Theatre and Auditorium of Poitiers Graphics and Wayfinding

Word Play

Vibrant color and Dada-inspired graphics enliven a French performing arts center.

In the ancient French city of Poitiers—known for its medieval architecture and one of the oldest universities in Europe—the new Theatre and Auditorium of Poitiers provides a contemporary contrast. The 345,000-sq.-ft. cube, with its glowing glass façade, enfolds two box-like containers for theater and musical performances.

Initially partnered with JLCG Architects (Lisbon) to design a wayfinding system for the center, Portuguese firm P-06 Atelier was also asked to complete a chromatic study and, later, to extend the wayfinding graphics to branding and identity.

The P-06 team was immediately inspired by the sounds that would be created there. 

TAP, tap, tap

Fascinated by the “sound poetry” of the Dada movement, the P-06 team had first begun to play with the center’s name, realizing that TAP was not only its acronym, but the sound made at the beginning of theater performances to focus the audience’s attention. 

On exterior wayfinding totems, consisting of 8-ft.-tall, painted metal structures with vinyl graphics, the team contrasted white and yellow text and symbols playfully against black backgrounds. The result is lively but legible for visitors entering and exiting the site.

Interior spaces gave the P-06 team more room to play. Large wall expanses provided an ample canvas for vibrant color and bold graphics. And because the floors in public circulation areas would be crowded on performance nights, the design team needed to keep the floors clear of unnecessary objects.

So P-06 co-opted the walls and ceilings for dramatic swathes of yellow and a series of playful text treatments that provide wayfinding information as well as a sense of fun. 

Yellow helps clarify the space, offsetting the presence of wayfinding information and providing a “warm vibration” in a relatively gray and cloudy city, explains Nuno Gusmão, creative director for P-06. (The city embraced the choice of yellow enthusiastically: on the center’s opening day, storefronts were decorated with yellow, the mayor wore a yellow tie, and a special yellow, cube-shaped cake, “le TAP,” was born.)

The superscaled graphics are poetry in motion. Painted directly on walls or rendered in vinyl, they invade the space and as they move across walls and around corners. The meanings of some words are transformed when letters are separated. 

“Our plan was to literally make the building a container for free-flowing words and sounds,” says Gusmão. “The building is really two huge sound boxes, so the concept of having printed onomatopoeics expressing sounds—like CLAP, CLAP, BADABOUM, ZINNNNNNNN—seemed a natural way to express the activity in the space. And like in the Dada movement, they also have the freedom to travel as they want.”

P-06 chose the font BS Monofaked, by Portuguese designer Mário Feliciano, for its simple lines and scalability for oversized graphics. Playful custom symbols add to the expressiveness of the system. 

A global identity

Initially commissioned only to create a wayfinding system for the center, P-06 credits the City Hall of Poitiers with recognizing that a well integrated graphic identity would serve the center, and the city, best.  

So at the city’s behest, P-06 created TAP’s corporate identity, including brochures and collateral, using the same bold font, colors, and playful graphic logic as the wayfinding system. 

“It was a very wise attitude from our client, because the result has really been effective in terms of recognition for Poitiers,” notes Gusmão. In the center of the ancient city, TAP glows like the elusive sun, both outside and in.  

--By Pat Matson Knapp, segdDESIGN No. 29, 2010

Jury comments

“A bold and humorous use of type and color, well integrated with the formal structure of the building, both inside and out.”


Location:  Poitiers, France

Client:  JLCG Architects

Design:  P-06 Atelier

Design Team:  Nuno Gusmão (creative director); Estela Pinto Pedro Anjos (project managers); Vera Sachetti, Giuseppe Greco, Miguel Cochofel, Miguel Matos (designers)

Fabrication:  Demetro a Metro (signage and graphics)

Consultants:  João Luis Carrilho da Graça (architect)

Photos:  SG+FG Architectural Photography


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