The Meaning of Signs: Decoding New York’s Hidden Language in Fort Greene

screenshot via Quartz
screenshot via Quartz

Trekking through New York is to wander through history. Just as the circles in the bottom of a tree stump indicate its age, the signs featured on apartment buildings and businesses recall the city’s past, and offer passersby an automatic immersion into the city’s history and also the art of typography. 

There’s much to be learned from New York’s signs. For the uninitiated, Quartz made a video with Cooper Union Professor Alex Tochilovksy, an expert on the origins, design and historical roots of the letters etched into the facades of various buildings. To hear Tochilovksy delve into the minutiae of signs in Fort Greene, is to receive a practical lesson in something that might seem abstract.

“Signs are about communication” he says. “Once you start to decode these things you understand a city much better.”

And he’s right: Throughout the video, Tochilovksy dissects various signs, and reveals historical facts. From a World War II-era garment cleaners to some of the more storied apartment buildings in the neighborhood, we get not only a sense of context, but a window into the roots of urban typography.

He explains that “one of the most common things you’ll find in the city are names on buildings… it’s much more attractive to tell someone that you’re going to The Roanoke or staying at The Ritz,” than writing down a nondescript street address.

Since the Ukraine-born expat teaches design and topography for a living, it’s no surprise that he’s able to trace Fort Greene’s signage back to its birthplace and distill information so seamlessly, but it’s the vividness with which he conveys the info that makes it so fascinating.

Watch the video below:

Follow Sam Blum on Twitter @Blumnessmonster 

[via Quartz]


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