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Kunsthalle Zürich

Commissioned by Kunsthalle Zürich and under the guidance of Dan Solbach we developed a new corporate typeface in one weight and corresponding Italics for the 2014/15 redesign of the institution.

Established in 1985, Kunsthalle Zürich is an exhibition centre dedicated to contemporary art and has shown artists including Albert Oehlen, Richard Prince, Isa Genzken, Wade Guyton, Peter Doig, Christopher Williams, Liam Gillick, Seth Price, General Idea, Heimo Zobernig, Kerstin Brätsch and Ed Atkins among others.

Graphic Design by Dan Solbach
Web Development by Christoph Knoth
Type Design by Fabian Harb

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Interview with Lilly-Pauline Koper about the custom font as part of Dan Solbach’s Kunsthalle Zurich’s redesign.

How did the Kunsthalle alphabet come together? What were the influences?

On a general level, it is a response to Dan Solbach’s invite to develop a corporate typeface for his redesign of Kunsthalle Zürich’s visual identity. In detail, our typefaces is loosely based on a draft by Walter Käch, a designer based in Zurich and teaching at the city’s Gewerbeschule (one of his students being Adrian Frutiger). For his course he published a manual-like folder called “Schriften, Lettering, Ecritures” in 1949, with lots of instructions and examples of various classifications (some of them clearly showing similarity to Helvetica [1957] or Univers [1959]) sporting great names like “Segel Club” (sailing club), “Velo” (bicycle) or “Röntgentherapie” (X-ray therapy). And the most interesting design of the folder, a “Grotesk” called “Rauchwaren” (smoking supplies) then served as basis for our typeface for Kunsthalle Zürich.

What is the message?

Even though the folder “Schriften, Lettering, Ecritures” and its connection to Zurich were central in our conception, we soon realised that a 1to1-digitization of Käch’s design remains too static and musty. So, in a second round we tried to isolate the key features of his design and recreate them in “today”. In that sense, the message of our design might be a plea for respectfull dealing with history and a reflected acting in the now.

What about the proportions of the typeface?

On one hand, Dan Solbach’s graphic design for Kunsthalle Zürich is heavily based on information hierarchies, we always thought a special “titling” version of the typefaces could be interesting extension of the straight forward “text” face we aimed for. On the other hand we were involved in the process of the new identity from the start on and layout and typeface designs could naturally react on each other. So, when text-heavy ads had to be designed to announce the new curator’s program, shortening the descenders not only seemed like an effective solution to this specific problem but also re-inform the whole rest of the design interestingly.

Why the name “Rauchwaren”?

Since we left the historic source behind us soon, we first felt a bit bad to steal its name still. But our search of something equally striking and surprising was so rocky, that eventually we deemed it the most honest solution to just go for it anyway.

Why a custom typeface for Kunsthalle?

Every design is carrying traces of the context in which and for which it was made. So, if created specifically, a typeface can not only represent precise ideas, opinions, intentions, but also deliver a unique appearance difficult to reproduce by anybody else. And most of the times, defining and articulating these “DNA” factors is equally challenging and insightful for us as for the clients.

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