Words and Buildings

There is a tradition of Words and Buildings.

It’s easy to see that in the distant past, where buildings spoke to a population as dynamically as movies speak to us today, words on buildings were simply captions to the real story. And it’s easy to see that in the friezes on classical buildings, or even our own main Post Office* in New York, the messaging on a building carries real weight.

At the Lincoln Memorial the second inaugural and Gettysburg Address are etched into the walls, high in the air forcing you to look almost to heaven to read some of the most remarkable words an American has ever written.

But there is a more pop version of the Words and Buildings meme.

At the Harley-Davidson Museum we embedded the signage in the building rather than apply it to the surface in a gesture to the solidity and weight of the brand.

At the WIN shelter playground in Brooklyn we jumped scale to the point that the word PLAY could be read from space: the Google Earth view shows what most residents can see from the adjacent towers.

But in a triumph of quantity over size, we have just today installed nearly 800 words, a large chunk of the Fry 1,000 Words every child should know. The effect is a room, within the Brooklyn Public Library in Brownsville, made of words. In a renovation designed by Biber Architects, Carin Goldberg has created a version of the Fry Words that is simply gorgeous. And Lonni Tanner, our client and library innovator, not only pushed us to create this monument to words, but has plans to spread the learning throughout the neighborhood.

Today when the words were finally going up, in a library closed for renovation, a student snuck in, for a moment, unnoticed. He was shooed out by the library staff, but the idea that he so wanted to get back to the library, combined with the look of disappointment when he realized it was closed, was true joy and pathos in equal measure.

Soon the library will reopen, completely rethought within the still beautiful Carnegie Library building, and we hope it will seem as information rich today as it must have been when it opened 100 years ago.

*At the James Farley Post Office, zip code 10001, the McKim Mead and White masterpiece behind the fallen Penn Station, the frieze was penned by a draftsman in the architect’s office. “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…” was a placeholder for the eventual inscription, but as happens often things on drawings have a way of sticking.