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1 21 Phil Baines & Andrew Haslam, Type & typography, Laurence King 2002, pp.7-9.
Lettering - as understood by calligraphers or stone carvers - is not part of most undergraduate graphic design or typography pro-grammes. This and the ability of computers and contemporary production methods to generate type at any size on virtually any substrate tends to blind us to the subtle but impor-tant differences between lettering and type and to the needs of permanent or semi-permanent display in an environmental context as distinct from the needs of print on paper or screen.
A denition of typogra-phy we use in our teaching is that typography is the mechanical notation and arrangement of language. 1 Implicit in this denition is the idea of duplication and automation. In order to work efciently, the de-sign of typefaces has always
been concerned with far more than just the shape of the forms. It must in-clude the in-built spacing requirements for each char-acter (which includes the provision of kerned pairs as appropriate), and must address the production as-pects which today implies some form of rendering engine. (1 & 2) Another particular characteristic of typefaces is that they are commodities licensed to other users. Type designers are therefore designing for a wide range of circum-stances about which they may know little, still less, exercise control.
1. Typefaces, with a few notable ex-
ceptions, are identically duplicated
units with an in-built spacing system
(albeit one capable of renements
and modication), their exibility lies
in their capacity for unlimited use.
2. FF Beowolf by LettError (1990)
challenges notions of typefaces be-
ing identically duplicated units by
including a randomizing factor into
its outline printer data.
3, 4, 5. While typeforms remain constant, lettering allows for a conformity of spirit but variation in detailing. These
glazed platform names are from the 1905-7 Leslie Green stations for the Underground Group. The names on the
exterior of the stations used lettering in a similar vein.
6. The Victorians made frequent use of cast terracotta to
create architectural details and used the same manufac-
turing process to create relief letterforms - here the divid-
ing line between lettering and type is very thin. If the ter-
racotta was glazed as here, the Great Western Railways
Exeter station, the result could be particularly rich.
7.Glazed letter tiles, either at or cast in relief, are often
used to create street names. These from Las Palmas,
Gran Canaria, have a warmth and humanity to them which
more than makes up for the limitations of standard tile
widths and the resultant spacing problems.
8. Stencil on skip. Stencilling is another grey area be-
tween lettering and type: there is a standard form but no
in-built spacing mechanism or rendering engine in mind.
The visual interest results from the form itself and in their
application. The design of French stencil letters has a
grace which transcends mere utility, even when used on
a builders skip.
9. Detail of the St Matthew door by the sculptor Subirachs
at Gaudis Sagrada Familia, Barcelona. The letters here,
some 8,500 of them, began life as standard plaster
casts which were then assembled like metal type and
worked on to create texture and depth before being cast
in bronze (part of this process is illustrated in Eye 37/00,
Phil Baines & Catherine Dixon
modularity & manufacture
If type is regarded as an industrial product capable of widespread use, letter-ing can be regarded as its parent discipline. It encom-passes all the various hand techniques used to render the alphabetic symbols mankind has used for thou-sands of years to identify, to instruct and to present or promote.2 Lettering as a discipline is concerned with both the creation and utilisation of letterforms. The letterforms created demonstrate a capacity for
formal exibility which differs from the exibility inherent in most types: within a single example of lettering, individual let-terforms may be repeated or distinct, and their spa-tial relationships to other characters may vary accord-ing to context. It is this essential awareness of the context and the methods of production of a given piece of lettering which are exploited by the lettering artist.
10. Geometry has long provided a springboard for
type and letterform experiments. Ed Wrights 1968
lettering for the Metropolitan Police New Scotland
Yard building in London shows considerably greater
verve than most. The letters on this three-sided spin-
ning sign are made from polished stainless steel and
sit proud of the background. This simple movement
adds life and (literally) sparkle to an otherwise dull
building. Since this photo was taken (April 1999)
the lettering has been removed from one face and
replaced with a Metropolitan Police crest: not an
11. Looked at individually several of these letters are
not letters at all, but context is everything and, taken
as a whole, Faraday House (Old Gloucester Street,
London WC1) is clearly legible. The letters are carved
in relief, they are part of the building, but four years
ago they were painted grey which greatly lessens the
12. A different approach to geometry is shown
here, Subirachs cast concrete sign at Sants Railway
Station, Barcelona. The word barcelona is con-
structed from circles and vertical bars only, set
against a background of impressions of railway
carriage wheels. These elemental letterforms occur
in several other of his sculptures in the city (see Eye
13. The three previous examples have all used ge-
ometry in a relatively straightforward manner, the
approach here, a boulangerie in the Marais district of
Paris, can only be described as bonkers.
14. This shopfront in Kensal Rise, London was obvi-
ously painted by someone who didnt consider con-
sistency of form important; or plan the whole before
starting, but the result is somehow still masterly, and
must have been more so before the shadow faded.
It was painted by a friend of the tailor.
15.An inventive, if untutored, example of images
used to create letterforms in Wood Green, London
2 See Richard Holliss discussion about the functions of graphic de-sign in Graphic design: a concise history, Thames & Hudson 1994, p.10.
exploration of form
16, 17. Mosaic has been a popular material for decorative purposes since Roman times. While it is possible to use
broken or specially cut pieces in order to create any desired pattern, perhaps it is more interesting when used as
bought. In both of these examples from California, the inexibility of the material creates unexpected letterforms.
The E is at the entrance to a shopping mall. The name, Valencia Town Center, is spaced around a large circle
with no single character square to the grid. Although starting life as characters from a standard typeface, the col-
our, material, and effect of the grid on each letters form makes them far more interesting.
In the shop doorway Olive from Los Angeles, the mosaic is constructed from more unusual hexagonal tiles.
Their shape has made a succession of upright letterforms difcult and this has been fully exploited.
The degree to which this is exploited varies: at one extreme may be a concern for utility while at the other is expression.3 Variations in the relative balance of these essential elements of util-ity and creativity are here explored using examples from two particular aspects of architectural/environ-mental lettering practice: lettering which relies upon a manufacturing process and in which the medium and surface generate the visual interest (3-9), and lettering which is hand-produced and in which both the medium and the letterforms them-selves generate the visual interest (10-15).
3 These two poles are identied and extensively explored within the writings of Nicolete Gray who pioneered the study of the art of lettering: see especially Lettering
on buildings, Architectural Press 1960 and A history of lettering, Phaidon 1986.
18, 19. The quality of letterform alone is no guarantee of success if factors such as scale and colour are not tak-
en into account. On Gloucester House (London EC: Little Britain) ne letters following the Trajan Roman model
are incised into Portland stone and painted blue. They cannot compete however with the monumental bland-
ness of the wall and are barely visible, left and above the bike.
20. Local vernacular traditions of lettering exist in many countries.
In Britain, a form which can be called the English letter was used
from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries before being
ousted by the ofcially sanctioned revival of the Trajan Roman in
the early twentieth century. The middle line of this example (St
Martins Schools, London WC2) shows the form at its best: even
letter widths, strong contrast of thick and thin and muscular serifs.
Perfect. It is as though the lines above and below exist only to show
how good it is.
(For a fuller description of the English letter see James Mosley,
English vernacular in Motif 11, 1963/4, pp.3-55 and Alan Bartram,