On a former military site, a new urban park in Lyon, France, provides access to history via playful sculptural signage.
Lyon, France’s “second city,” has many charms. The gateway to the Alps is known for its outstanding cuisine, its annual light festival, its burgeoning design and high-tech environment, and the numerous historical and architectural landmarks that make it worthy of its UNESCO World Heritage listing.
Parc Blandan, a former military barracks on 17 hectares (about 42 acres) in the city, is practically new development if you consider Lyon began as a Roman colony in 43 B.C. Built between 1831 and 1853, the site was part of a series of forts designed to protect the city. When Grand Lyon purchased it in 2007, the goal was to provide Lyon residents and visitors with a new urban oasis and make the park’s rich military history accessible to all.
The city hired landscape architects Base, Explorations Architecture, lighting designers On, and, for the site’s signage and wayfinding program, the Paris-based interdisciplinary studio of Nicolas Vrignaud and Analia Garcia-Ramirez. Vrignaud and Garcia-Ramirez’s mission was to create signage that would help visitors navigate the park and bring attention to its historical buildings and fun new features such as a skate park, an imaginary fort/climbing wall, game fields, and other amenities.
A working military base for more than 150 years, Parc Blandan includes a major fort with ramparts, five entrances, and numerous buildings and features of military significance.
It was this history that inspired Vrignaud and Garcia-Ramirez to devise bold, sculptural signage elements that would create visual impact against the fort’s stone walls, gravel pathways, and green spaces. Exploring the site at the outset of the project, they discovered a series of red circles stenciled on interior and exterior walls—clearly an old military system for identifying facilities.
“It seemed appropriate to use this rational and effective tagging system as the basis for our contemporary signage,” says Vrignaud. “We kept this red circle as the only identifying shape on the site, to create a unique visual vocabulary for Parc Blandan.” Like the military markings of old, text on the signage is in white.
Vrignaud’s system needed to orient visitors to the park as well as tell them stories about the site’s history. His team created a family of five sign types in five diameters to accommodate various functional needs: orientation/wayfinding, regulatory information, site/building identification, and interpretative information to narrate the park’s military history.
The system encompasses 50 signs, including five entrance identifiers, 15 signs interpreting historical features, five outlining the park’s sustainable landscaping and design features, and other facilities and directional signs for playgrounds, a skate park, a dog area, and restrooms. To withstand the exterior environment and urban setting, the signs were fabricated (by Lenoir Services) in robust, powdercoated steel and aluminum with silkscreened text.
Connecting the dots
Vrignaud and Garcia-Ramirez worked with Swiss typographer André Baldinger and his associate Toan Vu-Huu to choose the project typefaces. Inspired again by the red circles, the team opted for Baldinger’s B-Dot family, a pixel font whose letterforms are drawn from dots but are not based on a grid. The result is a highly legible typeface that looks like it was rendered from a dot-matrix printer, but with the smoothness of a classically designed typeface.
B-Dot was used for signage titles and headlines, while Baldinger’s B-Line serif typeface was used for body text. B-Line was designed to complement B-Dot, essentially connecting the dots in a smooth line for high legibility.
Vrignaud says the typefaces contributed to the project’s accessibility requirements. “In addition to the optimum font sizes and typeface legibility, we were very concerned with contrast and reading height points.”
The power of play
Since the park opened in April 2014, visitors of all ages have been coming to learn about its military history, play a game of badminton or soccer, skate in the new skate park, or climb on the playgrounds. The whimsical red circles add to the fun factor and help them enjoy the park even more, especially at night. The project lighting designers bathed the largest (3,00m diameter) circles in red light to draw attention to the visual theme around the park. Visitors feel invited to interact with the circles, and they have become a popular photo opportunity.
--By Pat Matson Knapp, eg magazine No. 11, 2014
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PARC BLANDAN WAYFINDING AND SIGNAGE
Client: Grand Lyon
Location: Lyon, France
Budget: 196,000€ (signage)
Project Area: 12 hectares
Open Date: April 2014
Signage Design: Analia Garcia-Ramirez and Nicolas Vrignaud
Design Team: Analia Garcia-Ramirez, Nicolas Vrignaud (principals/designers); Sofiane Boufar (graphic designer)
Collaborators: Base (landscape architects), Exploration Architecture (architects), On (lighting), André Baldinger (typeface design)
Fabrication: Lenoir Services
Photos: © Nicolas Vrignaud