Saturday, 18 April 2009

Futura Display

In recent weeks a few other bloggers have mused on the Barbican's labyrinthine sci-fi delights, most notably as part of this psychogeographical picture posting and in Charles's affection for the complex's slippered space age highwalks. I can't really compete with these architectural breakdowns, so I won't try, but an Easter Sunday visit to the area brought to light a few design delights in the form of logos & type, and has set me thinking once more about the way that Brutalist buildings in particular have informed the regeneration of urban art.

My girlfriend and I had initially made the Le Corbusier 'Art of Architecture' exhibition the focal point of the day, and although I was more absorbed by this than possibly any gallery show I've attended in years, it was the surroundings that gave me more food for thought. I loved the incredible Philips Pavilion he collaborated on with the composer and architect Iannis Xenakis (who apparently composed according to geometric formulae - I must explore this guy properly) for the Brussels World's Fair, but the 'Le Corbusier in Britain' room was what I was really into. This showcased his influence on the trends in UK building design between the 1950's and 1970's, and naturally led us back outside.

There's not much more pleasing to the eye of the Helvetica fan than the bold-cut letterforms seen on several of the buildings onsite, including the City of London and Guildhall Music & Drama schools respectively. Their 3D appeal was undiminished on the day by a straight 'Barbican' i-dot's dislodging, a suggestion of motion in the otherwise unyielding brick & concrete stasis. Of late the arts centre has perhaps more aptly employed Futura as a blanket venue font in various weights, and a neat guide to its' use can be found here.

A cyclical swarm of serif 'B's can be found around the centre too, a windmill or swastika depending on your cynicism I guess. Better still however is the gold plate maple leaf-cum-crystal emblem of the adjacent conservatory, appearing seemingly out of nowhere and tucked high into the leaden porridge exterior like an inset diamond. Here I'll concur with Charles: there's something very Blake's 7 about this particular hothouse, appointed as it is with hard geometric decks and balconies over which the discord of the contrasting foliage is allowed to spill and envelop. For some reason it reminds me of the BBC's Adventure Game too - was there a set on the programme that looked like this?

After a pint of Special and a cheese & pickle sandwich at the Bunch of Grapes, London Bridge (the charm of the Young's hostelry lives on), we strolled on to the South Bank, where post-war metropolitan architecture feeds the urban language of graffiti most obviously. I've seen the Krylon-caked 'legal' walls around the underpasses and skate parks here many times, but it's only since developing an interest in the style of the buildings above ground that I've really made the connection between Brutalism and the next level of graf shapes.

The part played by high-rise social housing in the evolution of worldwide hip-hop culture is well documented, yet indirect with regards to the visual aesthetic reflected back in the mirror of graf angles & links. The jagged skyline formed by the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Hayward Gallery and IBM building however is met head-on by the vivid multi-dimensional vistas of spray-can frontiersmen like Daim.

Futura 2000 may have been conspicuous as an artist in his progression from trains to atoms and the street to true abstraction, but when writing is this groundbreaking, graf's interpretation of modernist cityscapes is distended into letters and character shapes seemingly via chaos theory. And crucially, just as the coldness of minimalist design is rejected and embellished upon with colour and complexity, so too are the roots of staid fundamentalist bubble letters truly redeveloped into something more visually representative of the continual interweaving of sonic urban scenes and settings.

A more in-depth study of this relationship can be found here. I'd have loved to have heard how Xenakis would have scored it.