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The Typotectural Suites

Source collection The Typotectural Suites


Antonio Basoli (1774–1848) was an Italian painter, interior designer, scenic designer and engraver, worked as a set designer and decorator for theaters around Bologna and decorated various palazzo’s. In 1839, Basoli published “Alfabeto Pittorico, ossia raccolta di pensieri pittorici composti di oggetti comincianti dalle singole lettere alfabetiche” (Pictorial Alphabet, a collection of pictorial thoughts composed of objects beginning with the individual letters of the alphabet), an album of twenty-five lithographs, in which every letter looks like a scene from another play.

Alfabeto Pittorico 2

Antonio Basoli’s Alfabeto Pittorico is a series of architectural-alphabetical engravings from 1839 — twenty-four letters and an ampersand. Basoli, a painter and designer from Bologna, created sets and curtains for the theater, and this alphabet has a lot of stagecraft to it. S is carved into a treacherous cliff, at the foot of which is a grave with a mourner.

Alphabet Picturesque

Each plate in the series Alphabet picturesque, (1843) by Jean Baptiste de Pian has a large letter of the alphabet fully incorporated as part of the internal decoration or architectural structure of various buildings, set in realistic landscapes. The buildings range from traditional European domestic architecture to exotic Babylonian and Egyptian temples, Moorish mosques, Indian porticoes adorned with stone elephants, and a Chinese palace. The letters also correspond with architectural elements in the scenes. In one illustration, the letter F forms the shape of a kitchen hearth, which is “Feuerstätte” in German.

Le Premier livre des petits enfants

Le Premier livre des petits enfants, a complete illustrated alphabet by Theophile Schuler. Jules Théophile Schuler (1821 – 1878) was a French painter and illustrator in the Romantic style, notably known for his illustrations of several works by Jules Verne, Victor Hugo and Erckmann-Chatrian. The Schuler alphabet invites you to see the letters in the images of the daily life of a typical rural environment: the winepress, the country guard, the schlitte, the laundry, the goat-keepers, the horseshoes and the grinders.

Anno's Alphabet

Anno’s Alphabet by Mitsumasa Anno is a unique ABC book and a visual treat full of interesting details with trompe l’oeil paintings and visual puns. Since the 1960s, Anno has illustrated hundreds of books. Inspired by the traditions of Europe and Japan, his varied works are characterized by a sense of curiosity, warmth and playful sense
of humour.


French poet Arthur Rimbaud’s search for a universal language is a defining feature of his work and is particularly manifest in “Voyelles” (1884; translated as “Vowel Sonnet,”). The very idea of coloring the vowels, of composing a poem from their subjective associations, speaks volumes for Rimbaud’s involvement with the minutiae of language and for his desire to challenge and reconstruct accepted idioms. When the sonnet was published in
‘Les Hommes d’ajourd’hui’ Manuel Luque made an amusing caricature of
Rimbaud painting the vowels.


Letterel lives with Letterpoes (Lettercat) in a letter house. He loves letters. Cuts letters, looks at letters and dreams letters. And he writes letters! He conjures up a beautiful colorful world where the imagination has no limits. In the picture book ‘Lettersoep’ by Harriet van Reek, the characters consist of letter forms: Letterel is a tall, thin man with shoe-noses pointing upwards as the lower curl of the l. He lives with a cat who has j’s as legs and v’s as ears. They live in a world full of letters.

No Stop City

The plans for Archizoom ’s 1969 No-Stop City were typed out on a typewriter. The plan emerged from limitations of typesetting: leading, tabs, indentation, and spacing. Appropriately enough, the project conceived as architectureless architecture is represented with a planless plan. Operating more like graph paper, the plan was seductively incomplete and awaiting occupation.

Illinois Institute of Technology

From 1938 to 1958 Mies van der Rohe planned and built the new campus for the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Limited funding demanded extreme financial prudence and the imagination of the architect was fired by this challenge. With load-bearing brick walls, skeletal structures constructed out of visible reinforced concrete and steel, Mies created a masterpiece of simple elegance. The clarity and structure of the basic form has proved to be an enduring solution for the various classrooms and laboratories over the years.

Alphabetical City

In Alphabetical City (1980) architect Steven Holl studies the twentieth-century urban fabric, particularly the evolution and recurrence of letter-like building forms that sprang from the gridiron plans of American cities at the turn of the century. The collection of buildings catalogued is ordered according to a three-staged evolution: early contiguous walk-up types, plan extrusions (or letter-like types) and tower types.


Geoffroy Tory was born in Bourges around 1480 and died in Paris in 1533. He was a French humanist and an engraver, best known for adding accents on letters in French. His life’s work has heavily influenced French publishing to this day. Champfleury was written by Tory and published in 1529. It is divided into three books, and is concerned with the proper use of the French language, dealing with topics ranging from the elegance of the alphabet to the proper use of grammar. It was subtitled “The Art and Science of the Proportion of the Attic or Ancient Roman Letters, According to the Human Body and Face”.

‘Précis des leçons d’architecture données à l’Ecole polytechnique’

Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand (1760 – 1834) was a French author, teacher and architect. Durand’s lectures, originally published in 1802 and 1805 as ‘Précis des leçons d’architecture données à l’Ecole polytechnique’, were a watershed in the history of architectural theory. Durand fostered a new perspective on architecture - directed to functional needs rather than aesthetic concerns - that revolutionized architectural training across Europe.

Traitté d’Architecture dedié à Louix XIV

In the 17th century, French architect Thomas Gobert (1625-90) wrote a manuscript entitled Traitté d’Architecture dedié à Louix XIV which included building plans that spelled out “LOVIS LE GRAND” (Louis the Great).

Architectural Alphabet

Johann David Steingruber was a German architect and designer with over 100 buildings to his name, including many churches, town halls, school buildings and even breweries. However, perhaps what he is best known for today are the intricate illustrations of his 1773 Architectural Alphabet, in which he converted the alphabet into plans for a series of eccentric baroque palaces.

Anton Glonner

And in 1774 Anton Glonner designed a Jesuit college based on the name of Christ (IHS, the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek). The H contained the kitchen, the dining room, and the sacristy, and the S contained the schoolrooms.


Former tattoo artist and renowned illustrator Mike Giant was responsible for the new Blink 182 cover art. The title Neighborhoods evolved out of the trio discovering that each bring a very different aesthetic to the band, like different neighborhoods in a city: “Everybody in the world thinks of something unique unto themselves when they hear the word ‘Neighborhoods’. To some it is a big city, others a small town, others suburbia, everything. The world is wide, exciting and very different. That’s what ‘Neighborhoods’ means.” The album artwork for the record features the band name written atop a city skyline and it contains many names close to the band.


ZETTEL’S TRAUM is a novel published in 1970 by German author Arno Schmidt. The novel was inspired by James Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’, particularly Schmidt’s use of columns (his “SpaltenTechnik”). The gargantuan novel was published in folio format with 1,334 pages. The story is told mostly in three shifting columns, presenting the text in the form of notes, collages, and typewritten pages. Some critics dismissed Zettel’s Traum as non-art, or sheer nonsense, and Schmidt himself as a “psychopath.”

Map of greater New York

Artist Jan Rothuizen describes his way of working as a form of echolocation: his presence has an impact on the environment and the environment is also changing him. Together with designer Roosje Klap he created the Map of greater New York in 1999, made of text excerpts from his book ‘On A Clear Day You can See Forever’. The map was produced for the book’s presentation at Printed Matter in New York.

Nobson Newtown

Paul Noble’s intricate graphite drawings describe Nobson Newtown, a place composed of labyrinthine edifices and deserted topography embedded with modules of dense detail. The bricks of Noble’s metropolis are a three-dimensional alphabet. The letters form structures like ‘Nobspital’ (a hospital) and ‘Welcome to Nobson’ (a monument): the observant viewer can literally read the metropolis. See also: Palatial Examples.


Philémon is a series in the Franco-Belgian comics style created by French artist Fred. The series, which started in 1965, is about a teenage farm boy who finds himself traveling to the various and fantastic islands that make up the letters “Atlantic Ocean” on maps and globes.

Mihály Biró

Mihály Biró, a Hungarian by birth, who later worked in Vienna and Berlin, was one of the first to recognize the potential to explore the use of text as architecture in posters in an apparently systematic way. He made text look like sills, balustrades, lamp standards, bridges, loading cranes or big wheels.


Boris Bilinsky was a Russian-born artist and designer of film and theatre costumes, sets, and posters who, in 1927, was commissioned by French film distribution company ACE to work on the production of posters and publicity material for the release of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The strongly linear elements of Bilinsky’s cityscape incorporates monumental type and contrasts with the circular Tower of Babel.

De Volharding

Architect Jan Willem Buijs (1889-1961) is best known for his much-discussed design for De Volharding on the Grote Markt in The Hague. He designed the office building as an innovative light monument: the building has a reinforced concrete skeleton, which made it possible to install non-load-bearing facades. The parapets were given high light boxes, which were provided with advertising texts by placing zinc letters and numbers in the boxes.

Takenobu Igarashi

Iconic graphic and type designer Takenobu Igarashi rose to prominence in the 1970s with his groundbreaking poster designs featuring hand-drawn, three-dimensional typographic drawings. They developed a new typographic language, featuring geometric type to evoke a heightened sense of depth using rigid grids and strict systems of perspective planes. “Takenobu Igarashi monumentalised type and typography when most of us were still living in Gutenberg’s shadow” (Steve Heller).

Picture Architectures

Lajos Kassák was one of the founders of the modernist poster style in Hungary. In 1916, Kassák published a famous article, “The poster and the new painting,” which became a fundamental work on avant-garde painting and for modern poster design. According to Kassák, the poster is the most radical form of art, since it constantly needs to reinvent itself. Just like the Russian Constructivists, Kassák considered his Picture Architectures not as l’art pour l’art artistic compositions, but as documents or plans of the new world to come, ruled by the so-called “Collective Individual”

book pavilion

The Italian futurist painter, writer, sculptor and graphic designer Fortunato Depero designed the book pavilion at the 1927 International Exhibition in Monza. By designing the pavilion for a publishing house made out of three-dimensional letters, Depero exemplified his idea of “advertising architecture,” which is able to promote its activity through architectural shapes.

agitprop kiosks

Gustav Klutsis worked in a variety of experimental media. He liked to use propaganda as a sign or revolutionary background image. His first project of note, in 1922, was a series of semi-portable multimedia agitprop kiosks to be installed on the streets of Moscow, integrating “radio-orators”, film screens, and newsprint displays, all to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Revolution. Like other Constructivists he worked in sculpture, produced exhibition installations, illustrations and ephemera.

Castle Ashby House

Words as an integral part of the architectural structure and its design are quite rare. Here’s a particular case of a building where stone letters form part of its fabric: the Castle Ashby House in Northamptonshire, England.

UNTITLED [City as Alphabet]

Though often overlooked in graphic design curricula, Claes Oldenburg’s work with the alphabet and letterforms definitely merits closer inspection. Best known among designers for his oversized, humorous everyday objects, Oldenburg has infused observation and imagination with letters, characters and typography since the late 1950s. An eye-catching example of his ingenuity when it comes to morphing words into images is UNTITLED [City as Alphabet].


The portfolio of 12 color lithographs by Claes Oldenburg during a nine-month stay in Los Angeles is simply titled Notes (1968). The artist’s sketches and collected snippets, like postcards, snapshots, and newspaper advertisements, have been artfully assembled and presented like a scrapbook of ideas for “monuments” that, said Oldenburg, “may be defined as objects or parts of the body increased to colossal scale and set in a landscape.”

the yellow rounded “M” sign

Founded as a food stand called “Airdrome” in Monrovia, California, 1937, McDonald’s was just a little West-Coast chain with a quick, efficient manufacturing procedure. Yet almost from the start, it emphasized coherent features of design: the yellow rounded “M” sign and the modernistic arches, along with dominant red-yellow color schemes for the interior, exterior, and packaging design.


In 1997 Robert Venturi identified Kamp Kippy in Maine with a whimsical A-Frame building. An A-frame house is an architectural house style featuring steeply-angled sides (roofline) that usually begin at or near the foundation line, and meet at the top in the shape of the letter A. An A-frame ceiling can be open to the top rafters. Although the triangle shape of the A-frame has been present throughout history, it surged in popularity around the world from roughly the mid-1950s through the 1970s. It was during the post–World War II era that the A-frame acquired its most defining characteristics.

Korean Pavilion

Designed by Korean architectural firm Mass Studies, the 2010 Shanghai World Expo’s Korean Pavilion combined the Korean written language and 3D sculptures of the Korean alphabet (Hangul). Many of the characters jut from the building, playing off the positive and negative spaces of the design. It’s bold, colorful (using 40,000 bright pixel shapes), and incredible to behold. Sadly, it was a temporary structure for the celebration only.

Villa Cavrois

Villa Cavrois in Croix is a large modernist mansion built in 1932 by French architect Robert Mallet-Stevens for Paul Cavrois, an industrialist from Roubaix active in the textile industry, who gave the architect free rein to carry on the project who, for the first time in his career could manage the entire work, down to the least details.Mallet-Stevens made 26 different moulds to obtain bricks that adapt to all situations (corners, curves). The villa is conceived by the architect as a total artwork and it represents the outcome of his technical and aesthetic reflections. See also: Building Sets Storage.

Rooftop Typography

Wim Crouwel was one of the most influential graphic designers in post-war Holland. Famous for injecting a creative approach in designing letters, Crouwel produced typographic designs that captured the essence of the emerging computer age. His fascination for the grid manifested itself in a series of slides that he took of the rooftop typography of farmers houses. These inspired his experiments with grid-based letterforms, developed into the Fodor and the Stedelijk systems, characterised by a futuristic computer style.

Stack fonts

Working from several hundred reference photographs of industrial chimney lettering, ornamenting/patterning, and roughly two dozen archival engineering drawings, the Stack fonts were developed to be true to the spirit of the original masonry lettering while also being authentically original. The design of the Stack fonts (by James Hultquist-Todd with research and input by Craig Welsh and Jenna Flickinger) began during a trip to Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum (HWT). Prior to the demolition of the original HWT factory complex and implosion of the tall, 1920s-era chimney, designer Craig Welsh had access to the entire 12-acre campus. Here Welch takes a brick and mortar approach to design.


Dutch architect/designer Hendrik Wijdeveld (1885 – 1987) plays with the possibilities offered by moveable type, which he uses to combine letters and ornaments into carefully integrated compositions. He also uses this method to fill surfaces with lines and blocks – a process that some of his contemporaries refer to as ‘typographic masonry’. This form of typography is clearly influenced by architecture. In ‘Wendingen’, the magazine of which Wijdveld was the editor in chief, L. Ronner describes the relationship between the two disciplines: “Put in the simplest of terms, typography is the structuring of surfaces. Similar to the architect’s efforts to assign the blind expanses of wall, windows and doors their correct positions, and to how each architectural element fulfils a specific function, the typographer – if he wants to do a good job – has to arrange and group the positions of his letters, words and lines of text.” See also: Pavilions of Honour.


Joaquín Torres-García (Uruguay, 1874-1949) is one of the great figures of the art of this century, an avant gardist whose influence encompasses European, American and South American modern art. He solved the eternal dilemma between the old and the modern, the classical and the avant-garde, reason and feeling, figuration and abstraction with a simple and brilliant metaphor: there is no contradiction or incompatibility. From 1926 to 1932 he lives in Paris where he created his VILLAGE ET ABECEDARIO. See also: Building Sets Storage.

Alphabetic Sculptures

Graphic designer (he calls himself an amateur) and artist Paul Cox is not interested in stylistic uniformity. Guided by a preference for combinatorics and coincidence, he designs optimal conditions for playing a construction game. Cox has an obsession with codes, structures and frames. Instruments to restore reality, but also creators of a shift, they are regularly called upon to promote the transfer of knowledge; as in the game Alphabetic Sculptures.

scatola di architettura

Originally produced in 1945, and designed by Bruno Munari, the scatola di architettura contains a series of “bricks” of different shapes. Put together differently, you can make any number of buildings, from houses to churches, ancient castles to modern garages, hotels, skyscrapers, factories, towers, aqueducts, temples, stations, hangars, pile dwellings, houses with porticoes, balconies and terraces. See also: Building Sets Storage.


Bruno Taut, the renowned Expressionist architect famous for his glass building, Glaspalast, built in Cologne in 1914 for the German Werksbund exposition, played a decisive role in this rare glass building block set. As suggested by the name Dandanah – which is an Indian word for a bundle of rods or pillars – and the image on the title page, the octagonal building set was inspired by colourful palace designs reminiscent of India and exoticplaces. See also: Building Sets Storage.


Josef Albers was a German-born American artist and educator whose work, both in Europe and in the United States, formed the basis of modern art education programs of the twentieth century. From 1925 to 1928, he directed the preliminary course at the Bauhaus together with László Moholy-Nagy. After the Bauhaus was closed down in 1933, Albers and his wife emigrated to the USA. Today, visitors to the Caspersen Center will find a floor-to-ceiling relief of yellow masonry brick called “America” (1950) by Albers integrated into the wall of the building’s Harkness Commons fireplace.


Sefer Yetzirah (or Book of Creation) is the title of the earliest extant book on Jewish esotericism, although some early commentators treated it as a treatise on mathematical and linguistic theory as opposed to Kabbalah. The book is devoted to speculations concerning God’s creation of the world. The ascription of its authorship to the biblical patriarch Abraham shows the high esteem which it enjoyed for centuries. It may even be said that this work had a greater influence on the development of the Jewish mind than almost any other book after the completion of the Talmud.

Alphabet in stone

Dom Hans van der Laan (1904-1991) was a Dutch architect and Benedictine monk. After a few years of architectural studies, van der Laan developed a system of principles for proportions. Using this theory Dom Hans van der Laan designed buildings and even created a typeface, the Alphabet in stone. This typeface is based on the Roman carved stone capitals that were used in the first century AD. Designed using strict 3d rules (which he called the Plastic Number), his lettering can be found at the abbeys of Oosterhout and Mamelis.

Paul Goesch

Paul Goesch (1885 – 1940), was a German artist, architect, lithographer, and designer. He suffered from “physical and emotional frailty” throughout his life, but nonetheless maintained a robust determination to create prolifically and to further the utopian causes of the avant-garde of his time. As a student, he reportedly met both Sigmund Freud and Rudolf Steiner. He developed an interest in Anthroposophy and later helped construct the Steiner’s Goetheanum in 1913–14. Goesch began a series of “fantasy architecture” plans and sketches in 1914. The combination of artwork and psychiatric problems has brought him some attention in the context of the outsider art movement.


Karel Martens & David Bennewith contributed to the Forms of Inquiry project for the Architectural Association (2007) with an alphabetical translation of the windows of Le Corubusiers chapel at Ronchamp. Martens & Bennewith were struck by the way the openings in the walls are ordered in different sizes. There seems to be no rigid system, but a playful yet strict autonomous (or utopian) approach, a manifest of free and independent thinking.

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