The Stars in Our Sky


The Logo Cities symposium might be over and done with but the Logo Cities website lives on. It contains a wealth of fascinating information on signage and commercial logos in cities around the world. A good introduction is the short comic strip “City Stars,” pictured above and created by Grant Collins, one of the research assistants employed by project creator Matt Soar. A variety of papers presented at the May symposium are also available online.

What’s new is Almost Architecture, an interactive film about highrise signs in Montreal that is worth a look despite a frustrating interface. It opens with a clip of the now-famous Farine Five Roses sign on Montreal’s waterfront, the potential dismantling of which did a lot to bring attention to the issue of historic signs in the city. From there, the film goes on to feature interviews from local experts like signmaker Bill Kovacevic, who talks about the tension between architects and the signs that festoon their buildings: it detracts from the “purity” of their architecture, he says.

I got a sense of that last fall when I spoke with Derek Drummond, a professor of architecture at McGill University, about Montreal’s ghost signs. He dismissed them outright, arguing that their cultural, historical and aesthetic importance was negligible. Ultimately, he said, they distract from what’s more important: architecture. “I find it really hard to get emotionally connected to any sign of any sort,” he says in Almost Architecture. Although I can certainly understand why he feels this way, I can’t help but disagree. The urban experience draws from more than just architecture; all of the seemingly superfluous stuff, like signs, tell us just as much about the life of the city.


This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Sunday July 08 2007at 11:07 pm , filed under Architecture, Heritage and Preservation, Public Space and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

6 Responses to “The Stars in Our Sky”

  • BRIAN MAGED says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Signage is essentially something that humans have invented.
    It was the neter, the ma’at of the Egyptians that controlled the gods. It is an important part of a free secular society to have competative symbols, but not so they are overwhelming, unless that is the point. Proud people often have visible displays. Then the public reacts and sets limits.

    Derric doesn’t like signage obviously, I’ve known him for a long time. The school was very oppresive. I was told by professor Bland not to think about environmental things even with all the pollution and global warming on the horizon. Shame, shame. A school that does not like scientific thinkers and only concentrated on the engineering. I got through there anyway.

    I am now a specialist on environmental signs and symbols especially the symbol of the lion. The 21st century hopefully will see the further understanding of symbols so that we may understand things like prophesy, learn how to resent that, how to argue and debate intelligently and freely, and then force our rights where it is true and subscribe to the mass opinion where it should rightfully prevail.

    I think looking at people gives us a great history about lessons to be learned. The school was decisively anti-ornament not understanding the symbolic reasons for it. They didn’t respect family and feudal suymbols, heraldry, fraternity, nor the symmetries and asymmetric ‘scientific’ forces that underly integrally all of design and are reflected upon in festooning, lions, and other architectural devices. Similiarly book worms do not see the advances often gained by comics and cartoon art. Probably because they have not been properly educated to appreciate and participate in creating such materials. I have been working on evolving a new school since McGill rejects expanding the architecture one to include these very necessary pursuits.

    I could talk for days about the advances that my futuristic utopian attitude has evolved into, and the great many innovations in technology, genetics, and design that will result from my secular discoveries. We must not enter another dark ages. This is the 40th anniversary of Expo 67. Many of us are coming into our prime and many are seeing the lights out, but that is the way of the world. Some of us need preserving, and others will be demolished, and than we will curse about it till we eventually have these communist propogandists locked in prison,if they haven’t already died before we got the chance to put them away!

  • NT says:

    That old codger Drummond is full of nonsense. What especially draws me to these so-called ghost signs is that their creation was expressly ephemeral, and when we’re fortunate enough to catch their last fading vestiges on some forlorn wall we establish a connection with the past in a way that almost wasn’t supposed to happen. I’m sure someone has expressed the sentiment more eloquently than I, but that’s my take anyhow.

    I get particularly excited when I happen upon an old photo of an ad still visible today. For instance: go to the Chapters on Ste. Catherine & (de bleury? I can’t remember) & saunter upstairs to that much maligned corporate cafe Starbucks. Grab a window table amidst the clickety-click-clicking of white macintosh computers & the vapid chatter of visiting suburban shoppers & on the opposite side of the street you’ll see an ad for “C.W. Lindsay & Son Pianos & Phonographs” two edifices west of the Dominion Square Bldg, which should look something like this, taken circa 1930.

    Other favourites are of course the wonderfully evocative Lea & Perrins ad next to a pile of wreckage down on de Maisonneuve I think, & that ad on Parc facing a parking lot just off the Second Cup on Milton (although I’ve never been able to figure out what the thing was for exactly).

    By the way Chris, if in the unlikely event you’ve yet to discover the Canada Science & Technology Museum photographic archives, you’ll have a field day much as I did browsing their extensive urban collection (under scenic views –> cities).

    In the spirit of urban advertising, here‘s a real gem sure to have disappeared long ago.

  • Yeah, I like that Starbucks simply because it affords such nice views of Ste. Catherine and Stanley Sts. — not to mention all of the rooftop graffiti and ghost signs!

    That ad near the Second Cup at Park and Milton is one of my favourites too. I have a photo of it here. I think it must be for a company that distributed various automatic vending machines. I like that you can still see the old phone number: Victor 2-1152-3.

  • BRIAN MAGED says:

    I like those old signs also but have a few incites to add.
    I’ve done a few supergraphic walls as well as commercial logos. The problem of fading is related to the treatment of the wall, the longevity of the paint, and elements of maintenance, and continued
    meaning, or in your preferential treatment beauty.
    Beyond preservation where an aesthetic interest is
    evoked there are than questions about the original context of the imagined perception and its significance.
    We than think of the collectivity of our interests and begin to determine the causes for their albeit
    longevity, the elements of what the Romans called firmitas or Professor Zuk would probably call materials and what I would categorize as ‘environmental’ factors since the reactions are not related to them but what is in the context of a sometimes changing environment or a hot or cold wall.
    Afterwards Professor Zuk might reclassify them as growth and change features of the building related to appearance, communication, and promotions. Derric would think this part of advertising and not integral to the building design. Once we thought painters to be integral to the building than we invented canvases. Flat earth? We already had cosmological pots and various oracles, preachings, movement rituals and performances.
    Somewhere in this we must also consider the aspects of renewal, recycling, and even reuse of these signs if even just for information and historical purposes.
    What do we do with too much information – convert it into another functional product – for utilitarian or aesthetic needs or even to restrengthen or reaffirm some existing system, object or infrastructure.
    We care most when we begin to contrast the scarcity
    of interest and maintain a vanishing perception. Perhaps it has something to do with leptons, hadrons, or colours and charms. Certainly our collective awakening and electromagnetic condition is related to this.
    How are the elements of our brain integrated to the waves it produces, by what geometry, that is something to think about. The torque, the twists, the length and ‘breath’ of our feelings.
    It is a vanishing mural and another that has survived, that promotes interest like decaying nucleii and eternal metals, that react or are intolerant to reaction, that are included or run the gamut of relationships.
    Knowing geometry must certainly help us out of this chaos, unless we wish to stay sentimental.
    We seem to want a revival or a sustainment or to discover how to sustain revivals, how to get the organism alive and breathing again instead of it falling into coma and death. Some people feel more alive when living amongst the dead – that may bring out life’s paradoxes.
    Contrast is so very important to some, more than diversity, thou unity is essential to others. Tension can get children to stop tagging walls and start pushing guernicas againsy imperialists and dictators.
    A good fabric will reveal much about our ancestors,
    as might a tapestry. Whether we see the light of Madame Ferron, or witness the legends of Mr. Lapalme we will have both experienced and learned something. As we age we may experience strokes so our brain may choose one or another path, and sustain itself accordingly. Like the child in 2001 a Space Odyssey we may be reborn and watching militarily and intelligently over the competing factions of the Earth so that we don’t dynamite everything and blow ourselves up completely. No mutiny on the mother ship, no piracy with respect to our neighbours who might shun us and call in the cosmological navy or police or harbour-front!
    Never looking ‘back at spaceship earth’ lest it turn into a pillar of salt but forwards to our Copernican place in the solar system and our harmony with other galaxies, clusters, dimensions,
    and existential communications and achievements!
    Our look back into ourselves must send us back out into the universe.

    Now I must rest and ‘I’ must dream. GOOD MORNING!

  • BRIAN MAGED says:

    Error. Something learned at the Societe des Arts Technologiques. Since the invention of the cellular you don’t say bonjour you say t.o. or something of the sort, since people you are communicating with all live in different time spans. Since I am writing this at 6:22 in the morning after being up for a number of hours, I did sleep, it wasn’t an all nighter but I did get up to wonder, so the stream of consciousness of my writing, I must now go back to get some more sleep.
    Whatever space or time zone you are in when reading this blog know the space and time zone I was in when writing it. Another day I will download you or write you a more eloquent piece of poetry, thou this one sparkled if only so momentarily. Depends on your gas. It might light a bulb or two. Perhaps you are a tesla. Or you may snuff it out and go to sleep yourself or look for illumination elsewhere. It is really all up to you.
    If by chance you do happen to stumble on other blogs, or google them up, lets hope that some of them indicate a way out of the maze, to a more coherent communication. I am working on a system now and will eventually encrypt it into the net. The net will evolve in this blogger way. Refiling blogs, editing communications, determinig the longevity, importance, significance.
    Maybe we shouldn’t touch something we didn’t do. One day it might repaint itself magically. Other times we can
    help it along. Maybe its getting old and into disrepair. Watch out for what appears old and is young at heart and vice-versa what appears young but has already worn thin. Some things are never changeable.
    Guess I didn’t make a mistake after all. Now that I think about medium, and dimensions of communications, archiving, and retrieving. Heaven help us if a computer comes along and tries to reshuffle this itself! May have to publish a book or create a media chip and than sell it on the open market.

    Good night. Good morning. Oops. Signing off…now that’s a better communication. Unless you choose to explore the internet further. I’m sure there are alot of my thoughts perpetually fixed or wandering around out there.

  • heeso says:

    I wish having over a broken heart can be so easy as following a few steps.. but its not