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Typography in Architecture With articles by El Lissitzky, Max Bill, Jan Tschichold and Virginia Smith

Rhode Island School of Design MFA Graphic Design '12 Typography 3 - Douglas Scott T A: Ben Shaykin Design by Camila Afanador Llach December 2010

Image credits p. 6-7: photo by Maarten Halle. p. 13: photo by Angie Myung. p. 15: Takaloko. p. 16-17, 29, 46: Source: You are Here. Graphics That Direct, Explain & Entertain. From the Society for Environmental Graphic Design. Edited by Leslie Gallery-Dilworth. Written by Gail Diebler Finke. ST Publications, Inc. Cincinnati, Ohio. 1999, p. 22-23, 119, 161. p. 19: photo by johnwilliamsphd. p. 22-23: photo by vellinga.

p. 24: photo by Gordon Plant.,_Cardiff_Bay.jpg p. 26, 32, 41: Signage and Wayfinding Design. A Complete Guide to Creating Environmental Graphic Design Systems. Chris Calori. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2007, Hoboken, New Jersey. C11, C7, C9. p. 38: source: p. 48-49: Source: p. 53: source: p. 55: photo by Eric Gould.


01 02 03

Interpretations on readings 9 The Electro Library 10 Our Book 13 El Lissitzky

On Typography 25 Max Bill Belief and Reality 33 Jan Tschichold

Architecture and Type: A Modern Marriage 51 Virginia Smith

Printshop Veenman, Ede, The Netherlands. Neutelings Riedijk Architecten 1995

El Lissitzky. Interpretations on readings


El Lissitzky. Interpretations on readings

Interpretations on readings: The Book / Topography of typography


The words on the printed sheet are learnt by sight, not by hearing.


Ideas are communicated through conventional words, the idea should be given form through the letters.


Economy of expression – optics instead of phonetics.


The designing of the book-space through the material of the type, according to the laws of typographical mechanics, must correspond to the strains and stresses of the content.


The design of the book-space through the material of the illustrative process blocks, which give reality to the new optics. The supernaturalistic reality of the perfected eye.


The continuous page-sequence – the bioscopic book


The new book demands the new writer. Ink-stand and goose-quill are dead.


The printed sheet transcends space and time. The printed sheet, the infinity of the book, must be transcended. El Lissitzky. Interpretations on readings

El Lissitzky


The Electro Library El Lissitzky from Merz, No. 4, Hanover, July 1923.

YOU see here that the pattern of thought cannot be represented mechanically by making combinations of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet. Language is more than just an acoustic wave motion, and the mere means of thought transference. In the same way typography is more than just an optical wave motion for the same purpose. From the passive, non-articulated lettering pattern one goes over to the active, articulated pattern. The gesture of the living language is taken into account. E.g.: the Hammurabi tablets and modern election literature. YOU have divided up the day into twenty-four hours. There is not another hour for extravagant effusion of feelings. The pattern of speech becomes increasingly concise, the gesture sharply imprinted. It is just the same with typography. E.g.: Prospectuses, advertising brochures, and modern novels.

El Lissitzky. The Electro Library

YOU are accompanies from your first day onwards by printed paper, and your eye is superbly trained to find its way about in this specific field quickly, precisely, and without losing its way. You cast your glances into these forests of paper with the same confidence as the Australian throws his boomerang. E.g.: the page of a large daily paper.


Typographical facts ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZInordertocommu nicateyourthoughtsinwritingyouhaveonlytoformcer taincombinationsfromthesesymbolsandstringth emtogetherinanunbrokenchain. but - NO.

YOU ask for clear patterns for your eyes. Those can only be pieced together from plain elements. The elements of the letters are: the horizontal -the perpendicular | the diagonal / the curve C These are the basic line-directions on the plain surface. Combinations occur in the horizontal and perpendicular directions. These two lines produce the right (unambiguous) angle. It can be placed in alignment with the edges of the surface, then it has a static effect (rest). It can be placed diagonally, then it has a dynamic effect (agitation). These are the axioms of typography. E.g.: this page.

YOU can see how it is that where new areas are opened up to thought- and speech-patterns, there you find new typographical designs originating organically. These are: modern advertising and modern poetry. E.g.: Some pages of American and European magazines and technical periodicals. The international publications of the dada movement. YOU should demand of the writer that he really presents what he writes; his ideas reach you through the eye and not through the ear. Therefore typographical form should do by means of optics what the voice and gesture of the writer does to convey his ideas. E.g.: As you have more faith in your grandparents’ generation, let us consider this small example by Master Francis Rabelais, abstractor of the quintessence: O, i? ... am the great tamer of the Cimbri : : ; . ted through the air, because the dew annoyed him. he appeared, went putting clods in the troughs. ! of fresh butter, which with great tubs; Gargantua, Book 1, Chapter 2.

El Lissitzky. The Electro Library

YOU are already overcoming the prejudice which regards only letterpress-printing (from type) as pure typography. Letterpress belongs to the past. The future belongs to photogravure printing and to all photochemical processes. In this way the former fresco-painting is cut off from the new typography. E.g.: advertisement pillars and poster-walls. YOU have observed that in an organic pattern all the facets exhibit the same structural unity. Modern typography is improving structural unity. E.g.: The paper (art paper), the type (absence of flourishes), the ink (the new spectrum-clear products).


El Lissitzky. The Electro Library 12

Korea Pavillion for Expo Shangai 2010. Designed by Mass Studies. The pavillion is an amalgamation of ‘sign’ and ‘space’: signs become spaces, and simultaneously, spaces become signs. The exterior of the pavillion uses two pixel types. The facade becomes a book, type printed in architecture.

Our Book El Lissitzky* Abridged from Gutenberg-Jahrbuch, Mainz 1926/7.

Every invention in art is a single event in time, has no evolution. With the passage of time different variations of the same theme are composed around the invention, sometimes more sharpened, sometimes more flattened, but seldom is the original power attained. So it goes on till, after being performed over a long period, this work of art becomes so automaticmechanical in its performance that the mind ceases to respond to the exhausted theme; then the time is ripe for a new invention. The so-called ‘technical’ aspect is, however, inseparable from the so-called ‘artistic’ aspect and therefore we do not wish to dismiss close associations lightly, with a few catchwords. In any case, Gutenberg, the inventor of the system of printing from moveable type, printed a few books by this method which stand as the highest achievement in book art. Then there follow a few centuries which produced no fundamental inventions in our field (up to the invention of photography). What we find, more or less, in the art of printing are masterly variations accompanied by technical improvement in the production of instruments. The same thing happened with a second invention in the visual field with photography. The moment we stop riding complacently on our high horse, we have to admit that the first daguerreotypes are not primitive rough-and-ready things, but the highest achievements in the field of the photographic art. It is short-sighted to think that the machine alone, that is to say the supplanting of manual processes by mechanical ones, is fundamental to the changing of the appearance and form of things. In the first place it is the consumer who determines the change by his requirements; I refer to the stratum of society that furnishes the ‘commission’. Today it is not a narrow circle, a thin upper layer, but ‘All’, the masses. The idea which moves the masses today is called materialism, but what precisely characterizes the present time is dematerialization. An example: correspondence grows, the number of letters increases, the amount of paper written on the material used up swells, then the telephone-call relieves the strain. Then comes further growth of the communications network and increase in the volume of communications; then radio eases the burden. The amount of material used is

* Lazar Markovich Lissitzky (18901941), better known as El Lissitzky, was a Russian artist, designer, photographer, typographer, polemicist and architect. He was an important figure of the Russian avant garde, helping develop suprematism with his mentor, Kazimir Malevich, and designing numerous exhibition displays and propaganda works for the former Soviet Union. His work greatly influenced the Bauhaus and constructivist movements, and he experimented with production techniques and stylistic devices that would go on to dominate 20th-century graphic design. Lissitzky's entire career was laced with the belief that the artist could be an agent for change, later summarized with his edict, "das zielbewußte Schaffen" (goaloriented creation). Over the years, he taught in a variety of positions, schools, and artistic media, spreading and exchanging ideas.


decreasing, we are dematerializing, cumbersome masses of material are being supplanted by released energies. That is the sign of our time. What kind of conclusions can we draw from these observations, with reference to our field of activity?

El Lissitzky. Our Book

I put forward the following analogies: Inventions in the field of general Inventions in the field of communication: thought-communication: ›› Upright walk ›› Articulated speech ›› Wheel ›› Writing ›› Animal-drawn vehicle ›› Gutenberg’s letterpress ›› Motor-car ›› ? ›› Aeroplane ›› ?


I submit these analogies in order to demonstrate that as long as the book is of necessity a hand-held object, that is to say not yet supplanted by sound recordings or talking pictures, we must wait from day to day for new fundamental inventions in the field of bookproduction, so that here also we may reach the standard of time. Present indications are that this basic invention can be expected from the neighboring field of collotype. This process involves a machine which transfers the composed type-matter on to a film, and a printing-machine which copies the negative on to sensitive paper. Thus the enormous weight of type and the bucket of ink disappear, and so here again we also have dematerialization. The most important aspect is that the production style for word and illustration is subject to one and the same process - to the collotype, to photography. Up to the present there has been no kind of representation as completely comprehensible to all people as photography. So we are faced with a book-form in which representation is primary and the alphabet secondary. We know two kinds of writing: a symbol for each idea = hieroglyph (in China today) and a symbol for each sound = letter. The progress of the letter in relation to the hieroglyph is relative. The hieroglyph is international: that is to say, if a Russian, a German, or an American impresses the symbols (pictures) of the ideas on his memory, he can read Chinese or Egyptian (silently), without acquiring a knowledge of the language, for language and writing are each a pattern in itself. This is an advantage which the letter-book has lost. So I believe that the next book-form will be plastic-representational. We can say that: 1. The hieroglyph-book is international (at least in its potentiality) 2. The letter-book is national 3. The coming book will be a-national: for in order to understand it, one must at least learn. Today we have two dimensions for the word. As a sound it is a function of time, and as a representation it is a function of space. The coming book must be both. In this way the automatism of the

present-day book will be overcome; for a view of life which has come about automatically is no longer conceivable to our minds and we are left suffocating in a vacuum. The energetic task which art must accomplish is to transmute the emptiness into space, that is into something which our minds can grasp as an organized unity. With changes in the language, in construction and style, the visual aspect of the book changes also. Before the war, European printed matter looked much the same in all countries. In America there was a new optimistic mentality, concerned with the day in hand, focused on immediate impression, and this began to create a new form of printed matter. It was there that they first started to shift the emphasis and make the word be the illustration of the picture, instead of the other way round, as in Europe. Moreover, the highly-developed technique of the process block made a particular contribution; and so photomontage was invented. Post-war Europe, skeptical and bewildered, is cultivating a shrieking, bellowing language; one must hold one’s own and keep up with everything. Words like ‘attraction’ and ‘trick’ are becoming the catchwords of the time. The appearance of the book is characterized by: (1) fragmented type panel, (2) photomontage and typomontage. All these facts are like an aeroplane. Before the war and our revolution it was carrying us along the runway to the take-off point. We are now becoming airborne and our faith for the future is in the aeroplane – that is to say in these facts.

El Lissitzky. Our Book

Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth, Texas. This building by Tadao Ando is made up of five rectangular volumes that have structural Y columns supporting the flat overhanging concrete roof. The Y columns are thin as if done in a light condensed typeface. The structure is a letterform.


El Lissitzky. Our Book

Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre. Emery Vincent Design. The interior of the building use giant-sized signs and supergraphics. Is hard to tell where graphics end and architecture begin. The letterforms outside of a book can have unexpected sizes a compose an architectural space.


The idea of the ‘simultaneous’ book also originated in the prewar era and was realized after a fashion. I refer to a poem by Blaise Cendrars, typographically designed by Sonia DelaunĂĄy-Terk, which is on a folding strip of paper, 1.50 metres in length; so it was an experiment with a new book-form for poetry. The lines of the poem are printed in colours, according to content, so that they go over from one colour to another following the changes in meaning. In England during the war, the Vortex Group published its work BLAST, large and elementary in presentation, set almost exclusively in block letters; today this has become the feature of all modern international printed matter. In Germany, the prospectus for the small Grosz portfolio Neue Jugend, produced in 1917, is an important document of the new typography. With us in Russia the new movement began in 1908, and from its very first day linked painters and poets closely together; practically no book of poetry appeared which had not had the collaboration of a painter. The poems were written and illustrated with the lithographic crayon, or engraved in wood. The poets themselves typeset whole pages. Among those who worked in this way were the poets Khlebnikov, Kruchenykh, Mayakovsky, Asseyev, together with the painters Rozanova, Goncharova, Malevich, Popova, Burlyuk etc. These were not numbered, de luxe copies, they were cheap, unbound, paperbacked books, which we must consider today, in spite of their urbanity, as popular art. During the period of the Revolution a latent energy accumulated in our young generation of artists, which merely awaited the great mandate from the people for it to be released and deployed. It is the great masses, the semi-literate masses, who have become the audience. The Revolution in our country accomplished an enormous educational and propagandistic task. The

El Lissitzky. Our Book

traditional book was torn into separate pages, enlarged a hundredfold, coloured for greater intensity, and brought into the street as a poster. By contrast with the American poster, created for people who will catch a momentary glimpse whilst speeding past their automobiles, ours was meant for people who would stand quite close and read it over and make sense out of it. If today a number of posters were to be reproduced in the size of a manageable book, then arranged according to theme and bound, the result could be the most original book. Because of the need for speed and the great lack of possibilities for printing, the best work was mostly done by hand; it was standardized, concise in its text, and most suited to the simplest mechanical method of duplication. State laws were printed in the same way as folding picture-books, army orders in the the same way as paperbacked brochures. At the end of the Civil War (1920) we were given the opportunity, using primitive mechanical means, of personally realizing our aims in the field of new book-design. In Vitebsk we produced a work entitled Unovis in five copies, using typewriter, lithography, etching and linocuts. I wrote in it; ‘Gutenberg’s Bible was printed with letters only; but the Bible of our time cannot be just presented in letters alone. The book finds its channel to the brain through the eye, not through the ear; in this channel the waves rush through with much greater speed and pressure than in the acoustic channel. One can speak out only through the mouth, but the book’s facilities for expression take many more forms.’ With the start of the reconstruction period about 1922, bookproduction also increases rapidly. Our best artists take up the problem of book design. At the beginning of 1922 we publish, with the poet Ilya Ehrenburg, the periodical Veshch (‘Object’), which is printed in Berlin. Thanks to the high standard of German technology we succeed in realized some of our book ideas. So the picture-book ‘Of Two Squares’ which was completed in our creative period of 1920, is also


El Lissitzky. Our Book 18

printed, and also the Mayakovsky-book, where the book-form itself is given a functional shape in keeping with its specific purpose. In the same period our artists obtain the technical facilities for printing. The State Publishing House and other printing-establishments publish books, which have since been seen and appreciated at several international exhibitions in Europe. Comrades Popova, Rodchenko, Klutsis, Syenkin, Stepanova and Gan devote themselves to the book. Some of them work in the printingworks itself, along with the compositor and the machine (Gan and several others.). The degree of respect for the actual art of printing which is acquired by doing this is shown by the fact that all the names of the compositors and feeders of any particular book are listed in it, on a special page. Thus in the printingworks there comes to be a select number of workers who cultivate a very conscious relationship with their art. Most artists make montages, that is to say, with photographs and the inscriptions belonging to them they piece together whole pages, which are then photographically reproduced for printing. In this way there develops a techniques of simple effectiveness, which appears to be very easy to operate and for that reason can easily develop into dull routine, but which in powerful hands turns out to be the most successful method of achieving visual poetry. At the very beginning we said that the expressive power of every invention in art is an isolated phenomenon and has no evolution. The invention of easel=pictures produced great works of art, but their effectiveness has been lost. The cinema and the illustrated weekly magazine have triumphed. We rejoice at the new media which technology has placed at our disposal. We know that being in close contact with worldwide events and keeping peace with the progress of social development, that with the perpetual sharpening of our optic nerve, with the mastery of plastic material, with construction of the plane and its space, with the force which keeps inventiveness at boiling-point, with all these new assets, we know that finally we shall give a new effectiveness to the book as a work of art. Yet, in this present day and age we still have no new shape for the book as a body; it continues to be a cover with a jacket, and a spine, and pages 1, 2, 3. . . We still have the same thing in the theatre also. Up to now in our country, even the newest theatrical productions have been performed in the picture-frame style of theatre, with the public accommodated in the stalls, in boxes, in the circles, all in front of the curtain. The stage, however, has been cleared of the painted scenery; the painted-in-perspective stage area has become extinct. In the same picture-frame a three-dimensional physical space has been born, for the maximum development of the fourth dimension, living movement. This new-born theatre explodes in the old theatrebuilding. Perhaps the new work in the inside of the book is not yet at the stage of exploding the traditional

invention in art variatio printing moveable ty sumer commissio released energ comprehen word tim typom

Caltrans District 7 Headquearters, Los Angeles. By Morphosis. The super-graphic "100" marks the South Main Street entrance and denotes the building as an urban landmark. The three-dimension typography becomes monumental and inserts type as a key element in architecture.

book-form, but we should have learnt by now to recognize the tendency. Notwithstanding the crises which book-production is suffering, in common with other areas of production is suffering, in common with other areas of production, the book-glacier is growing year by year. The book is becoming the most monumental work of art: no longer is it something caressed only by the delicate hands of a few bibliophiles; on the contrary, it is already being grasped by hundreds of thousands of poor people. This also explains the dominance, in our transition period, of the illustrated weekly magazine. Moreover, in our country a stream of childrens’ picture-books has appeared, to swell the inundation of illustrated periodicals. By reading, our children are already acquiring a new plastic language; they are growing up with a different relationship to the world and to space, to shape and to colour; they will surely also create another book. We, however, are satisfied if in our book the lyric and epic evolution of our times is give shape.

ons original power cease of respond new invention technical artistic gutenberg ype books book art photography art of printing technical improvement conon masses materialism rematerialization communications material supplanted gies analogies book hand held object collotype rematerialization representation nsive hieroglyph letter sound symbols pictures memory language next book form me space changes visual aspect photomontage attraction trick fragmented type montage simultaneous book painters poets collaborations popular art posters

El Lissitzky. Our Book

Is there any resemblance, or any interdependence, among designers of buildings and designers of pages and letterforms?


"Architecture and Type: A Modern Marriage" (page 51)

"American Type Founders issued an elongated, condensed titling face called Empire, named after the building."

El Lissitzky. Our Book



El Lissitzky. Our Book Minnaert Building, Utrecht, The Netherlands. Neutelings Riedijk Architecten. 22

El Lissitzky. Our Book



Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay. Percy Thomas Partnership. The inscription on the front of the dome are two poetic lines by Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis. The lettering is formed by windows in the upstairs bar areas. The words reflect the architecture of the building.


On Typography Max Bill* In Scheizer Graphische Mitteilungen, Number 4, 1946.

It’s worth taking a look once again at the state of typography today. When one does this as an outsider, who occupies himself more with the stylistic characteristics of the epoch than with the ephemeral manifestations of momentary fashion, and if one sees in typography primarily a means of creating cultural documents, then one can impartially deal with the problems which grow out of typographic material, their suppositions and their design. Recently, one of the well-known typographic theorists remarked that the “neue typografie,” which had enjoyed increasing popularity from 1925 until 1933 in Germany, had been primarily used for printed advertising matter and that it was obsolete today; for the design of normal printed matter, such as books and, above all, literary works, it is unsuitable and should be abandoned. This thesis, seemingly supported to the uninitiated by shabby argumentation, has been causing trouble here for several years now and is all too well known. It is the same thesis that is held up against every new artistic development. This either comes from an earlier advocate of the direction now under attack or from a fashionable convert, when they themselves have lost their vigor and belief in the future, and retreat back to the “tried and true.” Fortunately there are always young * Max Bill (22 December 1908 - 9 forces who don’t blindly surrender to such argumentation and who look December 1994) was a Swiss arforward to the future. They search unwaveringly for new possibilities chitect, artist, painter, typeface designer, industrial designer and and furthere develop the principles already gained. graphic designer. Bill was born We witness opposing currents in every area, above all in the arts. in Winterthur. After an apprenWe know painters, who, after an interesting beginning that logically ticeship as a silversmith during arises out of a contemporary view of the world, began to express 1924-1927, Bill took up studies at the Bauhaus in Dessau under many themselves later in reactionary forms. Above all we know this developteachers including Wassily Kandinment in architecture, where instead of following available progressive sky, Paul Klee and Oskar Schlemknowledge and further developing architecture, decorative solutions mer from 1927 to 1929, after which he are sought on the one hand while opening up to each and every removed to Zurich. From 1937 onwards he was a prime mover behind the Alliactionary undertaking on the other hand, the most striking of which anz group of Swiss artists and in 1944, he we know all too well by the name “heimatstil” [vernacular style]. became a professor at the school of arts All these people claim to have taken that which was presin Zurich. ent in 1930 at the onset of a new development and to have


Max Bill. On Typography

Miami Children's Museum. Tom Graboski & Associates. The circle is the shape used throughout the whole signage system. A set of rules about the use of the circle as shape for the design determines the concept of this signage system.


developed it furtehre t oa modern direction valid today. They glance haugtily down upon (in their view), “those left behind,” since for them the questions and problems of progress are settled until a new fashionable manifesto is found. Nothing is easier today than realizing that these people are fooling themselves, just as we repeatedly did in the course of the last few years. They fell victim to clever “propaganda culture” and became proponents of a direction which has conspicuously led to a debacle, above all a political one. They represented themselves as “progressive” and unknowingly became the victims of a spiritual infiltration useful to every reactionary current. Nothing could be worse today than to continue to intellectually support those followers of “progress.” Instead, their right should be taken away to defame those who have also offered resistance in the intellectual-artistic area, further developing their theories and the resulting work, as in typography. It would be idle speculation to discuss the issue, if this was “back-to-theold-typeface-epidemic” were not increasingly spreading. It’s worth pursuing the reason for this development. Few professions are so receptive to simple schematic rules, with which they can work with maximum safety, than that of the typographer. He who produces this “recipe” and understands how to surround it with the appearance of being right, determines the direction which holds sway for a time over typography. One must clearly keep this in mind when viewing the current state of things, above all in Switzerland.

Max Bill. On Typography

Every posited theory that is fixed and unchangeable contains the inherent danger of becoming inflexible and blocking development over time. But it is very unlikely that the so-called “asymmetric” or organically formed text layout would be more quickly obsolete through progress than the mid-axis type, which primarily corresponds to a decorative and non-funcitonal view of things. Fortunately, we have liberated ourselves from the renaissance model and do not want to return to it again; rather, we want to take advantage of this liberation and its potential. The lack of principle in the old model has been conclusively proven – more convincingly than the return to this model. Experience teaches that modern typography was on the right path in 1930. Unfortunately, it is often the typographers themselves who lose their way and not just their theorists. This must be clearly stated. Many typographers would like to be something “better,” in their opinion, than a typographer. They would like to be graphic designers or artists, cerate typefaces, and compose drawings and linoleum cuts. And certainly there is no reason to object a typographer wanting to be an artist. Buto ne can unfortunately see in most cases that he never moves beyond mediocrity when leaving his inherent working basis. For typography itself is, in its purest form, highly suitable for producing artistic work. Typography is the design of the text, in a similar way as modern concrete art is the design of surface rhythms. These text images consist of letters, which form words. The relationships and differences in size among the letters and the various type sizes are precisely determined. In no other commercial art profession does there exist such a mass of precise givens for design as in the typography branch. This precise base material determines the character of typography. If we view this base material more exactingly, then we can observe that it is suited for the development of an exact rhythm that expresses itself in calculable proportions constituting the appearance of the printed articles and presenting the characteristic aspect of graphic art. To achieve consistently satisfying results with this mathematically exacting material that stands in blatant opposition to the arbitrariness of the written word-image and lend it a perfect form, is not always so easy. Yet this remains the goal of every typographic-artist enterprise. For, above all the requirements of language and legibility must be fulfilled before purely aesthetic deliberations can find attention. A text-image will always be most perfect when it harmoniously connects a logical visual path with typographical and aesthetic parameters. Typography that is developed solely out of the given circumstances, meaning it works in an elementary manner with the base constituents of typography, we call “elementary typography.” When this typography is also directed towards designing text such that it


Max Bill. On Typography 28

becomes a living text organism, void of decorative trimmings and torment, then we would like to call it “functional” and “organic typography.” What this then means is that all factors should be equally fulfilled – the technical, economical, functional and aesthetic requirements – and influence the text collectively. The transformation from the “neue typografie” in 1930 to the functional typography of our day can be seen through a variety of factors: the disappearance of thick rules and liens, large dots, oversized page numbers and similar attributes – all characteristic and fashionable ornaments of the past. These attributes later proved themselves useful for a time as fine lines in order to order and accent the typeface. All of these elements are unnecessary and superfluous today when the text itself is correctly organized and when the word groups work together with the right proportions. This is not to say that such ornamentation should in principle be eliminated. It is generally just as necessary as any other form of ornament and by its omission the typographic text gains in simple spatial excitement and quiet self-same clarity. Opponents of functional typography claim that the common text image, the mid-axis text possesses exactly this internal clarity itself and that, above all, in book typography any departure from the norm is reprehensible. They retreated to the “traditional” book and claim that a book must be created within the style of its time. In any case they make use of principles form the past, with the aid of various typeface mixtures and the use of antiquated decoration and ornamental lines (which we call “ornament by the meter” in architecture because it is produced that way). In this way a “new” fashion-oriented typography is being propagated, a kind of typographic “heimatstil” [vernacular style], which is even being used for modern and progressive books produced with contemporary typesetting machinery. We regard such a course as reprehensible. Not only is the argumentation often inapplicable (for example with Plato, Confucius, etc.), where in books must be printed in the style of their day (Schiller and Goethe in the style of the last century, for example); but, it discloses a clear fear of the problems and consequences which arise out of a functional typography. This is a flight into the conventional as an expression of a backwards-oriented historicism. What would one think though about an electrician who declares one day that a petrol lamp is cozier, more comfortable and aromatic than an electric lamp? Certainly we would defend ourselves if someone wanted to turn back technical developments 100 to 200 years in order to lead us back to the lifestyle of an earlier time. Such a mad dash through antiquity would disappear quickly; one would recognize the advantages of the technical potentialities and the

Houston Uptown Streetscape. Communication Arts, Inc. Internally illuminated, stainless disks hover over intersections. Illuminated typography serves as signage for a city environment, A circular structure holds the information of the street names.

resulting logically arising forms as well as their artistic expressiveness. One would arrive at the insight that progress really does come from moving forwards and that one can never call something progress which comes from turning back, such as has been done with partial success in recent years. Several examples are provided here which should show the path by which functional and organic typography can proceed. In each case it was the intention to establish a logical construction with the resulting expression in a harmonious whole, which clearly and distinctly corresponds to the technical and artistic possibilities of our time.

Typography is the design of the text, in a similar way as modern concrete art is the design of surface rhythms. These text images consist of letters, which form words. The relationships and differences in size among the letters and the various type sizes are precisely determined. In no other commercial art profession does there exist such a mass of precise givens for design as in the typography branch. This precise base material determines the character of typography.

Recently, one of the well-known typographic theorists remarked that the “neue typografie,� which had enjoyed increasing popularity from 1925 until 1933 in Germany, had been primarily used for printed advertising matter and that it was obsolete today; for the design of normal printed matter, such as books and, above all, literary works, it is unsuitable and should be abandoned.

Max Bill. On Typography

Max Bill


What I actually said (to quote correctly the words Bill put in my mouth) was: ‘The New Typography has indeed not yet been superseded, but it has proved itself to be suitable only for advertising and jobbing. For the book, and particularly for literature, it is completely unsuitable.’ I still stand by my textbook, Typographische Gestaltung. I would change scarcely a word of it, but in a new edition I would delete the final chapter on book typography.

Max Bill. On Typography

Jan Tschichold


Toledo Museum of Art. Toledo, Ohio. C & G Partners, LLC. This sign system uses the Museum's frame logo to focus attention on landmark historic and contemporary architecture. The


Belief and Reality Jan Tschichold*

The article, ‘on typography’, by the Zurich painter and architect Max Bill in the last number [of Schweizer Graphische Mitteilungen] seems to have been triggered off by my lecture ‘Constants in Typography’, delivered last December to the Zurich members of the Association of Swiss Graphic Designers. In this lecture I criticized the ‘New Typography’ which I helped to disseminate –and therefore myself also– severly. Bill was not among my listeners. The halfunderstood, grossly distorted quotations from my lecture must have come from second or third hand. Without having informed himself at the source, Bill used this misinformation for a fanatical attack on book typography as practiced by myself, Imre Reiner and others. What I actually said (to quote correctly the words Bill put in my mouth) was: ‘The New Typography has indeed not yet been superseded, but it has proved itself to be suitable only for advertising and jobbing. For the book, and particularly for literature, it is completely unsuitable.’ I still stand by my textbook, Typographische Gestaltung (Basle: Benno Schwabe & Co., 1935). I would change scarcely a word of it, but in a new edition I would delete the final chapter on book typography. Since my ‘threadbare’ and ‘reactionary’ arguments may interest the readers of this magazine, I would like to present them here, without fear that they may ‘cause mischief’. I am not, by the way, one of the ‘well-known typographical theorists’, but, to the best of my knowledge, the only on in German-speaking Europe. Imre Reiner would probably protest against such a title for himself; he is a fertile and provocative source of ideas rather than a theorist. But I am not merely a theorist, as Bill in fact is; I can look back on more than twenty years’ experience as a typographical designer. From 19205 I taught lettering at the Academy for Graphic Arts in Leipzig; I also taught typography and lettering for seven years at Basle in 1933 as designer to two large printing firms. From 1919

* Tschichold was the son of a provincial signwriter, and he was trained in calligraphy. This artisan background and calligraphic training set him apart from almost all other noted typographers of the time, since they had inevitably trained in architecture or the fine arts. After Tschichold took up a teaching post in Munich at the behest of Paul Renner, both he and Tschichold were denounced as "cultural Bolshevists". Ten days after the Nazis surged to power in March 1933, Tschichold and his wife were arrested. During the arrest, Soviet posters were found in his flat, casting him under suspicion of collaboration with communists. All copies of Tschichold's books were seized by the Gestapo "for the protection of the German people".[citation needed] After six weeks a policeman somehow found him tickets for Switzerland, and he and his family managed to escape Nazi Germany in August 1933. Apart from short visits to England in 1937-1938 (at the invitation of the Penrose Annual), and 1947-1949 (at the invitation of Ruari McLean, the British typographer, with whom he worked on the design of Penguin Books), he lived the rest of his life in Switzerland.


Jan Tschichold. Belief and Reality 34

until now I have designed not only innumerable pieces of advertising and other printed matter but also hundreds of books of every kind. This extensive practical work and the experience it has brought give my words a different weight from that of the theories of an architect from outside the trade who describes himself capable of ‘tackling without prejudice problems that grow out of the typographic materials, their requirements and their design’, words which, by the way, do not make sense. The younger generation of compositors cannot easily imagine the condition of German (and Swiss) typography around 1923, before the advent of the New Typography. The average display advertisement and printed job used a variety of type-faces inconceivable today and was uninhibited by any rules of order. The New Typography, disseminated mainly by a number of the Typographische Mitteilungen (Leipzig 1925) which I edited and my book of the same name (Berlin aesthetic models in industrial products and, believing the sans serif to be the simplest type-face (wrongly, as it turned out), we declared it to be the modern face. At the same time we, a group of artists, attempted to use asymmetry to oust symmetrical design, which was hardly ever employed in an intelligible manner. Everything symmetrical was unthinkingly assigned to the propaganda methods of political absolutism and declared obsolete. The historical value of these efforts toward a typographical upheaval derives from the removal of dead elements from typography, the acceptance of photography, the modernization of typographical rules and many other new stimuli, without which the appearance of today’s typography in German - speaking countries would not have been possible. The tragedy was that this truly ascetic simplicity soon reached a point where no further development was possible. It was a recruiting camp for newer developments, need at the time, but to which no one wanted to return. The derivation of typographical rules from the principles of painting formerly known as ‘abstract’ or ‘non-objective’ and now called ‘concrete’ (Lissitzky, Mondrian, Moholy-Nagy) resulted in a valuable and temporarily novel typography. But it seems to me no coincidence that this typography was practiced almost exclusively in Germany and found little acceptance in other countries. Because its impatient attitude conforms to the German bent for the absolute, and its military will to regulate and its claim to absolute power reflect those fearful components of the German character which set loose Hitler’s power and the Second World War.

Jan Tschichold. Belief and Reality

I saw this only later, in democratic Switzerland. Since then I have ceased publicizing the New Typography. The creators of the New Typography were, like myself, most vehement enemies of Nazism (only two, Prof. M.B., Essen, and Dr. W.D., Jena, went over to it). At the beginning of the so-called Third Reich my wife and I were taken into ‘protective custody’ for an extended period, i.e. we were thrown into prison and I lost my teaching position in Munich. Since freedom of thought and work for me come before everything else, I left my homeland and moved to Basle. For we considered ourselves pioneers of ‘progress’ and wanted nothing to do with such obviously reactionary things as Hitler planned. When Hitler ‘culture’ called us ‘cultural Bolsheviks’ and called the works of like-minded painters ‘degenerate’, it was using the same obfuscating, falsifying methods here as everywhere else. The Third Reich was second to none in accelerating technical ‘progress’ in its was preparations while hypocritically concealing it behind propaganda for medieval forms of society and expression. And since deception was its basis, it could not bear the genuine modernists who, although political opponents, were nevertheless unwittingly not so far from the delusion of ‘order’ that ruled the Third Reich. The role of leader that fell to me as the only specialist of the group was itself a ‘Führer’ role, signifying, as it did, an intellectual guardianship of ‘followers’ typical of dictator states. The New of functional Typography is well suited for publicizing industrial products (it has the same origin), and it fulfills that purpose now as well as then. Yet its means of expression are limited because it strives solely for puritanical ‘clarity’ and ‘purity’. This changed only circa 1930 when seriffed types were accepted as permissible means of expression. It became clear that only types of the nineteenth century could be used; I finally discovered that the New Typography was actually nothing more than the fulfillment of what the progress-happy nineteenth century had been striving for. And in the type-mixtures of the later New Typography, only the types of nineteenth century could be used. Bodoni was the forerunner of the New Typography insofar as he undertook to purge roman type of all traces of the original written form and - fortunately less radical than some of his recent twentieth-century disciples - to reconstruct it from the simplest possible geometric elements. But there are many typographical problems which cannot be solved on such regimented lines without doing violence to the text. Every experienced typographer knows this. Many jobs, especially books, are far too complicated for the simplifying procedures of the New Typography. And the extremely personal nature of the New Typography presents grave dangers to the coherence of a work when the designer cannot continually check each page and deal with all the minute problems that arise. For it has been shown that the apparently simple rules of functional typography are not common knowledge, because they spring from a special, in effect fanatical,


Jan Tschichold. Belief and Reality 36

Opponents of functional typography claim that the common text image, the mid-axis text possesses exactly this internal clarity itself and that, above all, in book typography any departure from the norm is reprehensible. They retreated to the “traditional” book and claim that a book must be created within the style of its time. In any case they make use of principles form the past, with the aid of various typeface mixtures and the use of antiquated decoration and ornamental lines (which we call “ornament by the meter” in architecture because it is produced that way). Max Bill

Jan Tschichold

Jan Tschichold. Belief and Reality

Bill has designed a small number of books and catalogues. Almost without exception they belong to the fields of the new architecture and the new ‘concrete’ painting. It is absolutely correct to derive the typographic style of such works from the rules of concrete painting, just as it would be correct to follow baroque typography in a book of baroque poems. Both architecture and typography are applied arts. It is gratifying and right that here and there the photographically illustrated book had developed a style of its own, since the photograph forms a new element posing new design problems.


Jan Tschichold. Belief and Reality

Fukutake House, Japan. The facade of the house is formed from type, blending 2D with 3D. The house harmonized typography and architecture with a feeling of space, scale, material, and form.


attitude of conspirators into whose group one must first be ‘initiated’. Traditional typography is quite different: it is far from being unorganic, it can easily be understood by everybody, its finer points are not difficult to appreciate, it presumes no sectarianism and its application in the hands of a beginner does not produce nearly so many blunders as the New Typography in the hands of the uninitiated. Bill’s present-day typography is marked, like my own work between 1924-35, by a naïve worship of so-called technical prog-

Jan Tschichold. Belief and Reality

ress. The designer who works in this manner values the mechanical production of consumer goods -- a characteristic of our times -- to highly. We cannot escape manufacturing and using such goods, but we need not place halos over them, just because they come off the conveyor belt assembled with the latest ‘efficient’ methods. The machine can do everything. It has no law of its own and cannot shape anything by itself. Its products are given form by man, by the designer’s will, even when he believes himself to be ‘obeying its laws’ and that his ‘objective’ and unornamented designs are ‘impersonal’. The work of a one-hundred-percent ‘modern’ designer is far more individualistic than items produced unambitiously, anonymously, unthinkingly which must not prevent us from recognizing a product to be good of its kind and preferring it when it serves its purpose as well as another. But the non-artist does not care in the least if the manufacture of his typewriter or whatever called for a minimum of production time or if the hydraulic press was overloaded. He does not even care if the workers are justly paid, a matter that actually should be of concern to him. He asks only that the typewriter be useable and is happy if it is also cheap. An artist like Bill probably does not realize what a price in blood and tears the use of efficient production methods as cost ‘civilized’ humanity and every single worker. For these new machines give Bill or another designer time to play but not to the worker, who, day in and day out, has to tighten the same screw. Since his job cannot satisfy him, this worker seeks relaxation in sports on Sunday and with his stamp collection or some other hobby in the evenings. How different for, say, a gardener, whose work satisfies him and who probably does not think of ‘relaxing’ at the cinema. Proudly, though here and there quite wrongly, Bill notes in his captions that his examples were machine-set. He forgets that the hand compositor, who must make up and complete the work of the keyboarder, has nowhere near the satisfaction from his work that his grandfather could have found in it. Since he always handles type already set, he cannot finish his day with a feeling of having completed a job by himself. For the worker, mechanization has thus taken a heavy , almost deadly toll of his meaningful work experiences, and it is simply out of place to set it on a pedestal. That mechanization is ‘modern’ does not mean that it is also valuable or even good; more likely it is not good. Bus since we cannot go on without it, we must simply accept it as a condition and not worship it because of its origin! An ugly telephone bothers an aesthetically oriented person like Bill or myself, but we should not then think that a properly designed telephone is a work of art, or a symbol of it. It is only an instrument, like a hammer nothing more. It is only what we can do with it that is of value.


Jan Tschichold. Belief and Reality 40

The telephone has only recently reached its more or less final form. There are many things which have been invented within our lifetime and which carry the stamp of engineered industrial production methods. Their forms, the car’s for instance, have experienced a rapid development and are no doubt a testimony to our time, although by themselves they may well be without value. The most modern products of our ‘culture’ are the ‘V’ weapons and the atom bomb. These are already on the way to determining our way of life and will certainly affect our future. Believers in progress think they must now reform old things in the spirit of the new. Among them are those which can be changed because their technical character has changed, like the lamp. To make an electric lamp that looks like an old-fashioned oil lamp is nonsense. But apart from this, there are things that have long since reached perfection in form: the riding saddle, scissors, the button. The book, too, completed its development long ago. Except for foxed paper, occasional poor presswork and a different orthography, a 150-year-old book is just as ‘practical’ as a new one. Indeed, a book today is seldom so well made. Its format is often less practical and it is composed with less taste and affection. Today’s poets can consider themselves lucky when their works are anywhere near as well printed as those of their eighteenth-century colleagues. The observance of typographic rules which have taken centuries to form is no more being eclectic or history-bound than the use by machine manufacturer of another engineer’s patent. On the other hand, it is typical of immaturity to want to dump old rules overboard. One must not – heaven forbid! – follow the herd; one must abandon outworn conventions, be ‘modern’ and go it alone. Anyone is free to act in this way – but at his own risk. Bill has designed a small number of books and catalogues. Almost without exception they belong to the fields of the new architecture and the new ‘concrete’ painting. It is absolutely correct to derive the typographic style of such works from the rules of concrete painting, just as it would be correct to follow baroque typography in a book of baroque poems. Both architecture and typography are applied arts. It is gratifying and right that here and there the photographically illustrated book had developed a style of its own, since the photograph forms a new element posing new design problems. Magazines, too, can be laid out in this style. The attractive magazine Du, for example, maintains the best tradition of the New Typography without following Bill’s overly strict dogma. I have myself, long before Bill, designed a number of catalogues in the New Typography style which even today I consider suitable, but not exclusively so (cf. the Basle Gewerbemuseum catalogue on type-faces, Die Schrift). All of Bill’s books show great feeling for form and a sure taste; of their kind they are exemplary. But when Bill teaches that this style is suitable for every other sort of book he shows either a lack

of understanding for books whose content is not familiar to him or a dogmatic obstinacy. Other than Bill and a certain Basle sociologist, no one believes that. Novelty and a surprising form are tolerable only in a small group of books; in most others they are disturbing and obtrusive. Obeying good rules of composition and book design in the manner of traditional typography is not ‘putting the clock back’; but an eccentric style of setting is almost always debatable. Thus, the layout of Bill’s article is exciting because unusual, but is not to be take as a model for general imitation. I mention parenthetically that the ragged-right setting Bill uses was first introduced about 1930 by Eric Gill, the great English type designer, and had less point in machine than in hand composition. (For while and hand compositor must take trouble to justify lines evenly, the machine takes care of this automatically and quite well, except for a few faults that only the hand compositor can avoid.) So it is only an apparent simplification and apparently modern in form. Much more dangerous is Bill’s lack of indentations. He marks paragraphs by extra space. Not only does this produce big gaps in the

Crate & Barrel World Headquarters. Northbrook, Illinois. Calori & Vanden-Eynden / Design Consultants. Reinforcing the strong brand identity, this comprehensive signage program features a playful, layered take on the high-end design retailer's famous black and white packaging.


Jan Tschichold. Belief and Reality

“Graphic design repeats in miniature what architecture does monumentally.�


"Architecture and Type: A Modern Marriage" (page 52)


























Utopia is a "digital typeface that portrays the mixture between the modernist architecture of Oscar Niemeyer and informal occupation of the urban space that shapes major Brazilian cities. Designed by Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain

Jan Tschichold. Belief and Reality



Jan Tschichold. Belief and Reality 44

text, but more importantly, it does not guarantee the recognition of new paragraphs, especially at the beginning of a new page (as occurs on page eight of Bill’s article). For more on indenting, see my article in the February (1946) issue of Schweizer Graphische Mitteilungen. To show the Chinese classic in a European language is better set in our traditional typography, I illustrate a page from Chung T’si and next to it the continuation in the New Typography. Exempla docent. That not every title page can be set inthe empty manner of the new or functional Typpography is shown in Hafis, a collection of Persian poems, and the facing illustration. The art of the book demands, after all, tact and imagination. Even the choice of Bodoni for the “functional” Hafis title page may to Bill appear to be a compromise, because he holds the sans serif still to be the best, the ‘up-to-date’ typeface. But reading long pages set in it is genuine torture, as is graphically shown in the unreduced reproduction from a book that actually appeared (Berne 1942). The sans is not a new face, having appeared in the first third of the nineteenth century. It is primarily useful for titles and only short paragraphs of text, since its lack of sufficient articultion and indispensible serifs, togethwr with unvarying stroke weights, make it difficult to read. It is simple only at first glance and corresponds only to the undeveloped perceptions of children learning to spell and to whose unpracticed eye the genuine letterformsof printing types appear as complicated as the handwriting of a twelve-year-old schoolgirl. It is no coincidence that most followers of the functional typography want to know little or nothing of the better sans serif formulations of today’s type designers (Eric Gill’s Sans, W. A. Dwiggins Metro). These show the true calligraphy of the present day and tower above the deplorable level of the common sans serifs (Akzidenz grotesk, Monotype series 215) which Bill likes to use. The best most legible types that are available to us are the classic faces (ie, Bembo, Garamond, Van Dijk, Caslon, Bell, Baskerville, Walbaum) and those new ones that differ but little from them (Perpetua, Lutetia, Romulus and several others). That faces of both kinds are available today is the special achievement of Stanley Morrison during twenty-five years’ activity with a leading English firm. The rebirth of the classic types brought with it a classical revivel the world over that is at least as 
important was the cleaning-up process of the New Typography for Germany. But the technical principle of machine composition has not had the slightest influence on typographical design methods. Machine composition imitates hand composition, the nearer the better; if it had other optical aims, such as mere technical expediency, it would come close to the unusable, optically inadequate compromise of a typewriter type. Machine composition is neither cheaper (Switzerland 1946) nor better than hand composition except for the newly cast printing surface it produces: it is less flexible and not at all

Jan Tschichold. Belief and Reality

easier to handle than hand composition. Though it is more efficient t is in no way able to change the material appearance of typography by means of some ‘mechanical’ law of 
its own. Bill is not himself able to recognize machine composition; not everything he claims ought to be, or could be, set by machine is in fact so. For the good keyboarder, like the hand compositor, strives for optical perfection, a perfection which was reached as early as the sixteenth century and has not been bettered since. Further, the limitations of certain typesetting-machine systems have produced bothersome letterforms that disturb the educated eye, while types for hand composition allow, thanks to their unlimited number of set widths, the ultimate in optical finesse. That is far more than Bill, a laymen, realizes. Unlike the book, promotional printing has developed in our time, a true child of the uindustrial age. Since advertising requires novelty and surprise, the New Typography with its new forms enjoyed favor for a time – as long as it was still ‘new’. But when its ascetic character was well known enough, the search for other new forms began, some of which naturally tended to the other extreme forms of typography. This can have a certain refreshing effect, like a flower in rocky terrain. It would be wrong to see ornamenatl typography, incidentally only occasionally suitable, as the modern form: bothe are modern if one refrains from investing in the word ‘modern’ with value judgements. It does not signify ‘novel’ or ‘new’ but rather that something was produced today, not twenty or a hundred years ago, and thet things–good or bad–are now manufactured that way. Since nothing new remains new forever, the appearance of typography will continue to change, perhaps to the point where today’s competitive economic system will have to give way to one based merely on what is needed. he who does away with surprise the goal that puritanical, functional typography aims for, will learn a lesson when he has to fulfill the sometimes unreasonable wishes of his customers. It is a signifigant deficiency of the New or functional Typography that it is not suitable for work which must reflect the character of an institution. It is forced to extreme solutions which are often far from ‘practical’ (eg, use of several colours, superfluous halftones, expensive paper, etc).The enduring contributions of the New Typography are tight typesetting and better composition, better typefaces, andthe dissemination of useful rules, which Bill disapprovingly calls “recipes.” If one troubles to sift them away from my writings, these rules emerge: ›› Fewest possible typefaces ›› Fewest possible type sizes ›› No letterspacing of lowercase (still seen in German-speaking countries today, most often in provincial newspapers) ›› Emphasis by using bold or italic of the same face


XIX Amendment Installation in Grand Central. Drenttel Doyle Partners. This installation covered the floor of the station's main waiting room. The 8-ft. vinyl letters created a large impact on a small budget. The floor became the paper, the space as a blank sheet of paper.


›› ››

Capitals only as an exception, then always carefully letterspaced Formation of groups, not more than three Bill himself does not realize how faithfully he follows these ‘recipes’ of mine: I could cite nearly all his typographical works as examples of their correct use. It is obvious that not everyone who obeys reasonable rules of typography can be a good designer. There will always be bad imitators. I can no more be held responsible for my imitators than I hold Bill responsible for his. I am no friend of a parochial ‘old worlde’ style; the traditional typography that I defend here is not that, though something similar likely still exists. Even in Germany we called the efforts of Rudolf Koch and his followers the “national widlife sanctuary.” Ending with Marathon (Koch Klingspor 1931), the ‘sanctuary’ harboured PostAntiqua and Post-Fraktur and, three degrees below it, the bastard gothic types of the Third Reich (Tannenberg, Deutschland, National). I cannot stand these types. They spring from a reversal of the quasireligious belief in progress, such as Bill stands for, a sentimental flight into and irretrieval past. (These types are, by the way, also ‘modern’.) If the newly revived traditional typography were the outcome of Nazi propaganda, such as Bill dares to claim, the typography of the whole world, Russia included, would have been influenced by it decades ago. I practise and preach a typography which , good or bad, is used everywhere. for i believe it is a waste of time to set on a pedestal one stage of typographical renovation process, such as German typography was going through around 1930. Bill hints that he has been defamed. Nothing could be farther from my intention. I cannot believe that in my own lecture I mentioned Bill’s name or work, which, as I explained above, I accept unreservedly. What bothers me most is that he seems to deny me the right to work in the way I find best. As an artist he must know that a creative person can only work in the way he believes right. He who calls for the suppression of freedon of thought and artistic expression carries on the gloomy busines of those whom we thought were defeated. He commits the worst crime, for he buries our highest worth, the sign of man’s worth–freedom. Which perhaps a man must first lose, as I did, before he discovers its true value.

Fewest possible typefaces / Fewest possible type sizes / No letterspacing of lowercase (still seen in German-speaking countries today, most often in provincial newspapers) / Emphasis by using bold or italic of the same face / Capitals only as an exception, then always 47 carefully letterspaced / Formation of groups, not more than three

Jan Tschichold. Belief and Reality

Lentos Museum of Modern Art. Linz, Austria. Weber & Hofer Architects.




Jan Tschichold. Belief and Reality

Architecture and Type: A Modern Marriage Virginia Smith*

For a graphic designer who accepted the Modernist principle of the unity of the arts –that graphic design and typography share the same theoretical base as architecture, that they arise from the same mindset and occupy the same visual landscape– the new architecture of lower Manhattan stumps me. At Ground Zero, the 7 World Trade Center corporate Tower #1 by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) has nearly topped out and has secured its first tenant; Tower #2, just announced, will be by British architect Norman Foster, designer of the controversial Swiss Re London tower shaped like a steel pickle, and Santiago Calatrava's soaring white glass bird for the WTC Transportation Hub, is set to fly by 2009. What is comparable to all this development in graphic design and typography? Is there a unity of the arts in the post-Post-Modern era? Early Modern theorists stressed the oneness of style: Le Corbusier said in 1923, “Style is a unity of principles animating all the work of an epoch, the result of a state of mind that has its own special character. Our own epoch is determining, day by day, its own style." Gropius went further in recognizing, "the common citizenship of all forms of creative work and their logical interdependence on one another in the modern world." Alvin Lustig, whose early death deprived Yale of a serious design theorist, hoped for "the kind of relationship that existed in earlier periods between objects—the great symbolic spark that jumped between a candle stick, a Gothic cathedral, or a tapestry." So, today, where is that spark? Is there any resemblance, or any "interdependence," among designers of buildings and designers of pages and letterforms? In his 1928 manifesto of the modern spirit in typography, The New Typography, Jan Tsch* Virginia Smith's book, Forms in Modichold named Adolf Loos, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier as arernism: A Visual Set (Watson-Guptill) chitects expressing the spirit of modernism. In this interesting work, places typography in the theoretical he advised German printers to achieve the modern spirit by rejecting context of other design of the Modern “old style” faces and using the nondescript sans serifs in the type period, especially architecture, with examples from couture and furnishcase, such as Venus. But the modern impulse stirred in designers, ings. She is a Professor Emerita of and new sans serifs appeared. The types of Jakob Erbar (Erbar type Baruch College of CUNY and a practi1926), especially Paul Renner (Futura type 1927) and Rudolf Koch tioner and observer of graphic design (Kabel type 1927) became widely popular from their first appearance. and design history.


Virginia Smith. Architecture and Type: A Modern Marriage 52

Graphic design repeats in miniature what architecture does monumentally. In my new book, Forms in Modernism; A Visual Set. The Unity of Typography, Architecture and the Design Arts, I pair similar approaches in the treatment of form by architects and designers. Early in the 20th century, the “stripped” Looshaus building in Vienna and the “stripped” sans serifs revealed a turn from ornament to “abbreviated” or “abstracted” bases –the bones of the letter. Further, Tschichold claimed asymmetry as the logical order of text resulting from its hierarchy and function. In posters and book design, sans serif type, photography, rules and bars replaced fleurons and ornaments, illustrations, borders and centered type. Bold and big, using all the page and its white space, this practice of asymmetrical composition became a key principle in modern graphic design, proselytized by the Bauhaus as well. In my book, I show that fashion and furniture move in the same spirit of a period on the personal scale. Such design is part of the visual landscape, or “visual set” of the early modern period. Madeleine Vionnet and Mies van der Rohe both rejected axial symmetry and centrality. Mies exhibited his now iconic Barcelona pavilion in 1929, the same year Vionnet showed her wedding dress. It revealed its construction in the metallic cord seams following the fabric around the body to gather in an asymmetric focus on the left hip. Vionnet didn't study Mies; she sent her assistants to the Louvre to draw Greek drapery. There's no causal connection, influence or even awareness of each other's work. (Even to fantasize about a meeting between them is alarming. One can only speculate that they might both have served the same rich clients.) But by 1929, both had discarded tradition in favor of a new spirit. And both used luxurious materials –Mies, marble and onyx; Vionnet, ivory silk panne velvet– allowing the intrinsic elegance of materials, their refinement and proportions, to work. In American modernism, typography also followed architecture. The Empire State Building had been constructed in record time at the beginning of the 1930s. American Type Founders issued an elongated, condensed titling face called Empire, named after the building. Huxley Vertical type and Slimline type also appeared in the ’30s. Both elongated letterforms to the maximum, condensing them to narrow, anorexic stems –skyscraper types. The period exaggerated thinness and tallness, and models and stars showed how it looked on the human figure. Tall buildings evolved and became New York's corporate style architecture: Helvetica type emerged as its counterpart in the 1950s. Skidmore, Owings and Merrill has designed much of the New York landscape since its iconic Lever House of 1951 –Chase Manhattan Plaza, the green Citicorp building in Queens, Union Carbide headquarters, hospitals, many educational renovations and additions. There is also 101 Barclay Street (1983), a white building immediately to the north of 7 World Trade Center. It is identified by modest brass titling over the main entrance. Together,

Madeleine Vionnet. Wedding dress.

"The period exaggerated thinness and tallness, and models and stars showed how it looked on the human figure."

Virginia Smith. Architecture and Type: A Modern Marriage

Mies Van der Rohe. Barcelona Pavillion.


Virginia Smith. Architecture and Type: A Modern Marriage 54

the two SOM buildings, 7 World Trade Center and 101 Barclay Street, occupy a massive stretch of glass. To their south will be Tower 2 by Foster and the WTC Hub of Calatrava. What will be their graphic counterparts? We can recognize that new concerns have replaced striving for purity of form. Foster's London tower takes its shape from environmental goals: admitting natural light and fresh air, conserving energy. Its tapering form minimizes gusts of wind, often problematic around city skyscrapers (the original WTC plaza was non-navigable, if you remember). The aerodynamic form permits staggered light wells to open vistas between floors, as well as move fresh air upward and warm air outward. Social concerns like housing, so central to early modern thinking, have become people concerns again, but more empathetically. Santiago Calatrava says of the wing like forms of his World Transportation Hub: "The building is built with steel, glass, and light. They will all be equal building materials –the light will arrive at the platform, and visitors will feel like they are arriving in a great place, a welcoming place." He showed he could do this in the 2004 Athens Olympic Stadium Complex. In contrast, Le Corbusier planned to screen tenants to admit those worthy of living in his Marseille apartment building. The union of type and architecture does exist. Recently, the Cal Trans building in Los Angeles, designed by Thom Mayne, incorporated the building's address in a stunning projection of huge architectural numbers from the facade. (see page 19) Thom Mayne's firm, Morphosis, won commissions to design the Cooper Union addition on Third Avenue as well as the Olympic Village in Queens. “Social concerns like housing, so central to early modern thinking, have become people concerns again, but more empathetically.” The tallest building in the world is being built in the Kingdom of Dubai. New museums, commercial and government buildings and condominiums come from Gehry, Gwathmey, Nouvel, Zaha Hadid, and celebrated architects worldwide. It's hard to eep track. With type, new faces and new versions of old faces are available from many sources: Adobe, Emigre, Linotype, Monotype, Hoefler, Manfred, Markus, Tobias or Phil. Globalization leaves the neat concept of unity of style in shambles. Or perhaps it has been transformed into something more complex, more profound than we now can see. We can't identify it because it is too close. Can someone see the common spark?

City Hall, Providence. Projection by Jenny Holzer. October 7, 8 & 10, 2006.



Typefaces: Akkurat Pro and Light Pro, and Mrs Eaves XL Serif Nar OT Printed in Providence, RI. 2010

Type in Arch  

This book includes articles by El Lissitzky, Jan Tschichold, Max Bill and Virginia Smith and is illustrated with images of typography and ar...

Type in Arch  

This book includes articles by El Lissitzky, Jan Tschichold, Max Bill and Virginia Smith and is illustrated with images of typography and ar...