Welsh Millennium Centre inscription

porky's picture

Today sees the launch of about $170m worth of national art center in Cardiff, the capital of my country. The architecture comprises of locally approporiate materials such as Welsh slate (arranged to mimic south Wales cliff faces) and copper, along with the usual glass and steel so beloved of modernism.

Whats really interesting though is the backlit inscription over the copper entrance. Here is a photo at night:

architectural inscription

(The Welsh part of the inscription is not, as many will assume, a translation of the English. It reads "creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration")

Geek note: Ff is one of the 29 letters of the Welsh alphabet, that comprises of a, b, c, ch, d, dd, e, f, ff, g, ng, h, i, j, l, ll, m, n, o, p, ph, r, rh, s, t, th, u, w and y.

kennmunk's picture

Has this been built yet?

John Hudson's picture

Eek! I'll have to go see it in situ, but from the image this looks to me like a poor pastiche of David Jones' painted inscriptional lettering (about which Nicolette Gray's book is recommended). I'm a huge fan of Jones' work in its many guises (inscriptions, paintings, prints, sculpture, poetry, essays) -- his long poem The Anath

John Hudson's picture

I like the slate and copper on the building, though, and yes it does remind me of the red cliffs I insanely climbed around Penarth as a child.

eomine's picture

> Here is a photo at night:

I second Kenn's question.
It surely doesn't look like a photo.

eomine's picture

There's a webcam link on their website.

porky's picture

Kenn, it has been built and opens today. The image is a press one, and so is primped somewhat!

John, I think it was very brave of them to try this, and using Romano-Celtic lettering on such a monumental and central scale on a building who's focus is the literary tradition of Wales seems fitting and amusing - at least, to me. I'm not sure I see it as aping any more than modern-day typographers "ape" any of those in the past. Whether it is the world's best example typographically speaking is of course debatable - for example, some of the spacing has been compromised in order to maintain structural integrity of the building.

Then again, you know an awful awful lot more about type than I :-)

John Hudson's picture

The issue I have with it is one of scale and appropriateness to the structure of the building, which is massive and, from the pictures I've seen so far, overbearing in a very literal way. These are letterforms that belong at a smaller scale: they are intimate, not monumental. This is why I think it looks like a pastiche (and very much a pastiche of David Jones' quite personal lettering, rather than a new interpretation of his historical inspiration). So to me it looks like something that has been done by someone who doesn't really understand what is in his hands. And this is confirmed by their website, because on this page there is an image that is captioned Romano Celtic Heritage. This is a detail of David Jones' inscription that begins 'Cara Wallia derelicta...' (a poster of which is sitting about two metres to my right as I type this), made in London c.1959. Many of the letterforms on the new building appear to have been copied directly from this inscription. The original, by the way, is in black and green, not the red seen on the website.

You'd think they would at least credit him -- a major Welsh artist --, rather than trying to pass of his unique work as some kind of generic ancient heritage.

porky's picture

I wonder why they coloured it red. Hmmm, I feel like I've been conned!

Are these the colours you have on your poster? They appear a kind of dirty green and black on my screen (image from National Library of Wales website via Google)


kosmo's picture



The issue I have with it is one of scale and appropriateness to the structure of the building, which is massive and, from the pictures I've seen so far, overbearing in a very literal way. These are letterforms that belong at a smaller scale: they are intimate, not monumental

I find the day time photo of the signage very exciting and appropriate. The letter forms give the appearance of being incised or debossed. The whole canopy/roof structure has the feeling of a massive cliff with incised lettering.The signage blends in with the background material therefore the copy can be used in monumental size with out being overbearing.
Hopefully we can get better daytime close up photos of the signage so we can see the details.

The night photo of the signage fails miserably and is only a rendering so I would not put to much faith in the effect it creates. Hopefully they used as much sensitivity for the night time appearance as the daytime.
The use of white copy on a dark background with that line spacing is terrible. Hopefully a real night shot will show the correct effect.



porky's picture

Interesting internal photo, from BBC News:


hrant's picture

I think it's quite striking, even beautiful.
And the fact that the two phrases say different things is amazingly nice.

John is just being pedantic. :-)
Even if one were to agree that these forms are "better" small, you could then say they're magnified, like looking into a microscope to understand something. Like the art inside. Or something.


John Hudson's picture

David, yes, the colours in the National Library of Wales image are about right. The original inscription is in black and olive-green opaque water-colour, underpainted with Chinese white. Jones also worked over the outlines and counters with white paint.

I'm not being pedantic. Basically, I think the use of this lettering on this building is a lie, from the failure to credit Jones to the terrible misunderstanding -- betrayal is not too strong a word -- of his vision. It is a form of historical fa

John Hudson's picture

I wonder why they coloured it red?

Looking again at the enlarged image here, I can see a grid of fine lines through the lettering, and some distortions that suggest this is actually an application of Jones' inscription in tile someplace. I wonder where? So I expect the colouring was done as part of this earlier architectural application, presumably because the red made for a more striking image, or perhaps it matched the carpet...

dan_reynolds's picture

It may be stolen and/or naive simplicism, but I still think that it is lovely.

Compared to other direct and indirect examples of historical borrowing/ bad re-interpretation, this is quite an improvement.

porky's picture

I almost regret the original posting. Almost.

I'm glad that John made his comments on David Jones (who I am ashamed to admit I know virtually nothing about - but feel the need to find out more), Sadly, it has now spoiled the design for me.

Originally the design reminded me of a rather more human scale plaque outside the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in my hometown of Swansea.

John, I was wondering what you think of it? I have got in contact with the gallery today and they tell me it is by Ieuan Rees, a calligrapher and graphic designer in Newport. I thought I would post it here for others to see.

glyyn vivian

(Many many thanks to Peter B for keeping his emails for so long, without whom the photo would have been lost to the ancient god of broken powerbooks)

dan_reynolds's picture

Newport, Rhode Island?

porky's picture

Newport, South Wales :-)

dan_reynolds's picture

OK; just asked as there aer a bunch of calligraphers and stone carvers in Newport, RI

kakaze's picture

Woah, that's just...ugly.

Whoever decided to make that lettering that big and on such a central location should have their head examined.

It just looks tacky.

John Hudson's picture

Thanks for posting the image of the Ieuan Rees piece, David. I've not seen this before (I don't think I've been in Swansea since I was about eight years old). This is a nice piece: the density of the text is similar to Jones' work, but of course the lettering style is quite different and much more regularised: Jones never claimed to be a calligrapher, and considered his inscriptions as paintings not writings. What I particularly like about the Ieuan Rees carving is the white painted lettering, the blue of the slate, and the rise and fall of the lines of text: whitecap waves in Swansea Bay.

hrant's picture

> Jones never claimed to be a calligrapher, and considered his inscriptions as paintings not writings.

But calligraphy is painting, letters.


Syndicate content Syndicate content