The Graphic DNA Project: Tracing Urban Developments through Environmental Letters

By Geraldine Marshall.

Published by The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Birmingham is a typical UK city that has undergone the transformation from one dominated by manufacturing industries to one lead by service and creative enterprise and multi-national commercial retail businesses while at the same time experiencing huge demographic change with the historical influx of immigration. The lettering on the buildings and street signs reflect these changes and the remnants of letterforms often remaining provide evidence of a visual timeline of what has gone before. This PhD research seeks to examine a city’s social, cultural, and commercial development through an analysis of letters placed on buildings using the method of taxonomy.

The areas of regeneration can change dramatically from industrial centres to tourist destinations, from residential slums to boutique shopping venues. The lettering on the building reflects these changes but remnants of the past often remain. Corporation Street for example has undergone a number of regeneration phases and this can still be identified today in the evidence already captured of four very different versions of the “civic” street signs for Corporation Street.

Using Birmingham, in the English Midlands, as a case study, a photographic record of its “environmental lettering” will be produced, and the introduction of taxonomy will be used to enable an objective approach to the documentation and analysis of these letterforms. Rather than focusing on aesthetic or personal preference, as with previous documentation, this approach will challenge the rigid notion of how typography and letters are classified. Applying the process of taxonomy allows the analysis and comparison of lettering patterns and trends in specific geographic, social and economic areas of a city. This project aims to examine a city’s social, “cultural” and commercial development purely through an analysis of letters placed on buildings using the method of “taxonomy”.

Keywords: Cultural Studies, Culture, Identities, Environmental Letters, Civic Studies

The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies, Volume 9, Issue 1, March 2015, pp.1-9. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 431.192KB).

Geraldine Marshall

Ph.D Research Student, Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, Birmingham City University, Birmingham, West Midlands, UK