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  • Writer's pictureBrendon Lies

A garage worth a thousand words

Although I still haven’t done anything with most of my 1,291 photos taken in Strasbourg in September (thanks to terrible internet in Merzig), I’d at least like to share one of the greatest highlights of my trip... a parking garage.

Allow me to explain.

Johannes Gutenberg is famous for inventing the first (known) printing press, and he spent a few years in Strasbourg, modern day France. In his honor, in the heart of Strasbourg, is Gutenberg Square… which also happens to be the location of an underground parking garage.

Not so many years ago, the garage was renovated to fit the theme — but they went a bit above and beyond.

The result is a love letter to the history of typography.

Each floor is dedicated to its own era, each parking spot has its own designated font, and even the pedestrian pathways are made up of typographic symbols.

Top photo: OCR-A (Regular) 1966, United States American Type Founders U.S. Bureau of Standard

Near the entrance where you walk in on foot, seen above, is a sign that talks about the car park's renovation in 2021, and describes what you can expect to find on each floor.

I confess that, as a graphic designer, my interest largely rested in the era that the second floor is dedicated to — the 19th and 20th century (from 1800 to 2000). This is where I explored while taking the majority of these photos.

Of course, everyone's first impression of the garage is by car. Once you pull in, the first thing you'll see is that every parking spot has a number assigned in the form of a unique typographic font poster.

Seen above is my own little Smart ForTwo, parked in front of Variex OT. If you look closely, you'll see I'm wearing my Strasbourg shirt.

Variex OT (Bold) 1988, United States Rudy VaderLans and Zuzana Licko Foundry: Emigre

Each plaque also has a quote on it that relates to typography in some way.

At the bottom left, each font plaque shows the name of the font family, the specific font within the family (i.e. condensed), the year and country in which it was made, the artist who created it, and the foundry or company that the font was published under.

Chicago (Medium) 1984, United States Susan Kare Apple

Not all the fonts featured are exactly beloved in today's world, but they're each notable for their own reason. Some fonts attempt to discover the truest or most perfect form of each letter, other fonts seem to rebel against the concept of readability altogether.

Papyrus (Regular) 1982, United States Chris Costello Foundry: Letraset

Possibly my favorite feature: even the pedestrian walkways are made up of typographic symbols — brackets, colons, parenthesis, asterisks. It made following along the designated pathways feel like an interactive journey.

Gotham (Bold) 2000, United States Tobias Frere-Jones Foundry: Hoefler & Co.

Keep in mind that, as someone whose life revolves around typography, all of this felt very surreal for me... in the most wonderful way, of course.

New Alphabet (Two) 1967, Netherlands Wim Crouwel Foundry: The Foundry

I won't lie. Even for me, it felt a little unusual to be walking around taking photos of the inside of a parking garage. Fortunately, if anyone was judging me, they kept it to themselves.

Thankfully, I did catch a few other people stopping to admire their surroundings... even if only briefly.

Going up or down from each level, drivers are guided by various dingbat-reminiscent arrows to match the typesetting theme.

For the unfamiliar, here's a snippet via Wikipedia: "In typography, a dingbat (sometimes more formally known as a printer's ornament or printer's character) is an ornament, specifically, a glyph used in typesetting." A common example would be Wingdings.

It's worth noting that this would have been a very nice parking garage even without so much love put into the theme.

When approaching the entrance to the second floor, as seen above in the next photo, you're greeted by a plaque that shows all of what you can expect to find on that floor.

In the projection on the left, you can see Gutenberg's own typeface, created in 1456 but adapted into a vectorized font (details below).

1456 Gutenberg B42 (Regular) Original: J. Gutenberg, 1456, Germany Adapted by G. Le Corre, 2008, France Foundry: GLC

Part of what excited me personally was being able to recognize fonts from a distance, then being drawn towards them by the intense desire to confirm that I was right.

The two above cases are examples of fonts I wouldn't have even needed to check, but I felt compelled to anyway.

Eurostile (Extended 2) 1962, Italy Aldo Novarese Foundry: Nebiolo

Helvetica (Roman) 1957, Switzerland Max Miedinger Foundry: Hass

Entering floor 2 from the other way, you can see more dingbat arrows. From this side, it's easier to see that they also painted the floor numbers with different fonts.

In all my exploring, deep down, I was on a mission.

I do, in fact, have a favorite font, and no matter how embarrassed my friend (a fellow tourist) was to be following me around taking photos inside a parking garage in downtown Strasbourg, I was determined to find it.

(In all fairness, I did continue to ask my friend if they were alright with this odd detour, and I was assured that they were most definitely fine.)

When I finally found it, I think I actually gasped.

My favorite font of them all, on the right, is Futura. You might not believe it at first, but this highly-popular font was created almost a hundred years ago.

Futura (Medium) 1927, Germany Paul Renner Foundry: Bauer

The conception of this very old but timeless font was directly influenced by both the Bauhaus and the New Typography Movement in Germany. Both of these establishments focused on unifying artistic principles with mass production and minimalist function.

As a result, each character in Futura is based around basic geometric shapes such as circles and triangles.

Some famous logos that use Futura: PayPal - Futura Bold Oblique Nike - Futura Extra Bold Condensed Oblique Red Bull - Futura BQ Demi Bold Gillette - Futura Extra Black Italic Dolce & Gabbana - Futura SH DemiBold Domino’s - Futura Demi Bold

I could go on for another 10 paragraphs about what happened to Renner and his popular font after its modern aesthetic was denounced by the Third Reich — instead, I'll link a great deep-dive blog post by Graphéine Paris: Typorama #06 : Futura by Paul Renner.

I'm sure that Parking Gutenberg wouldn't have excluded this historic font from their collection. Still, seeing it memorialized as a part of typographic history in that parking garage still somehow thrilled me. It felt like running into a childhood best friend while waiting in line at the airport.

And that brings us almost to the end of our journey.

After capturing the above photo in the third floor, dedicated to historic blackletter and typefaces from Gutenberg's era all the way up to the year 1800, I assured my friend that I had finally "gotten it out of my system," and we headed upstairs to explore Strasbourg.

I could make another ten posts like this filled with the other sites that truly left me in awe in that city, but Parking Gutenberg still left me the most enamored. Pulling into an underground space while bracing for a dismal urban concrete cave, only to be instead greeted by a museum of typography, caught me delightfully off-guard.

I'll be honest... I never thought a parking garage would make me emotional, but here we are.

Now, choose your parking spot. 🐾

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