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Typeface Review

Brooklyn

Reviewed by Robb Ogle on March 11, 2014

Brooklyn (the typeface) is a noteworthy story of compromise, bulldozers, and the custom type it was dressed in. Tension exists between its commissioned appropriateness and retail legacy.

Imagine the shifting creative briefs concerning aesthetic and civic “right” sent during this 42-billion-dollar project. Type designer Chester Jenkins worked with Pentagram to give graphic voice to three consecutive architectural firms’ visions of a contested plan: to build Atlantic Yards’ stadium along with residential and office towers on 22 acres of land and transform a transit hub at the intersection of three neighborhoods. With so many interpretations defining one opinionated population’s sense of “live, work, and play”, odds for a striking type design to emerge were low. Jenkins and Constellation (and Village) are to be commended.

2007: Jenkins’s initial design was inspired by Frank Gehry Architects’ preliminary model, hyped in 2003 by former New York Times critic Herbert Muschamp as “the urban equivalent of the fanciest flower arrange­ment a city could give to itself.” Octagonal type pulled jagged beauty and function from gargantuan steel petals, using (as Village puts it) “horizontal, vertical, and 45-degree diagonal lines, with just a few other ‘support’ angles woven throughout.” The latter details make the design superior to another prominent civic/athletic faceted display type drawn around the same time. Alias’s design for Wolff Olins’s 2012 Olympics identity looks crude, breakable, ephemeral by comparison. Brooklyn (the typeface) has thought­ful engineering. Typically curved terminals stay horizontal in a mechanistic touch that opens up interior shapes and avoids overwhelming octagonal repetition. Paired with slight obliques, it is built for loadbearing and fits the identity of an urban develop­ment commission and legibility demands for signage use.

2012: Gehry’s out. SHoP Architects are in. Brooklyn (the typeface) changes voice when set on different buildings. It’s disinterested in the rusty-amoeba-curved Barclay’s Center wayfinding. It’s brash when overriding fashion retail and neutral transit branding with Brooklyn attitude. The type becomes exclamation when attached to the quieter 32-story prefab resi­dent­ial B2 tower currently under construction.

2013: Retail release. The style fits the site and the time, but will it fit Brooklyn (the borough) moving forward? Let’s hope that Brooklyn (the typeface) does not turn into ITC Manhattan, which forever locked the island to its brief Deco heyday.

Robb Ogle, Art Director of ARCHITECT Magazine, is an ardent typographer who examines wonky lettering.

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Typographica is a review of typefaces and type books, with occasional commentary on fonts and typographic design. Edited by Stephen Coles and designed by Chris Hamamoto. Founded in 2002 by Joshua Lurie-Terrell. Relaunched in 2009 by Coles and Hamamoto.

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