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Comments (57) Posted 05.07.09 | PERMALINK | PRINT

John Cantwell

Trump, The Logo


Trump Tower

The Trump Tower, New York, NY, from the photostream of The Edge

The first plans for Trump Tower were drawn in secret, late in the 1970’s. Der Scutt, the building’s architect, devised a saw-toothed, gleaming dark bronze glass tower that was to be constructed on the site of the old Bonwit Teller department store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The secrecy, uncharacteristic of Donald Trump, was for good reason. When Trump and Scutt began work on what was then dubbed “Project T,” Trump had neither the rights to the Bonwit Teller property, nor the funding for construction, nor the approval for a crucial urban redevelopment tax abatement from New York City, nor the air rights from neighboring Tiffany’s, which Trump needed in order to build the Tower to his desired height. In short, Trump Tower began as little more than a mad scheme, the sum of Trump’s vast confidence and appetite for success, and the project’s fate would ultimately hinge on Donald Trump’s ability to will Trump Tower into existence. 

Put mildly, Trump’s ambitions for the Tower were enormous. With only one major project to his name, the Grand Hyatt on 42nd Street (on which Der Scutt was also the lead design architect), Trump was, at best, a semi-somebody — the big-talking son of Fred Trump, a well-connected outer-boroughs developer who owned thousands of working-class housing units in Brooklyn and Queens. For the younger Trump, who was already flipping properties in Ohio and Arizona before he finished undergrad at U Penn, controlling his father’s sizable real estate holdings would never be enough. There was little glamour in middle class housing. And besides, whatever money could be made running the family business would never match the billion-dollar deals being brokered across the East River, in Manhattan. From the start, Trump Tower was intended to be Donald Trump’s literal and figurative stamp on New York City, a bold, once-in-a-lifetime swipe at the big leagues.

Trump Tower was the first of Donald Trump’s buildings on which his name appeared — a significant personal achievement for someone so concerned with personal recognition, but also an important step forward for Trump’s businesses. Affixing his name to the building made Trump Tower an instantly recognizable landmark and transformed the Tower into Trump’s most literal and significant vehicle for branding both himself and his future projects. The building’s logo — thick block letters that spell out TRUMP TOWER in all caps — was particularly significant to the emerging Trump brand identity, marking Trump’s territory on Fifth Avenue while also defining his prevailing aesthetic and influencing the ways he would label subsequent buildings.

The logo above the building’s main entrance, huge and gleaming in 34-inch brass block letters, bluntly announces Trump’s presence on the street. It’s crude, perhaps, but undeniably effective. In a neighborhood filled with names like Bergdorf, Cartier, and Tiffany, none is more prominent than Trump’s. Inside, the same lettering is repeated (in miniature) on nearly every conceivable surface — on windows, directory signs, elevator labels, you name it. At a certain point, the word “overcompensation” springs to mind. Trump uses the logo to ensure that he is never shown up by his high-profile neighbors, or even by the prominent tenants in his building. From the moment you walk under those big brass letters and enter the Trump lobby, with its 80-foot waterfall and rose-colored Italian marble walls, it is made plain that you are in Trump’s world, and no one else’s.

Trump Tower was built under an airtight construction schedule. If the building was not completed by the end of 1983, Trump would not qualify for a massive tax abatement from the city, so much of the building’s design, including the logo, was done on the fly. Final pre-construction renderings of Trump Tower did not include a visual identity, and early photos of the construction site show that Trump was using a temporary — and very ugly — logo when ground was broken. A later photo, though, taken roughly a year before the building opened, shows that Scutt and Trump had by then chosen the final identity. The picture shows a brass quintet standing atop an awning in front of Trump Tower, the building’s steel skeleton still exposed. A lit Christmas tree sits on a riser behind the band, and off to the right, almost out of view, the final Trump Tower logo is visible. 

Der Scutt, the architect of Trump Tower, designed the Trump Tower logo. Scutt says he had relative autonomy in terms of the logo’s design, at least initially. Scutt chose the lettering for the logo — Stymie Extra Bold — because he thought it fit the look of Trump Tower. His design, he says, was “a purely aesthetic decision.” Stymie is in some ways an ironic choice for Trump Tower. Designed in the 1930’s by Morris Fuller Benton for the American Type Foundry, Stymie is a typeface more often associated with industry than luxury. IBM used a variant of Stymie for its logo, and the New York Times Magazine has used Stymie for years. In other respects, though, Stymie is perfect Trump Tower. Stymie belongs to a family of typefaces called slab serifs, which are often used for visual identities that call for impact; a lot of college uniforms, for instance, use slab serifs. Scutt, however, says he did not consider the typeface’s history when he chose Stymie. “I couldn’t give a rat’s ass as to the history of it,” he says. “I chose it because I liked it.”

Der Scutt’s only lasting regret about the logo is something he had no control over. Scutt’s initial design for the lettering over the building’s main entrance called for the letters to be 17 inches tall. He was aiming, he says, for elegance; he kept telling Trump to “be Tiffany’s” — that is, he wanted the building’s entrance communicate with its elegant neighbor. Trump had other ideas. According to Scutt, Trump went behind his back and had the letters doubled in size, throwing off the proportions of the entrance. “I told him people flying into New York would see the sign before their planes landed,” he says.

The rest, though, is history. The Trump Tower logo became the basis for the identities of Trump’s highly visible side businesses and glamour projects — Trump’s early books, The Art of the Deal and Surviving at the Top, and Trump’s board game, Trump: The Game, all used a compressed version of Scutt’s design. The logo has also proven remarkably durable — it’s remained unchanged for more than twenty-five years, and still exerts a powerful presence both inside and outside Trump Tower. Trump would likely say he predicted that all along. 

The overall use of Trump’s logos, however, has changed over the years. In the late 1980’s, after a decade of rabid expansion fueled by continued leveraging of himself and his properties, Trump nearly went bankrupt. He has referred to this period as a “blip.” Whatever you call it, the upshot is that Trump lost much of his empire — management control of the Plaza Hotel; the titles to Trump Shuttle, his airline; his 238-foot yacht, the Trump Princess; and his private Boeing 727 (which he subsequently repurchased). He was forced to agree to a personal spending limit of four hundred and fifty thousand dollars a month. But, worst of all, Trump lost his credit; banks were suddenly reluctant to finance Trump’s massive ventures. Trump found, though, that he did not have to look far for a new revenue stream. There was still money to be made by licensing the Trump name.

Trump’s first post-blip licensing deal was the Trump International at Columbus Circle. Though the building bore Trump’s name — again in gleaming bronze letters — Trump was paid an up front fee as a consultant, and his ownership stake in the property was limited to a penthouse apartment in the building and a share of the restaurant and parking. Many properties he’s developed since have been structured around similar deals. The remarkable thing, though, is that most people still believe Trump owns these buildings; his pseudo attachment to the licensed properties lends them a certain cache long after he’s moved on to the next project. In his 1997 New Yorker profile of Trump (written around the time the Trump International was opening and Trump’s star was once again on the rise), Mark Singer perfectly summed up Trump’s skill for “image ownership:” “By appearing to exert control over assets that aren’t necessarily his — at least not in ways that his pronouncements suggest — [Trump] exercises his real talent: using his name as a form of leverage.”

Today, Trump’s licensing empire extends far beyond real estate. A brief sampling of Trump products currently available include Trump Steaks, Trump: The Fragrance, Donald Trump Menswear, Trump Ice (bottled water), and Trump Vodka (with a label designed by Milton Glaser.) While he still actively oversees the design of the new buildings that bear his name — he does, after all, need to protect the brand — Trump does not always work side-by-side with the designers who shape the look of his licensed products. On Trump Vodka, for instance, Milton Glaser's office was hired by Drinks America, the vodka’s distributor, and Glaser did not have direct contact with Trump until the Trump Vodka launch party. (Drinks America, coincidentally, specializes in celeb-brand alcohol — they also market Dr. Dre cognac and Willie Nelson whiskey.)

Today, each of Trump’s licensed products uses a different visual identity. There is no longer a singular Trump style — the business now hinges on the brand, not the man. Maybe this is what Trump ultimately envisioned thirty years back, when Der Scutt sketched out the first interations of Trump Tower. Maybe Trump knew the building would propel him into that strange atmosphere, popular culture, where he would forever buzz around our collective consciousness in some gold-plated helicopter. Maybe he understood he was destined to exist as an idea more than a person, to be an adjective and a noun, and maybe this is what he truly desired.
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Comments (57)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

Donald Trump went behind the designer's back and doubled the size of the logo (cue "Make The Logo Bigger" music)? Completely unfathomable ;)

Great article!...
James Keppel
06.01.09 at 10:08

um....let's see now....it's 2009....and we are supposed to be impressed by leverage?
plakaboy
06.01.09 at 11:48

The type in the photo looks more like lubalin graph than stymie, but I might have missed something in the text.
ryan u
06.01.09 at 12:02

“I couldn’t give a rat’s ass as to the history of it,”

Ha! Spoken like a true professional. Actually, spoken like Trump.
Armin
06.01.09 at 12:26

Ok, having gotten my smart-ass comment out of the way, now I ask: why is this a Design Observer piece? Really, if this is the future of design criticism, who needs it? A random linking of a font chosen by B-list architect who couldn't care less, for a client who cared about nothing but his own self-aggrandizement, under circumstances that now, in our current cultural and social deflation (of overinflated value and hype) seem irrelevant at best...was design ever the issue here? Is the idea that we are going to spend our time delineating each and every one of these paltry events that now look like and smell like manure more than ever? If that's the case, I think the audience for design criticism is going to deflate as well. Next up: Brittany Spears and J Lo: parfumieres extraordinaires? The rejected bottles? Oh, nevermind. Let's just talk about the font on those bottles.
plakaboy
06.01.09 at 01:19

Every time I speak with students, they tell me that the essays that generate opposition here on Design Observer are by far the most interesting. So it appears we have succeeded! (I'm looking at you, Plakaboy.) That said, if you have an actual definition of what in fact constitutes a "Design Observer piece" I am sure my co-editors and I would love to hear what you've got in mind.
jessica helfand
06.01.09 at 01:37

@Plakaboy

If it's a part of visual culture, it's worth evaluating.
Chappell
06.01.09 at 01:39

I second Chappell's comment.

And plakaboy, sometimes you can draw lessons from jobs that were not done "properly;" i.e., from a logo that wasn't designed by a graphic designer but nevertheless has proven "remarkably durable."

I, for one, am happy to see work by the first students at SVA's Design Criticism MFA program here and elsewhere (AIGA Voice).
Ricardo Cordoba
06.01.09 at 02:09

Ok, ok, I get the school spirit rally here, nothing against the SVA program, etc. It's just that I think that the story that Mr. Cantwell tells is fundamentally a tale of design at the low end and he never really comes out and says it. You've got an architect of the gun-for-hire school picking a font for random reasons who ends up aiding and abetting one of the many self-constructed celebrities in our culture that seems still addicted to this junk while so many things are being torn apart in a declining economy. Maybe it's just too much to be faced with on the Monday that General Motors implodes: the bull**** of the last few years, the realization that design has acted as a handmaiden to the decline, and why the heck not. It's just as implicated in our culture as all the other institutions. So, sure, it is a Design Observer piece. Just not a very happy one.
plakaboy
06.01.09 at 02:52

plakaboy, thanks for your feedback. you're right to wonder about the value of considering trump, or why an essay like this might appeal to design observer. here's what i think:

like chappell (who is, in the interest of disclosure, a classmate of mine) said in a comment above, "if it's a part of visual culture, it's worth evaluating." now, maybe this is an oversimplified idea, but i do think it's true. the fact is that for more than twenty-five years trump tower has been a fixture of one of the most visited, photographed, written-about areas of new york city, but up until this point little has been written about the building's appearance. it seemed like a subject ripe for evaluation, perhaps even more so because of the current collective mood. after all, now that we've emerged from the high of our most recent gilded age, what better time to look back and consider the excesses from years past?

it's interesting that you would point out the j. lo and britney spears perfumes as another seemingly trivial topic for design criticism. it seems to me more people should be writing about stuff like that from a design perspective. there were probably millions of bottles of those perfumes produced, and they wound up in millions of homes, mostly in the bedrooms of young girls. those bottles explicitly and implicitly communicate so many things - about their namesakes, about feminity, about notions of beauty and desirability - and, believe it or not, they affect how people live. no, a bottle of j. lo perfume is not on the same level design-wise as a gehry building or eames chair. but how many pre-teen girls are being actively influenced by modern furniture design? not many, right? now, maybe the world would be a better place if this situation was reversed. but it's not. and that means (at least in my opinion) that if one is serious about considering design, one must consider the high and low, and deal with the world as it is, instead of only focusing on how it should be. reyner banham made this same point fifty years ago.

more than solely expressing opinions and making value judgements, it seems to me that the role of a design critic would be to help people understand how design affects the world in which they live, or to at least realize that they live in an environment that's actually designed. if people understand that more fully, then they'll perhaps advocate for better design. and that would be good, right?
john cantwell
06.01.09 at 03:21

disclosure: I am one of John's colleagues in the D-Crit program. But even with this association, I say as objectively as possible this is the kind of investigative history I love to read--anywhere. (I'll leave aside whether this should be the future of design criticism; that such a question can even be raised is heartening in its own way.)
The fact that so much of our visual and built environment is dross argues for a basis for exploring it on this level. It seems understood that design is a tool used for all sorts of purposes, and is therefore as complicit in the bad stuff as it is effective.
And even, perhaps especially, poor design gets more interesting in the scrutiny.
Alan Rapp
06.01.09 at 03:30

I think the problem with this piece is its overall narrative neutrality. While I did enjoy the story told, I leave the article with no real sense of where the author stands, what his position is. The author sounds like a student and this is a very good piece of first year writing - but first year writing nonetheless.

Perhaps this piece, as it is titled, is simply a series of curious observations by a guest writer. In this regard at least I think plakaboy is right to spill some ink and raise the question as to whether or not criticism should not reveal something more, and whether or not Design Observer intends to be critical and have more of a distinct point of view.

While it is true that light reading is a pleasant diversion (and we certainly need "lite" diversions from time to time), if a goal of criticism is to propel design through a revealing of difference (not indifference), authorial coyness as a critical strategy simply obscures the possible meaning of the facts, however accurately told. This lets the author as well as the protagonists of the story too easily off the critical hook and allows both, in their politeness, to keep on doing what was either nonconsequential or not so compelling in the first place.

While I enjoyed this observational post, because I desperately need to be entertained and do form my own opinions, I agree with plakaboy, Design Observer should seek to increase its investment in its own brand of criticality and move beyond the tendency on the part of many of it's writers to simply tell a good story that leaves the reader in the same easy place they were when they double-clicked onto the post.
Bernard Pez
06.01.09 at 04:28

Judging by the "R" in the logo, the font looks more like Rockwell than Stymie.
Andrew
06.01.09 at 05:32

The biography of Donald Trump is fascinating, the history of the Trump Tower is much less so. Why bother?
Constantin Boym
06.01.09 at 05:44

If I'm not mistaken Mr. Boym your work is mostly based on interpreting mundane American designs, such as drab products from Sears, or images of the suburbs. One could similarly ask why you would bother to work through so many iterations of these ideas based on uninteresting low-end design.

I think that there is a value to John’s writing, and also that it is imperative to look beyond conceptual and high end design to the everyday. We have to see the complete picture to fairly and responsibly evaluate our visual culture, and looking at Trump Tower is just one way to go about that.

I too am John’s classmate in the Design Criticism MFA program.
EmilyLeibin
06.01.09 at 07:22

Since Plakaboy is old (as if you can’t tell) and has been around the block, I do not need to be told that the visual in our culture deserves to be written about, or that there is value in the high and the low, etc., etc.. The question that I have about this essay by Mr. Cantwell is whether or not he has told us anything of value, at all. Trump, The Logo appears to be a trivia question (“Who designed the logo over the entrance to Trump Tower, and what font is it?) presented in the guise of design “criticism.” Why? Because of all the things this story touches on, the least important is the logo on that building: to resort to an old cliché, it’s like complaining about Hitler’s moustache (or trying to figure out who his barber was).

There are three design stories that could have been the focus of Mr. Cantwell’s subject: (1) the story of how The Donald constructed his American archetypical image and has used it as a marketing device; (2) the story of the design of the building itself; and (3) the story of the use of tax abatements, zoning laws, etc. to shape the “deal” that built the Trump Tower, and its influence on subsequent city design and the urban environment. Did Donald Trump build his empire upon a logo, or upon tax abatement programs? Der Scutt provided a service to Trump in designing that logo, but it was no more than that: there was no investment in the logo as a communication device or a strategy (the choice of the font being driven by its similarity to the rectilinear design of the building: a typical architects’ idea of graphic design!). And, news flash! All The Donald cared about was scale. How does that logo matter? I still have no clue.

So spare me the citation of Reyner Banham: there is a long way to go here to get to the depths of critical analysis, or the ability to call things as they were, that characterized his brilliant writing. If design criticism is going to go anywhere, it cannot be based on what the market already has declared as functional or important, because as we see almost everyday, “in these economic times,” half of it is bull. Designers have to be able to describe the conditions they work in, recognize what is important, and deal, honestly, with the idea that though those fonts matter, sometimes the logo is the last thing that anyone should care about. And if Mr. Cantwell wants “the people” to “advocate for better design,” then he’d darn well better describe to his audience what really matters, and how they might actually affect it, or he’ll end up sounding like Andy Rooney.

plakaboy
06.01.09 at 09:09

If I'm not mistaken Mr. Boym your work is mostly based on interpreting mundane American designs, such as drab products from Sears, or images of the suburbs.

Ouch a personal attack on someone, way to defend your argument.
Joseph Kalatino
06.01.09 at 09:17

The real story here isn't the logo itself, it's the notion of a man as a brand.

This article touches on the interesting subject of the role of communication design in the creation and perpetuation of the celebrity-as-corporate-entity. So it's odd that the title and general focus of this article is on the actual letterforms of the TRUMP wordmark. Although that backstory is interesting, it's a small part of the overall story (talk about getting stymied).

That said, this is a really interesting article and well worth a read, it just leaves me wishing for more... How did he "will" the tower into existence? How did he go bankrupt without killing his brand? How did he make his come-back? What is he doing now to keep his brand alive?
Damer
06.01.09 at 10:31

The Trump logo is too big? Of course it is. And as one who has regularly had to walk into a wall of visitors outside the entrance, on my way somewhere in New York, I can feel their thrill and awe: They SAW it. They were THERE. That huge brass logo is embedded forever in their minds as is the man by the name. How many designers crave that degree of branding success? I hear about the brilliant branding of supermarket products and never see a gathering of shoppers gawking in an aisle. I cannot even describe the current Pepsi font.
Trump pumps his image brilliantly and it is absolutely within the realm of any serious design criticism, perhaps more than many of the more high-minded topics. The success of Trump is vital for any designer and design observer to understand. Well done.
Howard Stein
06.01.09 at 10:56

The distinction made in some of the above comments between high and low architectural commissions is tiresome and why I'm happy to see this piece posted here at Design Observer. Design critics should be engaging with the real built world as they find it, not some world as it ought to be. For years, Herbert Muschamp, when he was arch critic for the Times, would write only about a handful of architects he felt worthy of attention and ignore so much of the development around NYC, deeming it unworthy of comment or examination. It's sad when architecture critics have to fill their quota by reviewing small gallery shows or books on theory because they won't write about commercial projects by firms not on some approved list of worthies. Hopefully that time has passed, and younger writers will see the world a bit more broadly.
TM
06.01.09 at 11:27

John, if you don't have an opinion, don't make it an opinion piece. This essay reveals a sign and a type face but might be better be written as a twit. For instance;

Saw Trump logo 5thAve. Stymie Extra Bold. Arch sez I couldn’t give a rat’s ass as to the history…I chose it because I liked it. T uses diff logo now. Bad hair trumps design.

You need to dig a tad deeper and express ideas within the context of concepts both past and present. And back it up. Surely there was critical writing about the tower when it was written. Didn't Paul Goldberger or Michael Sorkin write about it? What did they say then? Has opinion changed? Look it up and cite some sources in the rewrite. Take more of a risk and reveal yourself as well as your subject. (B-) Thanks, BP
Bernard Pez
06.02.09 at 12:11

Bernard Pez: It doesn't seem to be an opinion piece. Nor does the author seem to be presenting it as one. Rather, he seems to be reporting and observing circumstances related to development of Trump Tower, its logo, etc. Of course, that does not mean that the author lacks an opinion, as you so archly suggest. It simply means he had the good grace to realize that he needn't interject his opinions into his observations.

There's nothing worse than opinion masquerading as criticism, so I'm grateful that the author has avoided that trap. I enjoyed reading it. Anyone who wants to find out what Paul Goldberger's criticisms or opinions were about Trump Tower can certainly do his own research.
Rob Henning
06.02.09 at 01:43

“Trump Super Premium Vodka is bottled with a unique, beautiful and luxurious design, with labels and outer decorations by world famous New York designer and artist Milton Glaser.”

I find it amusing that Drinks America and the The Trump Organization decided to slap a TM right in the middle of the Trump Vodka logo. Milton probably looked at the trademark issue as another design problem.
Carl W. Smith
06.02.09 at 05:59

What a shame that some condescending person with the moniker "plakaboy" got the first word and made the conversation about the way the piece is written rather than about the interesting issues it raises regarding the interplay between graphic design and architecture. If Plakaboy wanted it written differently, then he should have written it.
chase
06.02.09 at 09:54

I object to the term condescending. I am a careful reader. If I read Mr. Cantwell correctly, he is telling us that in the case of Trump Tower, there was little or no "interplay between graphic design and architecture". That's why I questioned his focus on the logo, rather than the myriad other things that could be said about Trump Tower, Donald Trump, or relationship of design to architecture represented by the reality of that place. I'm responding to this author and taking his efforts to engage in design criticism quite seriously. If it's condescension that you are interested in, I'd say that the defensive comments of his D-Crit colleagues deliver on that note (especially that comment directed to Mr. Boym).
plakaboy
06.02.09 at 10:23

plakaboy, where in the essay does it say there was "little or no interplay between graphic design and architecture"? i never wrote that, nor is it a central point of the essay. there is in fact a major connection between the two. they reflect one on another in terms of their bigness - in relation to the street itself, and in relation to trump's own ambitions surrounding the project.

this essay was originally written for a class taught by steve heller. the assignment was broad - to construct a narrative about a designed object. the resulting essay was never intended to be an opinion piece, only an example of original research and writing. in this regard, i still believe the piece succeeds. of the many graphic designers and design historians and trump-related people i spoke with, no one knew who designed the trump tower logo, which i found surprising given its prominence and recognizability. this is, i think, the first time anyone has published information exclusively about the trump tower logo. so while it may be an ultimately small piece information (though not small enough to reduce to a tweet necessarily), it is an original contribution and i'm proud of that.

it's been interesting to see that a number of readers wished, or at least expected, that i would have expressed a more firm opinion about the logo. i'm assuming this desire was stoked at least partially by the information that i am a design criticism student. now i'm wondering how the reaction would have differed if my little bio said, "john cantwell is a writer in nyc," or "john cantwell has brown hair." would there still have been the same objections to the piece's lack of opinion, or would readers have reacted differently?
john cantwell
06.02.09 at 11:21

Thanks for reminding me, Plakaboy. What about that comment by Boym? Why bother with the history of Trump Tower? Really?
chase
06.02.09 at 11:27

does anyone realize that the logo is not made with Stymie?
ryan u
06.02.09 at 11:33

Bernard Pez: It doesn't seem to be an opinion piece. Nor does the author seem to be presenting it as one. Rather, he seems to be reporting and observing circumstances related to development of Trump Tower, its logo, etc. Of course, that does not mean that the author lacks an opinion, as you so archly suggest. It simply means he had the good grace to realize that he needn't interject his opinions into his observations.

Mr. Henning, You are right. I mispoke in my haste to knock out a comment to a post. The piece as you note is not an opinion piece. It is reportage. That is why it makes sense as an "Observed" piece, one paragraph with a punch line, or as I suggested before, a tweet.

Der Scott, an architect best known for background buildings of little distinction, designed a now little used logo. Without the obsolete logo plastered on the building and the celebrity of the protagonist, Trump, one wonders if any one would even care about the design of this building or its logo. Is that the purpose of looking at the everyday? To just look? An interest in the everyday does not void a critic's or a writer's need to make distinctions and have a point of view.

Why did the author not inject his opinion into his observations in a more forceful way? Plakaboy is right to challenge the lack of critical concepts in the writing over which the author now claims non-critical pride. Why should DO publish this type of verbiage with by your own reckoning no point of view or idea?

Finally, the author should look up Boym's architectural models for a lesson on use of the everyday. There, with few words, are amazing distillations of everyday architecture in the form of models, some distinguished some not in their originals, with clear connections to critical memory, and forgetfulness, that serve as everyday reminders of the way place and design is indelibly connected to ideas, memory and difference. These models are a real lesson in both looking and thinking that all students should learn from.
Bernard Pez
06.02.09 at 01:37

Jesus people You didn't like the article. Other people did. Get off your high horses and get on with your lives.
chase
06.02.09 at 01:54

Even if I disagree with Mr. Cantwell, he deserves a better response to his efforts than the reductionism of "chase." Unless he's expecting American Idol-type voting, he has gotten lots of feedback that he is free to take or leave...and I've certainly gotten a new feel for the D-Crit program.
plakaboy
06.02.09 at 02:24

Why should DO publish this type of verbiage with by your own reckoning no point of view or idea?

Umm, maybe because the site is called Design Observer (not Design Critic, not Design Opinion) and the DO editors thought that Mr. Cantwell's observations and "reportage" about the Trump project might be interesting to at least some of their readers. They were right.

The strident demands for opinion and/or criticism, from you and others, are misplaced--based as they are on erroneous presumptions about what constitutes proper DO content. To my knowledge, DO editors have never claimed that their site is all criticism/opinion all the time. And in the instance of reportage or observation, a writer does need to attempt to suppress his/her impulse to share personal opinions. Cantwell was right to leave his opinions out of his reportage, seeing as how he never even pretended it was criticism or opinion.
Rob Henning
06.02.09 at 02:40

Dear P-Boy and others:
If you can, try pretending we didn't include the last line of John Cantwell's biography (which I, not John, wrote). Would that allow you to read and enjoy (or not) the piece at face value, free of the need to consider it the starting point of a referendum on the SVA D-Crit program?
Michael Bierut
06.02.09 at 03:04

People love to hate the Donald. Judge his developments outside of the context of "the myth." Regardless of what name is over the entrance, Trump Tower is one of the most elegant skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan. The landscaped terraces have more architectural "green space" than any other tower in New York City (long before being "green" was hip).

Directed at all the haters commenting here: the Community Boards and other special interest busy-bodies have done more to damage New York City architecture than anything Trump has ever done. Even for those who don't share his architectural taste, the quality of his developments are without peer. He doesn't cut corners on anything. Even with the buildings that only sport his "branding," his operation notoriously micromanages the quality control of everything down to the door hardware and the weave of the carpets. For quality materials, fit and finish, his properties are the standard of comparison.
Chris Grayson
06.02.09 at 03:19

he may have liked Stymie, but he got Lubalin. maybe 'the don' changed this as well when he went behind his back.
itc_james
06.02.09 at 04:46

Leave it to a trusty type-head to establish that even the "facts" of this piece are in question!
plakaboy
06.02.09 at 06:03

Andrew and itc_james have noticed that the R in the logo does not match Stymie... As itc_james points out, it looks like a bold cut of ITC Lubalin Graph.
Ricardo Cordoba
06.02.09 at 06:23

Leave it to a trusty type-head to establish that even the "facts" of this piece are in question!

Now you're being incredibly nasty, plakaboy. No, the facts of this article aren't in question. But the impression that someone, along the way, may have changed the typeface is a chance for further investigation. And if you don't think that tracing the usage of a typeface in a project can be incredibly convoluted, check out Paul Shaw's article on the use of Helvetica in the New York City subway.
Ricardo Cordoba
06.02.09 at 06:36

Ok,Ok Mr. Cordoba, you are right: that was below the belt. But it just supports what I maintained from the beginning: that there was no significant story to be gleaned from the design of that logo, no intention, no integrity, blah, blah, blah, so it's just a trivial little story, and no, it does not even support "further investigation" because there is nothing significant about the logo other than its brief use by a famous blow-hard who built his empire like so many others, pigging out at the public trough while masquerading as a maverick. That's the design story, not the logo: looking at Der Scutt and his logo is like looking through the wrong end of the telescope (though the microscope turned out to be useful). This time I'm going to state what I've been trying to get at as a question: is design criticism or design writing or design journalism just any writing that focuses on a designed thing as its subject? Or is design criticism/journalism/writing some special form, informed by views or observation through the lens of design, or the practice of design, animating the subject with an intelligence (or, dare I say, opinion) wrought through design thinking? Or maybe it's just design writing if we say so? Any answers to that, D-Critters? End of (my) story.
plakaboy
06.02.09 at 07:14

A professor of mine in grad school taught his students who were headed for their first academic conferences to recognize certain perennial sorts of troublesome questioners who might show up at their panels.

One of these was the questioner whose 'questions' were (sometimes not-so-thinly-) veiled presentations of the paper or book that the panelists did not write, and in which the questioner was more interested.

For example, regarding a paper on the rhetorical structure of European right-wing propaganda in the years leading up to World War II, such a questioner might ask: 'I wonder if you've considered the effect that differences between German and Italian cuisines might have had on the relative prominence of food metaphors in Hitler's and Mussolini's defenses of their regimes.'

My professor counseled us that the proper response to such a questioner was to say, 'That sounds like a fascinating piece of research, and I look forward to your paper on the topic.'

Nice piece, Mr. Cantwell. Blogs are free, plakaboy.
Maurice Meilleur
06.02.09 at 07:59

Regardless of opinion, plakaboy's commentary has promoted a full (and mostly constructive) discussion rivaling the original article in interest and depth. I applaud criticism. If I had authored the article, I would want as much feedback as possible; why would you want a 'grade' without an explanation?
Kaleb
06.03.09 at 01:58

I have followed this post and its many rants with interest. Perhaps because it reminded me of a moment in architecture, the late 1970's and early 1980's, when architecture in the public eye was rapidly changing from late-modernism to post-modernism, when images and icons on skylines were again being seen as possible and important (think A.T. & T), and there was much renewed discussion and debate about cities, context, meaning and place-making - and the role of buildings and architecture and indeed even logos in contributing to these.

Trump Tower, with its atrium, brassiness, reflected glass, south facing zig zags that maximized corner windows for the units above, etc. was clearly of this moment in time. The building was noticed, but as much for what it did not quite accomplish as a piece of architecture as what it did as a new type of shopping venue.

Architecture critics of the day (there was a lot of writing on this tower and Cantwell would be wise to make more reference to it) were impressed by the atrium and its craft, then unusual in NYC, but few declared its exterior form of high interest or an enduring iconic landmark. The building was competent for sure but it was the atrium that got the attention. Writers who praised the atrium but doubted the exterior expression, such as Goldberger, also did not hesitate to question the use of an atrium in New York City and its potential negative impact on the life and culture of 5th Avenue.

Having lived in Los Angeles for 25 years, I am not sure if Trump Tower has helped or hindered 5th Avenue, but I am confident that this type of internalizing architectural statement that takes people off the street and sidewalks into guarded private realms is generally frowned upon by most urbanists and rarely encouraged in normative City design (especially in NY). A lot of observers who experienced Trump Tower in its beginnings had an inherent discomfort with the atrium as a qualitative urban design idea for New York City or indeed most cities even as they acknowledged the architectural parts that worked well.

Perhaps it is the difference between Trump's intent - that repels the democratic urbanism of the surrounding streets and heralds the self-absorbed individualism of the past decades - and the ideal of city architecture that is inclusive and reinforces public place-making, that when not made manifest so appalls plakaboy. While I appreciate the effort in this post to reintroduce us again to the past, I share plakaboy's sense that the logo in this case must invite deeper entry into a problematic past. The logo not only bespeaks Trumps idea of quality, luxury and the good life and his struggle to brand it for his own enrichment and celebrity, but also still stands for a type of careless excess that should not be unintentionally lionized without some tough questioning.
John Kaliski
06.03.09 at 02:20

I loved this article. i enjoy knowing the history behind design we see everyday. how can anyone say this doesn't belong? clearly about typography, branding and pop culture.
ITC_james
06.03.09 at 10:15

It's hard to believe people don't think this story is worthwhile because it's low-end design or because it represents Trump, or whatever other reason. I have to admit, there is no reason why anyone should know these set of facts that have been presented, but now you do, and is that really so bad? A little extra knowledge on the mundane aspects of visual culture can't hurt anyone.

PS: Despite Michael's note to perhaps ignore the fact that this is a D-crit piece, I did want to point out that grammatical correctness is as important as subject alertness in the evolving field of design criticism: Can we please change all the possessive decades (1970's, 1980's) to plurals (1970s, 1980s)?
Armin
06.03.09 at 10:54

A random linking of a font chosen by B-list architect who couldn't care less, for a client who cared about nothing but his own self-aggrandizement, under circumstances that now, in our current cultural and social deflation (of overinflated value and hype) seem irrelevant at best...

...irrelevant? These conditions produced an iconic logo. Design criticism/analysis should absolutely look at the conditions which generate iconic design. Plakaboy's insistence that there is no intention, integrity, 'bla bla bla' behind this 'trivial' story and logo design misses the point that it is the very lack of 'integrity' and 'intention' which is relevant - the post is a story about one way that design comes into the world. It tells the reader that design is the product of circumstance as much as it is the product of conscientious design-thinking, whether Plakaboy likes it or not.

The insistence that the logo itself doesn't matter or isn't the real story is a thinly-veiled way of saying that the logo shouldn't matter. But it does matter, regardless of how trivial or inconsequential some vulgar 'criticism' may wish it.
Ralphy
06.03.09 at 11:44

The insistence that the logo itself doesn't matter or isn't the real story is a thinly-veiled way of saying that the logo shouldn't matter. But it does matter, regardless of how trivial or inconsequential some vulgar 'criticism' may wish it.

Ralphy, plakaboy never said the logo does not matter. The post had difficulty stating why it mattered. Plakaboy's point, and I believe John Kaliski stated this more elegantly, is that it does matter, even in its unintentionality, and that design writing should better reveal how it matters.
Bernard Pez
06.03.09 at 12:31

"Ralphy, plakaboy never said the logo does not matter."

Yes, he did.

of all the things this story touches on, the least important is the logo on that building

Der Scutt provided a service to Trump in designing that logo, but it was no more than that: there was no investment in the logo as a communication device or a strategy

though those fonts matter, sometimes the logo is the last thing that anyone should care about

That's why I questioned his focus on the logo, rather than the myriad other things that could be said about Trump Tower, Donald Trump, etc.

it just supports what I maintained from the beginning: that there was no significant story to be gleaned from the design of that logo


Furthermore, to maintain that Cantwell's piece fails because it didn't say more is a lazy criticism that could be applied to any piece of writing. I generally agree with John Kaliski's response (not for the least because it is focused and specific in what it says) but to think that the original post approves unthinkingly of Trump's wealth, quality, and luxury is to address the text only on a superficial level. The post presents Trump as He Who transmutes ego to gold and vice-versa; the production of the logo being the reference point that illuminates Trump's steamrolling personality. What could be more gauche than a name-branded vodka? Why do you think the author conjured up the image of a 'gold-plated helicopter' if not to raise the spectre of careless excess? Yes, Cantwell could say more, and write in greater detail, but that warrants a response along the measured lines of Kaliski, not some foolish haymakers.
Ralphy
06.03.09 at 12:55

What could be more gauche than a name-branded vodka?

Ralphy, we here at Winterhouse are toying with the idea of branching out beyond our yearly production of maple syrup and bottling our own vodka. Does this mean we shouldn't send you a bottle?
jessica helfand
06.03.09 at 01:32

of all the things this story touches on, the least important is the logo on that building

Der Scutt provided a service to Trump in designing that logo, but it was no more than that: there was no investment in the logo as a communication device or a strategy does not say it does not matter

though those fonts matter, sometimes the logo is the last thing that anyone should care about says it matters but other things may be more important

That's why I questioned his focus on the logo, rather than the myriad other things that could be said about Trump Tower, Donald Trump, etc. says it matters but other things may be more important

it just supports what I maintained from the beginning: that there was no significant story to be gleaned from the design of that logo says it matters in that logo design does not tell significant story in comparison to the story itself

Ralphy, Cantwell's piece fails because it did not say more. As you say ,i>Yes, Cantwell could say more, and write in greater detail, but that warrants a response along the measured lines of Kaliski, not some foolish haymakers.

Ralphy, it sounds like you agree with plakaboy, you are just more polite.

06.03.09 at 03:55

Ah! Jessica has caught me. Send me a bottle? I guess from the discussion at hand it depends on the size of the logo (I'm more of a pancake guy anyway).
Ralphy
06.03.09 at 04:21

I'm forever indebted to Der Scutt for commissioning, out of his own pocket, a model of the S. S. Independence for the Henry Dreyfuss exhibition I guest curated back in 1997. He has one of the most incredible collections I've ever seen of oceanliner material and I believe most of it is going to the South Street Seaport Museum. And he seems like a very affable and straightforward guy. I guess what I am trying to say is at least he DID something with the money he made working with Mr. Trump and New York benefits. And ain't that, in a way, kinda how New York works? or such has been my observation since I fell off the turnip truck back in '85.

Russell Flinchum
06.03.09 at 09:07

Oh, and full disclosure: I taught John Cantwell in the fall of 2008 and he received a very good grade in my class.
Russell Flinchum
06.03.09 at 09:12

Cantwell's D-crit classmates rush to his defense. Cantwell's former teacher gives him a good grade (last year) and notes that Der Scutt's a nice and affable guy so leave his architecture alone. Cantwell misidentifies the type face but the facts according to some do not matter. DO editors want us to ignore that they are posting first year student work as long as they garner page views. Where's plakaboy's Mom or better his Provost when he needs her? Geez, what's this site come to? Does everyone here really deserve an "A" in this class for just showing up. Can't we just call a "C" a "C". I can just hear Jon Stewart saying, "cluster@#$%" and screwing up his eyebrows. Break to commercial. I hereby request a leave of absence from my post of DO curmudgeon and seek to enroll in a different graduate program - with a curriculum based upon the western design canon. Adios Amigos!
Bernard Pez
06.04.09 at 02:22

oh you graphic design students... when the story behind a design doesn't sound as pretentious as you want it to sound there comes the bitching. I thought it was a pretty good story, but I guess I'd also hate the fact that a mediocre architect and the biggest twat could make a logo so lasting and that design is for that - to sell whatever idea "inspiring"- if I was a design student, too.
purple dust
06.05.09 at 09:56

A problem is the article setup, or rather the wrap, i.e., author's vitals. I was unconsciously ( my fault ) set up for a critique of sorts. Something along the line of Blair Kamin's opine that Trump Chicago's new spire resembles a toothpick: http://is.gd/PldG

This post ? Interesting story. Most interesting commentary.
PRand
06.05.09 at 02:28

phil helmuth the poker player is like trump and brands himself in a similar tone and style....at a much smaller scale of course.
angkasuwan
06.07.09 at 10:19

The word is cachet, not cache.
Daniel Reeders
06.10.09 at 03:00



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John Cantwell is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross. He has worked as a research analyst, a freelance writer, and a standup comedian. He is currently enrolled in the inaugural class of the School of Visual Arts' Design Criticism MFA program.
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