‘Hot’ Metal type in North Americaby Philip Kelly on 28/05/2012
Travelling back to New York and the Midwest for a few weeks I arrive in my old neighbourhood of Cobble Hill in Brooklyn. After a much needed sleep I get up and wander on Court Street where I walk past celebrated type designer Tobias Frere-Jones sipping his morning coffee as he walked to the subway. This got me thinking about his photo archive and documentation of New York City’s vernacular signage as a source for his typefaces designs –most notably Gotham– along with a general trend for revivalism in contemporary type design. There is a constant cycle whereby designers look to historical forms for inspiration, perhaps this seems more apparent with the explosion of new designs in the Open Type era.
U.S. cities have a wealth of 20th century signage that mirrors their once flourishing economy and the optimism that came with it. With this in mind here’s some alternative ‘hot metal’ type on buildings from my first few days back in the USA.
Firstly, a typical Brooklyn stainless steel and neon restaurant sign still intact on Court Street, just a block from where I saw Mr. F-J with his coffee. A few of these remain but are disappearing as the older Brooklyn businesses close down and are replaced by new retailers, most often with cheap aluminum and plastic 3-D backlit lettering, a poor replacement both materially and aesthetically. The new digitally produced signage won’t last or age as well as this beauty.
Day two in Chicago. On Michigan Avenue outside the 100 story John Hancock Center is an artist’s own revival of a celebrated artwork: Robert Indiana’s iconic Pop type sculpture ‘LOVE’ is retooled as ‘HOPE’ for the Illinois senator who became the first black President of The United States. It’s a solid piece of stainless Clarendon that harks back to the optimism of the late ‘60s and the gains made in the Civil Rights era coming to fruition a generation later.
Two blocks down towards the water from the Indiana I found this is on a historically listed building next to Mies van der Rohe’s celebrated 910 Lake Shore Drive apartments (more on that shortly). The ‘look and feel’ an early 20th century revivalism itself, with the spare palette of the brass non-lining Garamond numerals against the black lacquered wood a lovely balance between ornament and restraint, which leads us next door to…
…910 Lake Shore Drive. This is one of a cluster of Miesian apartment buildings on the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago. They are his first completed high-rise buildings and are still a high water mark of modernist reduction and a sublime expression of his ‘less is more’ dictum. The use of Futura in a metallic mirror treatment with a subtle colour refracting quality is an apt compliment to this German modernist’s architecture. Low key but considered with everything in it’s right place.
More soon from the Midwest…