Pentagram has created the visual identity, spatial design and exhibition graphics for ‘Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi’ at the iconic Somerset House in London, running between 30 Jan – 26 April 2020. The varied show spans work from artists, illustrators and writers, to product and fashion designers and technologists, and charts the influence of mushrooms on global culture throughout history. Equal parts mythical and psychedelic, and informative and inspirational, Pentagram’s brief was to create an identity that captured the magic of mushrooms whilst being robust enough to accommodate a variety of perspectives and tones within the exhibited work.
Pentagram’s design used a technical grid system as its foundation, inspired by scientific cataloguing archives and mycological field analysis. The grid was used as a layout structure in promotional assets and bisected the exhibition space itself, framing the works as artefacts to be discovered and analysed. Within the grid, facts about mushrooms and mycelia were dispersed at different heights throughout the exhibition space.a
As an expressive counterpoint to the systematic grid, the team created a generative typeface informed by mycelium and mushroom spore growth patterns. Pentagram commissioned Rosie Emery to consult on laplacian growth patterns, and Counterpoint Studio to implement an algorithmic mycelium simulation and build a WebGL-based development tool. Using this simulation of mycelium growth, Pentagram designed a typographic system that offset fertile and infertile areas in three-dimensional space, with possibilities of mutation to create letterforms that are unrestricted by predefined typographic form. The characters can be procedurally grown into unique shapes each time they are typed, balancing legibility with unexpected variation. The generative system outputted 3D models that were then rendered in an emotive promotional animation, with clips and stills used across other digital assets.
This generative system was developed into a web tool, Hypha, which was displayed as an artwork within the show itself and could be used by visitors to grow their own letterforms. Pentagram also outputted a unique growth of the exhibition title, as well as a series of abstract sculptural forms, both of which were realised as 3D prints and used within the gallery space itself, bringing the intangible, digital algorithm to life.
Much like the mushroom’s influence on both expressive culture, and science and technology, Pentagram’s identity design attempted to bridge the gap between the tactile and organic, and the technical and cutting-edge.
Exhibition images by Mark Blower and Louis Bryant