De-lettering the Public Space


A week or so ago I wrote a post about how Advertising Makes Us All Poor; more recently Jonathan posted about re-imagining our public/discourse spaces and reflecting on what they say about us.

In response to this, Wilf sent me links to this fascinating project where a whole street in Vienna agreed to be ‘de-lettered’ – stripped of all its textual information. The results look a very powerful critique both of advertising and the general sell-out of our public spaces.


Typographica have an interesting post and discussion about the project.

The Delete! de-lettering project by Christoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf is a fabulous site and has more information, plus a mock-up of what NYC might look like if de-lettered (see image above).

What a relief it would be to walk around a city without your field of vision being savaged by messages at every turn of your head.


9 responses to “De-lettering the Public Space”

  1. Is this not superficial? (maybe a start)
    Wouldn’t you have to raise the city to the ground?
    Same Power structures and “messaging” still exist within the grid layout and architecture.
    Or like the “Derive” are these interventions all that’s open to us?

  2. It is superficial, as all vision is: we only ‘see’ the surface. Any extrapolation into the depths behind is a matter of interpretation which we bring the rest of our faculties, experiences to.
    But, as such, I think it’s a powerful gesture. Given that we can’t raze cities, the ability to re-cover them, to get people to see them again is an important one. The grids will not change; our perception of them can. And I think such Trickster actions are all that’s open to us… but that leaves quite a field to play in.

  3. I think what I’m trying to say, and it goes back to the idea that space has become ideological. That it is just a ‘gesture’, protest-as-style or posturing. The written word is definitely problematic, for all kinds of reasons. Yet it goes deeper than that when we’re talking about the ‘urban condition’. Streets, buildings, Typography; all are ‘readable’ artefacts, all have their implications. The role of the Trickster is to unmask those power relationships.
    I’m just being ‘picky’, don’t stop at just one aspect, bring it all tumbling down!

  4. Eliminate the Type and you begin to see some of the other problems.

  5. “Eliminate the Type and you begin to see some of the other problems.”
    Yes. Or, the other way round: the incessant type is the noise that stops us seeing the other problems. Eye candy to keep us quiet?
    The principle of the Cathode-Ray nipple, plastered on ever surface?

  6. Cuba does this too, yeah? I mean in real life!
    This looks like it has a ll been Photoshopped… or is it real?
    Is the artists aspiration that we all become illiterate? Or maybe that we choose what to read?
    Nice site, K. Udaman

  7. The above photo was P/S-ed. But the Vienna shots on the linked sites are real. What’s interesting is that ALL text information goes: signage as well as advertising. Be interesting to know how this impacted people’s experience of the street. I know that whenever the lights are out in Brixton, the traffic flows much more smoothly. And I think they removed all road signs in one city in Europe recently, which had a similar effect. Anyone remember details?

  8. these sites have info about the concept your talking about.
    in london tentative steps along these lines have begun, on high street ken they removed the barriers between pavement and road, part of the reasoning was that drivers would become more cautious, aware that people could cross in unexpected places (as well as making the area look tidier)
    there’s talk of radically altering exhibition road -by the v&a science museum and imperial college- removing the signs, making the pavement and road the same level so pedestrians and cars are on an equal footing, get rid of the lights etc.
    the aim is to link the greatest museums in london with pleasant pedestrian walkways instead of a grimey car dominated throughfare,

  9. Jonathan

    A wonderful example of what you were talking about:
    “part of the reasoning was that drivers would become more cautious, aware that people could cross in unexpected places”
    ..was beautifully illustrated by The Forest of Dean.
    In The Forest of Dean, sheep roam through the woods, so drivers are constantly alert to the possibility of sheep in the road or sheep crossing.
    During the Foot and Mouth outbreak a few years ago, sheep were rounded up and for about nine months there were no sheep in the woods. During this time road accidents went up (not down), showing that reducing imposed order/hierarchies and forcing people to be alert to the unexpected helps reduce road accidents.
    There are also some good examples in Holland of de-marking road/pedestrian junctions and improving safety as a result.