typographic landscapes

One key feature which commonly separates printed type or image from the 'real' world is dimensionality. The environment we experience around us is, of course, three-dimensional, while images on the page or screen are two-dimensional, compressed onto a single plane. Since type was invented for the flat plane, it is traditionally two-dimensional. However, in some artefacts, type is extruded, given form, becoming object. Typographic objects contradict many of the defining characteristics of type. Type is a ‘sign’ - a representation of language - so is not itself considered an object. However 3D type is treated like any other object that exists within a real environment, depicted with tonal variation and vanishing points in order to represent depth. Once type has made this transition from flat sign to three-dimensional object, it can be integrated into a landscape. He most common medium for environmental type is film. Since audiences have become accustomed to three-dimensional computer-generated animation, contained within the two-dimensional surface of the screen, they readily accept type that is similarly treated.

MPC, various Channel 4 idents (television), 2006-7

MPC’s Channel 4 idents exploit the realism of contemporary computer-generated animation. In these idents the camera (representing the audience’s POV) navigates through apparently live-action footage of urban landscapes. Several architectural objects then align to form the figure ‘4’. The objects that make the ‘4’ configuration do not actively transform from image to type, they remain consistently architectural, but in their alignment they appear to form part of a typographic whole, momentarily masquerading as type.

For further exploration of these idents, and other fluid typography, see my other website, www.fluidtype.org.

Brian Castleforte, Typographic landscape (animation), 2009

Brian Castleforte's animation also creates a three-dimensional landscape from typographic objects. Here, letters are extruded, exploiting the characteristic of three-dimensional letterforms that they appear abstract when viewed from the side. The use of type in this way can be first attributed to Saul Bass in his title sequence for 'Alcoa Premiere' (1961). Bass constructed a real model of an urban landscape in which every skyscraper is in fact a letter, extruded into a tall monolith.


Jodie Silsby, Portmouth Vernacular, 2008.

Landscapes can, of course, be represented in two-dimensional form. The map, representing a simplied eagle-eye view of a landscape, commonly contains a combination of image and typography.

In 'Portsmouth Vernacular', Jodie Silsby combines two different forms of representaion: type and map. The map, already a coded representation of the landscape, is made more abstract by the removal of lines and shapes. All that remains is type. This type then serves two purposes, to name locations, and to imply (by their layout) the previous locations of the missing lines and shapes.


Thomas Nebesar, The Blossom Music Centre, 2007.

Anna Robertson, Lorain Bridge, 2007.

The Cleveland Institute of Art, in collaboration with Veer, asked students to create typographic images of any location in Cleveland. This image by Thomas Nesbar depicts the Blossom Music Centre. Nesbar's landscape contains no recognisable words. Letters are used as building blocks, somtimes regularly spaced in representation of the man-made building, and at other times chaotically arranged for the natural parts of the scene. In Anna Robertson's representation of Lorain Bridge, only the artificial structure is depicted, complimenting the stiffness of the chosen font (P22 Escher). The letters are turned on their sides, obstructing their linguistic meaning, and making them even more like architectural building blocks.

All of the above images link to sources.

foundations typographic landscapes photographed type in-image captions unconventional materials and surfaces
typographic portraits wearable type typographic objects image fonts further research

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