Projects: Sum of the Parts

While researching Lancaster’s architectural letterforms I began to investigate how these features could be reused or reappraised and how they might appear or relate to each other if considered in some sort of chronological order. With so many examples to choose from and twenty-four letter options to work with, I chose just the serifs and decided to look initially at the letters found in the word ‘Lancaster’.

Lancaster Alphabet

Starting with the letter A, as it had some of the most interesting and beautiful examples, I first took photographs of the letters and then created digital versions of twenty-six of serifs. These I laid out in grid in chronological order – a time period that ranged from 1772 to 2000. It was interesting to see these different forms of the letter set out together: to be able to compare their differences and to see the characteristics that they held in common. Isolating the letters from the others in their titles it became easier to see the key characteristics of the designs – sloping stems, bracketed serifs, low cross-bars, curling top bars – some of them highly indicative of the time-period in which they were created. It was a short step to from this to create some sort of linear timeline with each letter A leading on from the previous in date order. Changing the transparency of the letters allowed them to be overlapped while still enabling some parts of their form to be viewed through the following example. Here the letters become increasingly opaque as they progressed through the ‘timeline’. Lancaster Alphabet

I liked the way this gave a sense of movement to the series in a way that the static grid of letters had been unable to convey. The transparency and the overlapping of the elements created not only the feeling of movement but of change – as if the letters were evolving. Parts of the letters seemed to morph into others. New forms appeared. Moving the space between the letters changed the forms again, creating new intermediate shapes – the inclining stem of one A interacting with the cross-bar of another, or the serifs of others creating strange new ephemeral elements. Moving the letters closer together seemed at first to obscure the new shapes as the transparencies lost their impact and darkened the whole. But as the letters were brought together in a vertical stack, a more substantial shape appeared and an entirely new form of the letter A resulted. The agglomeration of letters had produced a new design: a new variant of the letterform that was derived from the sum of the parts. This letterfrom, and the others that were later created, are the ephemeral, infinitely variable and ghostly progeny of the static lithographs from the buildings. Lancaster Alphabet Shape of the CityShape of the City

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