Willi Kunz
Architectural Typography

In 1984, the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in New York commissioned me to start designing an extensive series of posters. Their primary purpose has been to promote study programs in architecture, planning and historic preservation and to announce exhibitions and lectures on architecture. In addition they are also intended to project the special spirit of the school, one of the most prestigious in the United States. With fifteen posters now completed, work on the project continues.

The particular challenge inherent in the designing of this series arises from the fact that the posters must communicate with an audience consisting mostly of architects who are highly sensitive to the problems of structuring space. Because of their training in three dimensions, however, they tend to have a minimalist attitude towards graphic design that is essentially two-dimensional.

To provide the macroaesthetic structure that would appeal to this audience, the design concepts are based upon architectural metaphors. Through the translation of architectural elements into typography the posters present a visual summary of the quality and spirit of the events they announce. The interaction of solids, (in this case the typographic information), and voids is a primary consideration in their design; the typographic information establishes the basic structure and creates the voids that are integral to communicating the architectural message.

The microaesthetics are built upon the syntactical qualities of the Univers series and typographic line elements. With its intrinsic precision and subtle nuances this visual material offers an almost unlimited range of possibilities for expressing architectural themes. The consistent use of what is in essence one typeface in all its sizes and weights, combined with a relatively defined graphic vocabulary, enforces continuity within the series. (It should be added that a the outset economic and production requirements influenced the decision to impose on the series the conformity of two-color printing and the formats of either 12×24 inches or 18×24 inches.)
The syntactical dimension of typography still presents graphic designers with limitless potential for exploration and the development of exciting visual results. But the first step is to realize that the essential qualities and strength of typographic design lie primarily in its structure and not in any particular typeface. In fact the typeface should be as unobtrusive as possible. Good typographic design is always a critical interpretation of a given message and the consideration of form and structure an integral part of the process.

One of the most negative tendencies in typographic design today is its reduction to mere decoration. Trends devoid of substance increasingly replace concepts that serve a purpose. Against this background of deteriorating standards only design that has a clear structure and that makes use of all the syntactical possibilities of typography can be truly effective.

By applying existing principles to new tasks, the designer must strive to produce work that not only serves the client but that also transcends the ordinary and acts as an inspiration for the future. It is my hope that these posters for Columbia University will do just that.

Octavo 87.3