Wednesday, September 02, 2009

New Trends in Signage

A couple new higher-education projects in Manhattan exhibit shifts in the design of building entry signage away from traditional orientation and legibility. The trend seems to be towards creativity as an extension of the architecture the signage fronts.

The first is the New Academic Building at Cooper Union by Morphosis, with signage by Pentagram. They describe it as "optically extruded lettering that appears 'correct' when seen in strict elevation, but distorts as the profile of the letter is dragged backwards in space."


The above shows not only how the letters start to distort when seen only slightly off the "strict elevation," but also how this effect is created by composing the letters of solid and void, with the latter decreasing from left to right. It's as if "THE COOPER UNION" is horizontal and the canopy slopes, cutting through the characters.


The second project is the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center of Parsons The New School for Design by Lyn Rice Architects. Here the architecture is mostly interior, a renovation at the street level spaces of four buildings anchored at Fifth Avenue and 13th Street. On each frontage a sign doubling as canopy marks an entry to the Design Center.


What the canopy is actually "saying" isn't really clear until one looks at it from the right perspective, like The Cooper Union but achieved in a much different manner. At The New School the red banners on the side of the building effectively convey to passers-by what is inside the building, so the canopy becomes a design gesture; it lacks the functionality (shelter from the elements) from the gaps between the letters. The sign is just one element in the Design Center's embrace of typography as a design element at the scale of architecture. Inside, donor names are creatively set into wall surfaces and the school's name is spelled out in perforations as an auditorium backdrop.


These two projects of New York academia illustrate how architecture and graphic design can overlap, how letters and words convey semantic/syntactical meaning but also how they can be used simultaneously to express the institutions they front. After all these are both design schools.