Signage


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HSBC has a tendency to advertise in or around transit systems—usually airports, but I’ve also seen their ads in the NYC subway. This is advertising as performative demonstration: You say you’re a global bank, but now prove it. And they do, by targeting their advertising to reach self-consciously global consumers, who are, of course, found in transit. In one of their more clever advertising moves, HSBC painted their red line on the outside of airport Jetways. Their ads always show it moving through the world, and the Jetway is a close/appropriate metaphor if you’re trying to breathe physical life into an ephemeral brand.

This is all in the same vein of yesterday’s post: How pools of global capital swirl and concentrate where the return is likely to be greatest, unevenly distributing themselves. These pools are creating an archipelago of global metropoli as they both follow and reinforce a network of global capital. What are the implications for the future (international?) city?

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Spotted at CDG baggage claim: An example of actually knowing thy audience. How the flow of people can create transnational islands; how global capital follows economic realities instead of cultural ideals. (Interestingly, this ad may be targeted at Britons, not Americans. Wouldn’t Britons take the Chunnel?)

Note the small, light green text in the lower-right corner of this ad. France is famously devoted to the preservation of its language; the Académie française has attempted to slow or halt the anglicisation of French (with mixed success; I attended a dinner where native French speakers all chattered eagerly about le weekend). France’s Toubon Law, adopted in 1994, mandates the use of French in almost all official or commercial communication, and requires that advertisements in English provide a French translation (as protection for the consumer, of course). Most ads provide the translation as unobtrusively as possible, typically in a footnote, whether the ad is targeted towards French speakers or not. 

Ads in English that are targeted towards the French seem to use English to align themselves with international or transnational ideas (i.e., this product transcends nation) or to make themselves seem advanced or cool. (This is not to say that these two functions are mutually exclusive—one often includes the other.) Many international firms market in English; Phillips—while a Dutch company—runs ads in the Paris Metro promoting its MP3 players, displaying both its slogan and the tagline in English. Local companies, French or Parisian, tend to market in French.

How do we code empire into language? How does our verbal architecture become a battleground where we may express our ideals and discontents? The problems and opportunities of marketing to a bilingual audience. The value of the novel, the impact of the alien.

And looking, frankly, a little ridiculous.

The ways in which we organize our world; the physical manifestations of mental/metaphorical/social organizational schemes. The balancing act between temporary and permanent.

Never miss a chance to rep your brand: Peeking out of the right column is the logo for the Port of Seattle. (A logo, interestingly enough, that was retired in October. Have they replaced the ribbons between the stanchions? Freshness, and the message sent by being up-to-date.)

This modification of fence sheeting is clever because it (a) anticipates a problem, (b) recognizes human needs, and (c) responds with restraint. It’s so simple as to inspire awe: Of course people might crash into each other, of course they will want to be able to see around the corner to prevent that, and of course only one perspective matters.

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This hack reminds me of forced-perspective parking garage signage. The signage is perfectly readable only when you need to read it, and disappears as soon as you no longer need it. (Axel Peemöller was the artist for the project.) In other words, instead of looking at plan and perspective drawings of our buildings, I think we should consider them in human-scale four-dimensional terms. The space should change as we move through it. This isn’t a new idea—human circulation engineers talk about altering ceiling height or lighting to subtly inform wayfinding decisions—but the level of detail in these two specific cases is incredible. There is a fineness to them, a smoothness, that comes with correctly anticipating human wants or needs. And isn’t that what we want our spaces to do?

Auto-stickers; auto-mythmaking. Establishing a local identity, forcing the built environment to see us.

Does Vashon Island even have an airport?

(Answer: Yes, although the FAA identifier is 2S1, and not VSH, which doesn’t quite have the same punch to it. Smaller airports serving general aviation (i.e. non-commercial flights and small planes) tend to have number-letter-number FAA codes, because there aren’t enough location-based letter codes to go around. How do we code empire into our basic systems and protocol?)

(Also: Pilots planning flights to 2S1 should be aware that there are OCNL LARGE WILD ANIMALS ON ARPT. Oh, rural Washington.)

My campus post office has a bulletin-board wall across from the PO boxes for flyers. The wall has separate spaces for each day of the week (so that you can look at one day-section and see what events are going on that day) and an 8.5×11 grid system (so posters stay [relatively] organized; you can see the white lines above). I was checking my mail and found that a collection of posters had taken over part of the bulletin board, displacing announcements seeking subjects for psych studies and flyers advertising cultural events. Write To Someone, the posters instruct.

 

The installation is made up of individual pre-stamped postcards, four to a perforated sheet, forming the cells of the larger image, which itself represents a postcard. Or write to me, they offer, giving the anonymous artist’s address: PO Box 200131, New Haven CT, 06520.

The bulletin-board take-over is a compelling manifestation of how we annotate physical space, following some of its rules and bending or breaking others in order to use it to our own ends, in order to see ourselves in the walls and spaces around us.

 

There’s a compelling recursive geometry to this collection of posters, that while the large image of a postcard is formed from smaller real postcards, the message remains consistent. And there’s an element of decay: The message is loudest when the postcards are collected en masse, as they are now; the installation will slowly lose its power over the viewer as viewers collectively participate, taking away postcards to write to the artist, and, in so doing, destroying the installation. The postcard will slowly fade out, reabsorbed into the patchwork of flyers.

Implicit rules, implicit restrictions: Take one only if you intend to use it, leave postcards for others to take. The assumptions we make about material interactions; the obligations we feel (or don’t).

The message, too, is interesting: This isn’t a request to write back to the artist, post-secret style, but a command to write to someone, anyone, a reclamation of the power of the written word. (So what does it say that I’m blogging about it?) I took one thinking I would write back to the artist, but as I started thinking about people in my life—people nearby, far away; people I talk with daily, people I’ve lost touch with—I realized that not only are there a lot of people I should write to, but I don’t have to choose between them. The postcard I took is a physical and metaphorical invitation to write—not just to one person, but to many.

Which is to say: Do not seat yourself.

How and why and where and when do we cloak our true requests, and to what end?

Last night, I went out with friends to my first hockey game, at Ingalls Rink no less, an Eero Saarinen creation more popularly known as the Yale Whale. (We won, 3-0, against Brown.) Hockey is an incredible sport—it reminds me a little of arena football (Go VooDoo! And yet—we hardly knew ye) except with fewer players and less control over—well, over anything, basically. “Between the skates and the padding, it’s really entertaining when they fight,” said the girl I was sitting next to. “Because it looks like a bunch of penguins fighting.”

I have had a long-standing fascination with stadia; they’re compelling for the same reason that R. Buckminster Fuller was obsessed with human use of space. Quoth Bucky: “Our beds are empty two-thirds of the time. Our living rooms are empty seven-eighths of the time. Our office buildings are empty one-half of the time. It’s time we gave this some thought.” Stadia stand at this weird juncture between information architecture and Lefebvrian representations of space, waiting, waiting, always waiting. The empty benches after the game, shown above, illustrate this—a stadium is a set of rules given physical form and awaiting use. Stadia are almost just shells, built to support very specific and short-lived spatial products

And what would hockey be without a Zamboni ice-resurfacer? There’s a lot bound up in the idea of hockey ice-resurfacing: a physical refresh to a 15-minute world gone stale. We talk so often about the paths and traces we leave behind that it’s jarring, almost, to be confronted with a machine whose explicit purpose is to erase them. Fresh ice rests on the idea that there can be no history here, that every period is a new period. Jarring, but also liberating.

One of the strangest parts of the game was the aural environment. The laptop on the left is running a program called “Organ”; its job, unsurprisingly, was to synthesize organ music. Skeuomorph as sound effect? At one point, the audio team played the usual stadium stomp-stomp-clap, but the stands of the Whale are poured concrete, and the stomps and claps of the crowd resembled the audio clip in the same way real laughter resembles a laugh track. Authenticity, imitation, disconnect.

(The laptop directly in front of this guy controlled the signboard hanging over the rink. Seeing the man behind the curtain is a way of noticing seams, right?)

We talk in one of my classes, Globalization Space, about the rise of shared protocols—exchange of information and physical goods is so much easier when everyone agrees on common conventions. I saw shared protocols in the noises the crowd made when reacting, the disappointed “oh!”s and the elated applause. This deals less with how the crowd reacted, and more with what it did; less that the crowd knew collectively when to react, and more that it reacted uniformly and consistently. To what extent are crowd reactions a cultural product? How are they reinforced?

The Whale was also sporting a fine example of some DOT pictograms (Telephone, Bathroom, and No Smoking, in case you couldn’t guess; interestingly, the arrows are not drawn from the DOT pictograms). One of my professors is cousins with Jane Davis Doggett, a prolific airport wayfinding designer. We met with her last week and she did not have kind words for pictograms. Pictograms are labels, essentially, and while they may be legible, consistent labels, they are labels nonetheless. Her point was that wayfinding systems should go beyond labels, that wayfinding should be part of the very bones of the architecture, that the building should tell you where to go. To use pictograms is to admit the failings of your architecture. (For what it’s worth, she was talking about airports and not stadia.)

A parting shot: Why do the “exit” signs hug the curve of the Whale’s roof? Is this a literal interpretation of bureaucratic code, or a playful post-renovation choice?

How does our environment alert us to shifts in technology, especially potentially dangerous ones? After such shifts, how are we warned that our expectations of an object’s behavior no longer hold true? More broadly, how do different objects take different forms at different times when different uses are required of them? (I’m reminded of the Concorde’s droop nose.)

Interesting that the graphic is a mash-up of an abstract helvetica man and a representational outline of a bus.

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