20th century type
A critical review of the design and content of a collection of some 20th century type and its applications.
The book is well-paced, collected into decades as testimony to a century obsessed with pigeonholing. As long as the reader remains aware this is merely a helpful distortion of reality, particularly with its bias towards the avant-garde (something that Blackwell points out in his disclaiming introduction), this is a concise and watertight primer. It is designed in 1990s techno vernacular, in turn derived from 1960s Swiss-based International Style. This rigid, minimalist aesthetic employs pages-worth of redundant white space. Even given this excess, the large, well-reproduced images are often presented out of synch with adjacent text, where smaller images in parallel would have clarified orientation and understanding. Similarly irritating is the books posing as a tool to prompt research despite glaring omissions in a flimsy and eccentric bibliography.
With these reservations in mind, I still recommend this book for architects. Recently there has there been evidence (predominantly on the continent) of a renewed interest in architectural lettering as integral component rather than afterthought. Whilst Nicolete Grays Lettering on Buildings remains the standard reference in this field, Blackwells concise and well-presented type classification guide is an essential appendix. Readers may also find interest in mapping the synchronicity in architectural and graphic development. Cross-fertilization of ideas, and ultimately collaboration, can only be a good thing. Writing in 1928, Jan Tschichold (a modernist-turned-traditionalist and still the centurys most convincing propagandist-practitioner) observed that only in degenerate times can personality (opposed to the nameless masses) become the aim of human development. Blackwell deems this prophetic enough to be set in the largest type, sampled and repeated at the opening and close of the book. Seventy years on, our own degeneration could use some of the same attitude. It would be nice to see it off the coffee table and on the streets.