Tag Archives: pixel

“If You Get The Scale Right, Space Stops Being Space to Become Mind” Xavier Corberó – SOCKS

“If You Get The Scale Right, Space Stops Being Space to Become Mind” Xavier Corberó – SOCKS

Spanish artist Xavier Corberó spent about forty years designing and building his own house, an intricate maze at the outskirts of Barcelona in the town of Esplugues de Llobregat.

Back in 1959, when his journey began, the still unknown artist squatted one of the abandoned buildings in town. Progressively, he proceded to convert the existing structures, to build on top of them, transforming a part of the derelict village in a surreal settlement and a huge display for his work. As time went on, Corberó acquired more terrain buying the surrounding houses while keeping building structures, adding stairways and underpassages, arches and enclosed gardens in an evolving composition which encompasses architecture and sculpture. Although the house is still a work in progress, Corberó manages to keep the overall design consistent, providing variety without turning the complex into a pastiche of styles and inventions while integrating anti-tectonic solutions like piers-less arches or isolated columns bearing no weight. The ongoing result, a difficult match between Peter Eisenman‘s early houses linguistics and Adolphe Appia‘s designed-stages, is a juxtaposition of theatrical views like these ones below:

Corberó converted the labyrinthine house in a residence for artists from all over the world. The invited guests are able to get a quiet and isolated space to let them work without everyday life’s pressures. The Spanish artist wished to provide a variety of spaces to enrich the inspiration of other artists, therefore he continued to add nooks, chambers and galleries where the visitors easily gets lost. Over the years the house reached over 10,000 square meters of deliberately anti-functional built space.

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Kern Your Enthusiasm (16) | HiLobrow

Kern Your Enthusiasm (16) | HiLobrow.

electronic

ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | UNKNOWN | c. 1950s

For the first eight thousand years of writing, letterforms were free of restriction. Add serifs to your letters, manipulate shape in a million ways, design intricate ligatures, make the ascender on your lower case “h” stretch to the heavens, create letters made from stacked drawings of clown shoes: the world of type design was a world without physical limits. Then came electronics.

Getting early electro-mechanical systems to dynamically display changable text was a pain in the ass. One technique used a system consisting of preset messages painted on a series of flaps attached to a central shaft. Rotate the shaft, and different messages flop into view. Mount together several hundred single-character flap devices and you’ve got yourself a versatile and easy-to-read “split-flap display” message board, the kind you can still see — and hear, as they make their wonderful clack-clack noise each time the sign updates — in train stations and airports.

Flap signs allow freedom of font choice (Helvetica is particularly popular) but they are big clunky complex devices, filled with gears, motors, and relays. What if you want to eliminate all of that?

One of the most widely used mechanics-free electronic displays consists of a matrix of light bulbs that can be illuminated in different patterns to produce different characters. And here — for perhaps the first time in the history of writing — designers found themselves in a situation where the complexity of the font they used had a direct effect on the cost of their display. The more subtle and intricate the letterforms, the more pixel-lightbulbs needed to render it. This forced the adoption of a typeface stripped down to the minimum — a typeface so simple that each letter can be rendered with only 35 lights, arranged in a 7×5 matrix. If you only need to display the numbers 0-9, you can reduce things even further, and use a display of only 15 lights, arranged in a 5×3 matrix grid.

A similar quandary popped up when the first electronic calculators were coming to market. Those devices used displays consisting of tiny light emitting diodes (LEDs), each one capable of displaying a tiny line segment. Similarly to the lightbulb displays, turning on the LED lines in different patterns could create different characters. Designers realized that if all you needed to display was numbers, just seven segments arranged in a pattern like the number “8” could do the job (14 segments if you needed to display letters).

Both of these techniques produce letterforms created by necessity, composed of strokes and dots of pure information. Products — and visual symbols — of the electronic age.

Kern Your Enthusiasm 19 | HiLobrow

Kern Your Enthusiasm 19 | HiLobrow.

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It was square, squat, and inherently cute. It was friendly. It was easy to use. I’m talking about the beige box with the blue grinning face that came to live with us in 1985. But I’m also talking about the font that came with it. It was the typeface Chicago that spelled out “Welcome to Macintosh,” ushering us into a new age of personal computing. But it was also a new age for digital type. Here was a typeface created explicitly for the Macintosh, part of designer Susan Kare’s strategy to customize everything from the characters to the icons — that happy computer, the wristwatch, an actual trashcan — to make it feel more human and less machine.

Most of us couldn’t quite put our finger on what made these letters so different. But the secret was in the spaces between the letters. Chicago was one of the first proportional fonts, which meant that instead of each character straining to fill up pixels in a specified rectangle, the letters were allowed to take up as much or little space as they needed. It was more like a book than a screen. For the thousands of families who brought this radical new technology into our homes, Chicago helped us feel like the Mac was already speaking our language.

Maybe it was because I was so used to it greeting me, guiding me through every decision — chirping up in a dialogue box confirming that I did, indeed, want to shut down. But when I began writing on the computer, at age eight, Chicago was the typeface I used. I was mostly writing poems about trees during this period, and I’d bring the text into MacPaint where I could illustrate them using Kare’s paintbrush icon, sweeping the page with basket-weave patterns and single-pixel polka dots. Sometimes I’d click over and scroll through the available typefaces — New York, Geneva, Monaco — and reject each one not only on looks, but on principle. As a kid growing up in suburban St. Louis, Chicago was the only place on the list I had been.

Eventually, Apple retired Chicago, commissioning a new typeface, Charcoal, as a kind of homage to Chicago’s functionality. But I would be reunited with Chicago one last time: Due to its excellent readability at low resolution, Chicago was the font used on the black-and-white screen of the very first iPod. Once again, it was the typeface to welcome early adopters. Those of us who’d learned to type on a Mac were greeted by a familiar font on our first portable music players, cheerily guiding us as we spun the clickwheels in wonderment.

For its newest operating system, released this year, Apple chose Helvetica Neue. It is a choice meant to graduate us into yet another new world, of Retina displays in glassy tablets, where style wins out over substance. This world is also generic and cold. I type thousands of words into my screen every day, rarely pausing to specifically mourn the loss of Chicago. But I often wonder what happened to that smiling computer who used to greet me from the other side of the screen.

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