GUIMARD METROPOLITAIN [2014]

 

Hector Guimard’s Subway Entrances

Today, there are 86 subway entrances designed by Hector Guimard for the Paris Métro (http://www.paristep.com/en/articles/architecture/guimard.html). These Art Nouveau inspired designs feature signage created specifically for the system. Each cast iron structure heralds the word “Metropolitain” above the entrance with the station’s name on a sign mounted above the stairs. Guimard’s font is highly expressive with a heavy contrast between thick and thin strokes, as if it were written with a calligraphy pen.

To study the letterforms, and also to understand what makes the typeface so fascinating to me, I digitized the letters to create a computer font. This project was primarily motivated by my general interest in typography, but I found Guimard’s work particularly interesting because of the synthesis of the signage and architecture (a gesamtkunstwerk). Although many simulacra of Guimard’s font exist as close resemblances, my desire was to create an accurate reproduction that preserves the original.

During my travels in Paris, I wanted to collect as much information about the letters as possible and set out to photograph every subway entrance I encountered. For those that I missed, I relied on Google Images. I traced the entire alphabet, several glyphs, and some punctuation in Adobe Illustrator and used a free program, BirdFont, to compile this into a .ttf file. The result is a font that will work in standard text editing software. I’ve included a time-lapse video that illustrates my process.

My interest was primarily in Guimard’s contribution to the architecture and design of the system, but since the installation of his designs, the Paris Métro has rebranded itself. Today, the system uses a more contemporary typeface, Métro Alphabet, which is based off of Frutiger. In total, the entire system has between six and eight typefaces (http://typophile.com/node/30981).

Click here to download the font for free.

Cast aluminum, spray paint.

Cast aluminum, spray paint.

Casting

Using the completed font, I printed the word “Metropolitain” and used the letters as stencils to form each letter in clay. This served as the formwork for my plaster cast, which then became the mold for my second pour. I poured liquid wax into this plaster mold, resulting in a wax model of the word “Metropolitain.”

I needed to prepare the wax model for the investment mold. Once heated, the wax melts out of the investment mold leaving a void for the molten metal. I attached sprews, a network of wax bars, to my model to act as a channel for the molten wax to flow through the mold.

The investment is a mixture made of plaster, silica sand, and water. I attached a disposable cup to the top of the mold and placed the wax model in the investment before it sets. Later, I ripped out the cup to leave a hole in the top of the mold. This is where the molten metal will be poured later on.

After the investment sets, the mold is baked upside down in a kiln to remove any excess moisture and burn out the wax, which flows out of the bottom of the mold. Once cooled, the mold is re-oriented and molten metal is poured into the mold. After the metal cools, the mold can be broken open to retrieve the metal. Special thanks to Farron Allen for helping me to achieve this cast.

© Jonathan Wilkinson