Read Time: 6 minutes
It’s amazing what can happen when a whole community rallies around a project. From high school students to state senators, a broad swath of citizens of the Upper Perkiomen Valley in Pennsylvania participated in the creation of a new regional wayfinding system with the help of CVE Design (New York).
As Chris Calori and David Vanden-Eynden, co-founders and principals of CVE Design, wound their way through the Upper Perkiomen Valley in a small silver car with New York plates, stopping to investigate decision points and points of interest, locals took notice. It was 2013, and their firm had been one of four invited to interview for a project for the chamber of commerce there, so they were taking notes and photos and gaining familiarity with the area in preparation.
The Upper Perkiomen (pronounced perk-E-O-men) Valley is a partially rural 36.22-square-mile area about 40 miles northwest of Philadelphia comprised of seven municipalities in two counties: Hereford, Marlborough and Upper Hanover Townships and the four Boroughs of East Greenville, Green Lane, Pennsburg and Red Hill. The area is home to agricultural ventures and various businesses like furniture-maker Knoll, inc., Blommer Chocolates and Stauffer Glove & Safety but was once known as a source of granite and for its cigar making businesses.
The plan to tie together and brand the area as one followed and built on the UPVCC “PerkUp” tourism and outdoor recreation initiative. In the “2011 Upper Perkiomen Valley Regional Comprehensive Plan,” community leaders posited that the addition of wayfinding signs would improve visibility of local recreational areas, attractions, amenities, nature preserves and cultural venues like the Goschenhoppen Folklife Museum and Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center, as well as play a role in economic revitalization of the area by drawing in visitors passing through the area en route to Philadelphia.
Luanne B. Stauffer, head of the UPVCC and Michele B. Fillippo, PerkUp project coordinator were the main organizers and points of contact for the CVE Design team, putting together a series of stakeholder and public outreach workshops and meetings through the UPV Regional Planning Commission, which was representative of each municipality. Management and signage consultant Craig Berger helped advise the effort from the beginning.
In the CVE Design-led workshops, Calori and Vanden-Eynden asked local government and business leaders and interested members of the community about the UPV and its history, their feelings about the region and what they wanted in a wayfinding and identity system. Clear patterns began to emerge, according to Vanden-Eynden, “There were a few words and ideas that were fundamental across all groups: the notion of combining historical, contemporary and natural references while cultivating an approachable, friendly feeling.”
“So many wayfinding systems tend to be historically themed, but this stakeholder group expressed a strong desire to not only look back on the past, but also forward to the future,” Calori remarks of the refreshing attitude of the group. “It was interesting for us to find a way to capture all of that.” After the design team presented options to the municipal representatives, a vote was held, and the design chosen was confirmed unanimously.
The CVE Design team developed a complete identity along with the wayfinding system consisting of a total of 79 signs: five major gateway monuments, five secondary gateway monuments, 13 village gateway signs, four parking directional and 52 wayfinding directional signs. The red and gray “rust and timber” color palette references rural, industrial and modern aspects of the area. Vanden-Eynden describes the vocabulary of form and color as simple, and purposeful in its representation of the past, present and future of UPV.
Typefaces the CVE Design team used for the project included DIN for the identity and Clearview for directional signing—the project began before the DOT rescission of conditional approval and ended after the rescission was rescinded. Atop all signs sits a disc enclosing the letters “UPV,” forming a logomark for the region, which has since been adopted by the UPVCC and serves as an emblem of community pride.
The initial design phase through concept design, took about nine months, with prototyping and bid packages taking close to another five. The longest part of the process, however, was the three years the project was on hold for fundraising. Despite herculean fundraising efforts on the part of Stauffer and her team, which yielded funding from businesses, grants and municipalities, the budgets were tight for design, consulting and fabrication. Portions of the design work became in-kind donations to the project.
Stauffer’s team cleverly handled the constraints by tackling small decisions on their own and further involving the community for support: They tapped the local technical high school, Western Montgomery Career & Technology Center, to create prototypes for the signage program. It was a win for students as well as businesses and individuals like Senator Bob Mensch, Knoll, Reed Sign Company and Horizon Signs, who contributed time and materials.
“The students learned a valuable lesson about transference of skills,” says Calori. Students welded and painted signs using techniques they had learned in autobody shop class and were instructed on how to apply vinyl lettering. Urban Sign Company of Vineland, N.J. helped with some of the heavier welding.
“To have this at the technical high school with the students, instructors, sign shop staff, state senators and all the representatives present was really touching,” remembers Vanden-Eynden, “and the students were just great!” One of the five full-sized prototypes the students made was deployed into the field to generate interest and enthusiasm for the project and help raise funds.
Once the funds were available for fabrication, the contract was split between more rural and urban wayfinding portions, with Urban Sign and MS Signs of Paterson, N.J. contributing respectively. The local sign shops declined to be involved in the final fabrication, citing their current project load and the complexity of government-funded project requirements. Fabrication went smoothly, with only one modification needed: sign faces needed to be shifted off-center of supports due to the narrow sidewalks in the townships and to avoid overhanging the street. The change was relatively easy, and the resulting aesthetic is more distinctive.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the UPV wayfinding and identity system was held on May 11, 2018 at St. Luke's Outpatient Center in Pennsburg, where one of the gateway monument signs stands. The celebration included remarks from 13 state and community leaders, including the Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation, representatives from the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners members of PerkUp and the UPVCC, among others.
“This project took a village,” beams Calori. “We loved this project so much because of the people involved with it.” Vanden Eynden adds, “It gave us a wonderful opportunity to design at a scale you generally do not get in a municipal program and the opportunity to work with such a delightful and committed client and stakeholder group.”
Project Name: Upper Perkiomen Valley Wayfinding and Identity Program
Client: Upper Perkiomen Valley Chamber of Commerce/PerkUp Corporation
Location: Upper Perkiomen Valley, Penn.
Open Date: May 2018
Project Area: 1,009,755,648 sq ft
Wayfinding and Identity Design: CVE Design
Fabrication: Urban Sign Company, MS Signs, Inc.,
Other Collaborators: Craig Berger Management Consulting; Western Montgomery Career & Technology Center (faculty and students); Reed Sign Company, LLC; Horizon Signs, LLC; Knoll, Inc., Montgomery County Planning Commission, Pennsylvania State Senator Bob Mensch, Montgomery County Parks and Heritage Services, Upper Perkiomen School District
Project budget: $452,000
Photos: CVE Design