The mammoth typographic messages covering every exterior inch of the New
Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) school in Newark, New Jersey,
transform a former Episcopal rectory, with all the charm of a reform school,
from bleak house to billboard palace. Paula Scher of Pentagram/New York
created a typographic language composed of bold gothic and slab serif letters,
audacious graphic images, and stark primary colors, underscored by irony and
humor, to landmark what in 2000 was a new wellspring of cultural activity in
a city that had fallen on hard times. While applying typography to architecture
is not new—look to the inscriptions on Trajan’s Column (A.D. 106–113) for the
source—Scher energized the current practice, informed by her many years as
a print publication designer.
“Cities are like magazines,” she explains. “There is advertising and
editorial that has to intermingle in an appropriate manner.” While on some
buildings the manner is subtler than others, Scher is an admited typographical
exhibitionist. So when the president of NJPAC asked her to “turn a dowdy old
building into something that’s bright and appropriate for a school for a
performing arts group,” out came the vintage type books and up went the
huge letters and words.
Scher took her cue from walls of old London theaters painted with
announcements and posted with bills. She was also smitten by photographs of
the façade for the Moscow department store GUM, designed in the 1920s by
avant-garde typographer Alexander Rodchenko, which made the entire structure
into a constructivist poster. Simply perusing old photographs of New York City’s
Times Square, where zoning laws have long required a sizable percentage of
building space devoted to “spectacular” advertisements, evidences how much
the past collides with Scher’s “big idea” to cover the entire NJPAC building—
from the two chimney towers to the protruding ventilation ducts—with words
and phrases like
music, dance, and theater. And she chose a nouveau Victorian
type style complemented by bright white, gray, and metallic hues for the sake
of visibility and aesthetics.
Supergraphics like these have indeed altered the aesthetics of the
street. Once ugly scaffolding around building construction or renovation sites is
routinely rented out for mammoth advertising scrims and banners, and
increasingly public space artists—influenced or seduced by these advertising
techniques—have used the venue for artistic messages. Yet building exteriors
are not the designer’s sole canvas. For NJPAC, Scher made the interior space
fulfill the promise of the outside message by designing a complementary
scheme with the cheapest institutional tiles and paint in bright, primary de
Stijl–influenced colors—red, yellow, and green—on the floor in alternating striped
patterns. The walls were painted white, the doorframes black, and all the doors
were done in different primary colors, infusing the building with a sense of
play. Scher likens it to a book jacket design, “except it’s a floor.”
Environmental typography informs, decorates, and celebrates ideas or
events. Barbara Kruger painted type on walls, floor, and ceiling, transforming a
gallery space into a typographical manifesto; Stephen Doyle applied type to
floors and walls as though the surfaces were a form of a two-dimensional
sculpture. And speaking of two dimensions, type is frequently contorted and
stretched on posters and other print materials to approximate three-
dimensional architectural structures, as pictorial puns that convey two
simultaneous messages. Scher’s NJPAC proves that a building can not only
house but can be art and design, advertisement and manifesto, sculpture and
architecture, all under one roof.
New Jersey Performing Arts Center
Designer: Paula Scher
2003 New Jersey Performing Arts Center
d: Paula Scher s: Pentagram c: NJPAC
1. Building
2. Posters
3. Interior signage
Exterior architectural type treatments
Interior architectural type treatments
Type creating illusion of space
1991 All Violence Is the Illustration of a
Pathetic Stereotype
a:Barbara Kruger
Interior view of exhibition “Barbara Kruger,”
Mary Boone Gallery, New York. Photo by
Dorothy Zeidman, Fremont.
1996 19th Amendment
ad:Stephen Doyle ad:D
c:New York State Divis
undated The Bonhomme a Laigle buildings in
France façade treatment
1995 Pieces From the Editing Floor
CD cover for Mondo Grosso
ad:Hideki Nakajima s:Nakajima Design, Ltd.
1997 Horst Schafer poster
d:Pierre Mendell
s:Studio Mendell & Oberer
1999 R
Soda fa
1977 Guggenheim Museum poster
d:Ivan Chermayeff
1957 Renault Dauphine poster
d:Herbert Leupin
1999 Signage for Volharding
Building, The Hague building fa
d:Lust c:Wils&Co, Architectura
Platform of the Hague
1997 Esisar Valence signage
d:Ruedi Baur c:DDE de la Drome,
rectorat de l'academie de Grenoble,
Drac Rhone-Alpes
Design of the façade and signage for the
Esisar school.
1996 The Veenman Printers building, Ede,
The Netherlands façade treatment
s:Neutelings Riedijk
Façade design for the Veenman Printworks
building, Ede, Netherlands featuring typography
by Karel Martens.
1955 Land's End façade treatment
The sign reads: “First to Last House in England.”
1935 A Midsummer Night's Dream
building signage
With the gloom of the economic slump
during the Great Depression, theatres
went to lengths to attract patrons.
1928 Spies façade decoration
d:Rudi Feld c:Ufa-Palast am Zoo, Berlin
The entrance of the Ufa-Palast am Zoo fantastic
searchlight eyes roll and magically illuminate the
suggestive title Spione/Spies.
1924 Mosselprom's headquarters
façade decoration
d:Vladimir Mayakovsky, Alexander
1998 Die Pr’a’sidentinnen poster
d:Gunter Rambow

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