12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

When architects and designers want to make a point, they certainly love to spell it out for us. So check out these buildings, statues, and sculptures made from letterforms, from Lettering Large: The Art and Design of Monumental Typography, a new book by Steven Heller and Mirko Ilić.

While carving a sign from a slab of marble or slapping supergraphics on the side of a building is nothing new, a recent boom in techniques like computer-aided milling and large-format printing has aided the ability of artists and designers to see their characters writ large—like, really, really large. The book traces the history of letterforms in the urban landscape, from rune stones to architectural signage to oversized corporate logos to entire buildings made from type, including massive sculptures of laser-cut paper lyrics that float in the wind. Here are 12 projects from the book that caught my eye.


Ogijima's Soul (Ogijima Community Hall),Ogijima, Seto Inland Sea, Kagawa Prefecture, Japan, 2010

12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

Artist: Jaume Plensa
Associate architect: Tadashi Saito (VAKA)
Photographer: Laura Medina, Plensa Studio, Barcelona

A community center in Japan features various characters in Japanese, Hebrew, Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Greek, Latin, Korean, and Hindi, among other languages, to evoke the world's diversity and to welcome visitors from any background.


HCYS, Metz, France, 2005

12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

Designer: Tania Mouraud
Photographer: R.mi Villaggi
Materials: Digital print on plastic tarpaulin

Artist Tania Mouraud creates large, stretched type that is almost impossible to read up close, requiring perspective in more ways than one. This piece in France is inspired by Arnold Shoenberg's musical piece A Survivor from Warsaw, with a phrase meant to provoke turning a blind eye to the world's injustices: "How Can You Sleep."


Comedy Carpet, Blackpool, England, 2008–11

12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

Artist: Gordon Young
Typographer: Why Not Associates.
Photographer: Why Not Associates
Materials: Concrete, Granite

This 7,000 square-foot plaza made from granite and concrete includes jokes, songs, sketches, one-liners, and catchphrases from notable British comedians. A team that included chemists, engineers, and typographers collaborated on the project, which had to be farmed out to several manufacturers. 180,000 granite letters ranging from a few inches to a few feet high were inserted into high-quality concrete panels.


Fukagawa Fudoudo, Tokyo, Japan, 2010-12

12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

Designer: Jun Tamaki
Photographer: Kei Sugino
Materials: Black letter, die-cast aluminum silver plate, aluminum plate
Type: Sunskrit (Bonji)

An addition to a temple in downtown Tokyo is wrapped in 24 Sanskrit characters from a mantra that's sung in the building, making it a "prayer space wrapped in prayer." The top section appears permeable to evoke the hollow attics of ancient Japanese temples.


The Big IOU, Kansas City, Missouri, 2011

12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

Client: Grand Arts
Designer: John Salvest
Photographer: E.G. Schempf; Mike Sinclair
Materials: shipping containers

This one's a bit tougher to see unless you know what to look for. A temporary public art project about the U.S. economic crisis was mounted in a park opposite the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Using 117 multicolored shipping containers like tiles in a mosaic, the containers spell out USA on one side and IOU on the other.


Der geschriebene Garten (The Written Garden), Gärten der Welt, Berlin Marzahn-Hellersdorf, 2011

12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

Art Director: Grün Berlin GmbH, relais Landschaftsarchitekten Berlin. Landscape Architects: relais Landschaftsarchitekten Berlin
Typographer: Alexander Branczyk, Annette Wuesthoff (xplicit GmbH)
Typeface Designer: Alexander Branczyk
Photographer: Alexander Branczyk & divers Structural
Materials: Aluminium

A pavilion in a public park is made entirely from a font especially created for the structure. There are up to three different variations for every letterform (capitals, lower case letters, and special forms) which create a more organic, less repetitive appearance and help to connect the characters to one another.


9 West 57th Street, New York, New York, 1979

12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

Art Director: Ivan Chermayeff
Photographer: Elliott Kaufmann
Material: Steel

One of the most famous works of public art also serves a function marking the address of 9 West 57th Street. The 9 by graphic designer Ivan Chermayeff was the first branding of its kind to be found for a building on the street level.


House of Terror Museum, Budapest, Hungary, 2002

12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

Client: Hungarian Government
Designer: Attila F Kovacs
Photographer: Janos Szentivani, Attila F Kovacs.
Additional: Architekton RT
Materials: Metal Frame Resopal Covering

The House of Terror Museum is housed in a 19th century apartment building that used to be the headquarters for the Arrow Cross Party, a society that murdered hundreds of Jews during World War II. Now, the museum is a monument to those victims of terror, marked by a deep black metal awning along the top of the building; its shadow casts the word terror at different angles throughout the day.


Shanghai Expo 2010: Korea Pavilion, Shanghai, China, 2010

12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

Client: Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency.
Architects: Mass Studies: Minsuk Cho, Kisu Park, Joungwon Lee, Taehoon Hwang, Hyunseok Jung, Joonhee Lee, Hyunjung Kim, Bumhyun Chun, Jisoo Kim, Moonhee Han, Sungpil Won, Kyungmin Kwon, Dongwon Yoon, Betty Bora Kim, Kyehnyong Kwak, Jungwook Lee, Doohyun An.

Han-geul, the Korean alphabet, is the basis for 40,000 typographic "pixels" that form this building: On the exterior are "Han-geul Pixels," white panels with a relief of letters in four different sizes; and on the inside are "Art Pixels," flat aluminum panels created by the Korean artist Ik-Joong Kang.


The BMW Lightwall "Reflection", Hamburg Airport, Arrivals Hall, 2010

12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

Agency: Serviceplan
Chief Creative Officer: Alexander Schill
Creative Directors: Maik Kaehler, Christoph Nann
Art Directors: Manuel Wolff, Savina Mokreva
Materials: Latex print on clear adhesive vinyl foil, with white diffusor foil behind it

A long narrow corridor served as an advertising space for BMW in the Hamburg Airport. A smart selection of words which could be reflected in the shiny floor below ended up doubling the space of their ad.


Vila Brasilândia, São Paulo, Brazil, 2012

12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

Designer: Boa Mistura Collective
Type: Avant Garde Bold

Boa Mistura's Participative Urban Art Interventions use art and colorful paint to transform Brazil's slums. These murals in Vila Brasilândia use the narrow and winding streets to spell out words selected by the community, which are painted using an optical illusion where the words appear to float in the air if you see them in exactly the right spot.


Monumento Victimas 11-M, Madrid, Spain, 2006-7

12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

12 Monumental Structures Made From Type

Architects: Estudio FAM
Photographer: Manuela Martin, Javier Gutirrez Marcos

This memorial to the victims of the March 11, 2004, terrorist attack in Madrid is housed in a nondescript concrete cylinder at the the Atocha train station right in the middle of the city. The text is crowdsourced from thousands of messages of sympathy in the days after the attacks.