If their work has helped liberate graphics from the surface, Sussman and Prejza have shown a parallel tendency to localize and identify the space in which they situate their graphics. When Sussman studied in Switzerland on a Fulbright scholarship in the 1950s, "the prevalent idea was the globalization of design," she remembers. "Everybody could use one typeface all over the world. There would be one way of system-izing everything." Sussman, however, had come from a design culture led by such figures as the Eameses, Alexander Gerard, and Charles Moore, who resisted the nascent global approach to design by supporting the various ways that art and culture have always been shaped by locale. "A monoculture doesn't acknowledge the difference between being by the sea or at the top of a mountain," says Prejza. "Localization enriches life."
Scroll back in memory to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles: If, during the Athens Olympics of 2004, you felt a sense of deja vu as you watched athletes bounding through intense color fields, you can trace the visual echoes back to the brilliant graphic program that Sussman/Prejza invented for the Los Angeles Games over 20 years ago. Together with Los Angeles architect Jon Jerde, the designers developed a kit of graphic parts that was sprinkled like confetti among the many sports and cultural locations hosting the games. Colorful streamers, bunting, and kiosks dotted Los Angeles, along with freestanding, 10-foot-high stars and towering scaffolds strung with banners, all marking venues that became backdrops for television cameras. The cameras, naturally, took to the vivid colors like moths to flame. Visually, Sussman/Prejza
YYePG Proudly Presents, Thx foiwSiqafcdnfe 1984 Olympics. In creating a signage program independent of buildings, the firm's graphics and identity markers became a sort of infrastructure in themselves.
The firm has built on this success ever since. Much of this work has involved developing subarchitectural and extraarchitectural aspects of the physical environment that are often overlooked by architects, or the clients who hire them. When officials from Santa Monica commissioned Sussman/Prejza to redesign the city's logo, the firm found the visual DNA of the place in its unique site at the intersection of mountains, beach, and sky. Brilliant sunsets yielded colors that abstracted the city's view along the coast; blue, yellow, orange, and green represented the sea, sky, beach, sun, and mountains, and in part the palette came from the city's original seal. As the commission expanded to include Santa Monica's welcome signs, street signs, and symbols on municipal vehicles, the colors migrated from the logo to the infrastructure and environment, as though flocks of exotic parrots had been released into the streets. The public "Blue Bus," which had inexplicably been painted white for years, became blue again—a spirited Gauloise hue that embodies the pluck of this progressive, upscale seaside community.
Other cities have come calling since then—Philadelphia, San Diego, and the Los Angeles district of San Pedro. In nearby Culver City, where Sussman and Prejza have their offices, the designers implemented a thorough, citywide graphic identity program. Here, buses were painted green and designs expanded beyond signage to encompass the sign's support structures—steel poles that dance chaotically and are ringed near the top with a collar. Sussman/Prejza also organized a street-furniture program and coordinated a landscaping program with Santa Monica-based Campbell & Campbell. All these elements lent Culver City's streetscape a physical density that gives the commercial arteries a lively urban edge and corrects the ambient urban anomie so typical of the streets of Los Angeles.
The firm is now in the process of several major projects in which graphics are both spatial and integral to the architecture. No project exemplifies the team's expertise better than the nearly completed Cincinnati Convention Center, which it is designing in collaboration with LMN Architects of Seattle. The graphic artists attached huge letters spelling out the city's name within a structural cage that forms one end of the building. The facade acts as a billboard, but because the words are suspended in space, they also recall the renowned HOLLYWOOD sign nestled in the hills. Here, the letters enliven a dense urban setting and are formed kinetically from individual panels that configure into the word only when seen from certain angles. The sign transcends the word itself to become an interactive urban icon.
The interpretation of environmental graphics takes an m <c £ £ X U)
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