Buildings, which I think includes most of the articles Iore mentions, as well as Alan Bartram's Lettering in Architecture and Jock Kinneir's Words and Buildings. A few other books are slightly related but those are the best I've found so far. Does anyone know of any more recent books on the subject? The most recent of these is 1980 and using typography and architecture has become a lot more common in the last few years I think?

Sorry for the length of this post!

Nora Gummert-Hauser's picture
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I think that Lawrence Weiner also worked with Type and Architecture. And whats about Jenny Holzer?

Lorenza Pavesi's picture
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Fortunato Depero is a well known Futurist, probably not as much as Marinetti but I'm sure you'll be able to find stuff on him on the internet or in a good library. But I don't understand your question, sorry. Structures that were entirely type for ad purposes? Let me know.

Megan Weston's picture
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Sorry if I wasn't clear. The buildings that I've seen are the Campari pavillion and the book pavillion for the Bestetti, Tuminelli, and Treves publishing houses. I've only seen a drawing of the Campari pavillion (you can see it at the bottom of this page http://www.cityofsound.com/blog/2003/12/index.html), I don't think it was ever built. This is the Treves pavillion: www.rebel.net/~futurist/depero.htm.

As you can see they're made almost entirely out of type and use the letters of the companies as a form of advertisement. Hope that helps!

Lorenza Pavesi's picture
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Right! Great links. I had seen those before but I don't know where. I'll ask around. Are you planning to cover a specific period in your dissertation or is it a general overview?

Megan Weston's picture
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Well, I'd like to concentrate on more recent stuff, say the last 20 years or so, as it would be good to try and see if there's a bit of a trend emerging. But all examples are good and it would be useful to have some more historical references. Cheers.

Tim Ahrens's picture
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The Minnaert Building, University of Utrecht, Neutelings Riedijk Architects
http://eng.archinform.net/projekte/7930.htm

Thisn one is also funny:
http://gutter.curbed.com/archives/2005/08/12/gutter_mailbag_lick_the_alp...

Eivind Nilsen's picture
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You might also consider graffiti? There at least an obvious connection between lettering/ lettershapes and buildings. I know Dutch graffiti artist Delta aka. Boris Tellegen has done a collabo too, where the goal was to merge graffiti and architectural form. Check out Delta's homepage http://www.deltainc.nl/site/index.html and the architecture project: http://masterplan.ooo.nl/introductionE.html and http://www.showroommama.nl/projects/masterplan.cfm

Chris Lozos's picture
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Tim,
Great shot!

ChrisL

Tim Ahrens's picture
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Oops, that photo was actually not my own, if that is what you meant. I was not at home and did not have access to that. The one above is from here: http://www.galinsky.com/buildings/minnaert/minnaert.jpg

However, my own shot looks virtually the same, only with a few more bicycles:

Another shot from the NL trip:

Indicates the flat numbers accessible through that entrance, I believe.

And another one:

Question: What makes this use of Scala special?

Lorenza Pavesi's picture
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What makes this use of Scala special?
Is it because Scala was designed for the Vredenburg Music Center in the Netherlands, which is the building in the photo?
Great photos, Tim!

Tim Ahrens's picture
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Bingo! Well done, lore!

Chris Lozos's picture
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So it is kind of like their version of La Scala in Italy?

ChrisL

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Joe Clark's picture
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OK, Megmog, you want current or recent stuff only, right, not historical? Because if you want that there are old British books you can get via interlibrary loan; see my blog post.

And you want exteriors, not interiors, right? If not, you could look at the Toronto subway, about which I have written a word or two.

Right off the top of my head I can think of buildings in Toronto with let’s call them extruding or protruding metal letters that are clearly intended to be “architectural.” One set of such letters is, of course, in Arial.

If you want a literal building-as-sign as comparison, Google the BMW building by the DVP on Sunlight Park in Toronto.

I could go on. Hit me up directly for more.


Joe Clark
http://joeclark.org/

Megan Weston's picture
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OK, Megmog, you want current or recent stuff only, right, not historical?
Yep that's right, I'll look into the historical stuff as background but I really want to concentrate on more recent developments, see if there are any trends emerging etc. I've got the books you talk about in your blog so found it pretty interesting!

And you want exteriors, not interiors, right?
Again, I might look at a couple of interiors as sort of background, but I am definitely concentrating on exterior. Most of the interior uses of typography in buildings that I've found are just wayfinding systems on a larger scale, which is a whole other topic that an undergraduate dissertation doesn't really have the word count for!

In the pics I found for the BMW building in Toronto it used images but not typography, and I really need to look at typography in architecture. Like with the interiors/exteriors I need to focus otherwise it'll be too big a topic if I start looking at general graphics on buildings too.

Thanks for your help Joe.

Richard Hards's picture
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I'm sure The Wales Millennium Centre has been discussed on typophile.com

Tim Ahrens's picture
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I highly recommend Peter Hall's 'Living skins: Architecture as interface':
http://www.adobe.com/designcenter/thinktank/livingskins/

In his article are some sophisticated thoughts about the role of type in architecture but he does not go into detail about the actual typography. And he is right because his thoughts are independent of the typographic details.

I also thought about writing my dissertation about typography and architecture and found that this is the main problem: Some people treat the architectural role of type while (rightly) ignoring the details. Others, like those who write about lettering, care about the actual letter shapes but not (or only superficially) about the architectural context. At least, I haven't found anything.

If you manage to actually connect both on a sophisticated level that would be ground breaking and very impressive as far as I am concerned.

Megan Weston's picture
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Yes Tim I think you're definitely right, what books and articles I have found are all about the letters themselves and not about the impact the type has on the building, bit frustrating!

Russell McGorman's picture
Joined: 25 May 2006 - 10:01am
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Are you interested in failed attempts as well as successes? There is a building north of Toronto, (between Hwy 7 and Langstaff, visible from the 400) that has a huge and hideous "A". The space under the cross bar is the main entry. The narrow stroke is on the wrong side and it is just clumsy looking. I don't have a photo, If you like I'll snap one next time I drive past it.

R

Megan Weston's picture
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Definitely. I think it would be really interesting to look at both good and bad examples and then try to work out why it is or isn't successful. That would be fabulous if you could take a photo, that's very nice of you!

Another thing that is quite interesting in terms of 'bad examples' is looking at buildings that have changed their use since the type was originally done. There's a department store in Reading that still has 'Heelas', its old name, embedded in the brick. It's an argument against using typography that is more integral to the building perhaps, although in a way it's quite interesting as it shows the building's history...

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Hi megmog,

I have just started my MPhil/PhD by project at the Department of Architecture of the Royal College of Arts and my topic is exactly the same as yours. I call it 'Typotecture: typographic elements applied to architectural design'.

I started carrying out research on it while I was doing my undergraduate studies in Greece (5 years ago). At that period, I tried to define typotecture, record and analyse its history with emphasis to contemporary examples (using many of the ones listed above) and evaluate it. At the RCA, my intention is to develop it further, especially in practice using current digital tools (scripting, 3d modeling, rapid prototyping).

In my opinion, one of the 'good examples' of typotecture - maybe the best - is the Marion Cultural Centre in Australia (last picture), where the boundaries between typography and architecture become blurred. It is one of the few cases where a visitor trying to read the name (semantics) of the building ends up reading the structure of it.

As you have already noticed, the information for this subject is limited and fragmentated, but this should be a reason for you to continue and not be frustrated!

Keep up the research!!!

I'll be in touch!

chrisostomost

Megan Weston's picture
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Hi Chrisostomost,

It's great to find someone else looking at this too! And you're right, the Marion Cultural Centre really is a great example of 'typotecture'. I'm speaking to my dissertation tutor in couple of days so hopefully will have some more to work on after that. It would be great to hear some more from you on this if you have any more examples...

Thanks.

Joe Clark's picture
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I should have remembered this one: The abortion that is the University of Toronto Graduate Students(’) Residence at Harbord & Spadina.

From _Details in Contemporary Architecture_, Caltrans District 7 HQ by Gruen.


Joe Clark
http://joeclark.org/

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The Seattle Public Library does a great job with "supergraphics" but my favorite element is the raised wooden floor. Visitors actually tread around upon inverted raised letterforms as is if they're on a ginat tray of movable type; it's really pretty cool. You'll have to look very closely at the image.

r's picture
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The Sherman Oaks Galleria has a gorgeous forty foot high lower case g] engraved into the side of the building facing the freeway:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/17185596@N00/125474671

At night is it illuminated and looks absolutely stunning. Sorry I couldn't find a better picture to put it in perspective. Has anyone else seen this in LA?

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Im studying at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and I was wondering if you had completed your dissertation yet as i am also researching the relationship between architecture and typography. I would be really interested in reading what you have completed, and in any other links that would be of use in regards to this topic, other than the ones through out the discussion above. I have been reading a book called "Forms of Inquiry- the architecture of critical graphic design' edited by Zak Kyes and Mark Owens which may also be of use to you.

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I am a grad student at California College of the Arts and am just beginning my research on the same subject- I'll post anything new that I find as well!
so exciting!

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I'm studying Architecture at the TU Delft in the Netherlands and currently working on the same subject for my graduation. I'm especially focussing on history and the use of the alphabet in the overall design of the building: I've found a lot on Italian futurism (Depero, Monza Book pavilion) but I am looking for more examples of for instance early functionalism. I will post my final report. I'm also really interested in your results. When you're finished already, can you post your final result? Good luck!

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Exclusive typography in subways/metros: http://mic-ro.com/metro/metrofonts.html

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Andreas Stötzner's picture
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I too did once a diploma on type and architecture. See http://blog.naver.com/pamina7776/50010671643 .

Horacio Herrera-Richmond's picture
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The landscape architects I work for were involved in a project for the Lowther Children's Centre with large scale lettering in timber. The architects were Patel Taylor who, I believe, specified the type. Looks like a nice for the little ones to run around.
http://www.plincke.com/projects/education/primary/lowther-childrens-centre/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/46526683@N03/4271911628/

Reminds me also of the monolithic Arsenal letters at the Emirates Stadium at Ashburton Grove used as a meeting point and creates a sense of welcome.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/toxophilite/540204198/

The Hackney Empire extension is a great one as the block letters seem to float in the air in front of the south elevation as you view from Mare Street.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/albedo/152261787/

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hi this is Jon. I'm a Graphic Design masters student at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I'm doing my thesis on the same topic too. I'm concentrating more on typography. Thanks for sharing these images, and I'll share the interesting things that I find.

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Karin Polder did a very nice job at the Royal Library in the Hague, using the jagged facade of the building to split up the lettering, I'll have to say it looks best when you look at it straight ahead.

http://www.karenpolder.nl/detail.php?id=30

K Cerulean Pease's picture
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Torres de Hercules.

It's striking, but I question the decision to make the motto read only horizontally, with the rows offset at random, so that all you can see on the vertical towers from any vantage point is gibberish. I would have used a one-step pattern like so:

NONPLUSULTRA
ONPLUSULTRAN
NPLUSULTRANO
PLUSULTRANON
LUSULTRANONP
USULTRANONPL
SULTRANONPLU
ULTRANONPLUS
LTRANONPLUSU
TRANONPLUSUL
RANONPLUSULT
ANONPLUSULTR

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It's important to distinguish between type and letters.

**

How about this for a 17th century sans serif?
Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk

Another: Castle Ashby, Northamptonshire

Andreas Stötzner's picture
Joined: 12 Mar 2007 - 10:21am
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It may be worth trying to go a bit deeper into the relationship of lettering and building.
http://www.google.de/images?q=Fachwerk&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:de:offic...
.

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Fantastic, Andreas!

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...the relationship of lettering and building.

Nicolette Grey makes many architectural allusions in Nineteenth Century Ornamented Typefaces, comparing the type design trends in different decades of the 19th century with contemporary trends in architecture. She benchmarks type design against architecture, more so than art, literature or music.
Her book is in fact a history of 19th century english type design in general, not just ornamental types. As a cultural analysis of the plastic values of type style, I know of no better work.