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Empire State Building

Just as Trajan signifies the Roman Empire, Broadway signifies Art Deco. The typeface—designed by Morris Fuller Benton for American Type Founders in 1927—is authentic, but it has become a cliché, used by numerous landlords to tart up their Art Deco–era buildings. This mindless approach to signage is now being challenged. The Empire State Building is undergoing a major renovation, and as part of that makeover, Broadway will exit stage left. Designer Laura Varacchi, of the New York–based firm Two Twelve Associates, which is handling the signage and wayfinding for the lobby renovation, searched for an alternative to the ubiquitous Broadway before asking Schwartzco Inc. to design a custom font for the iconic skyscraper. The handsome result is a pair of proprietary fonts derived from metal lettering used in the building’s lobby mural and in the Empire State Craftsmanship Awards plaque down the hall honoring the top worker in each of the various building trades.

Christian Schwartz and Paul Barnes, the designers of the Empire State Building font family, balanced a reverence for history with an understanding of the demands imposed on a face intended for signage. They harmonized the Deco-style sans-serif capitals of the plaque, concocted a complementary lowercase, and then, to accommodate long texts on signs, created a condensed variant. Not only does Empire State Building meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but it has also been approved by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. A star is born. PAUL SHAW

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