Often, museum graphics err on the side of anonymity, assuming that art needs a recessive frame to shine. Not so at the North Carolina Museum of Art, which was dramatically transformed in 2010. An expansion building designed by Thomas Phifer and Partners added 127,000 square feet of exhibition space to the museum's original 1983 building by Edward Durell Stone. Adjacent to the these buildings is a 449-seat open-air amphitheater; the entire complex is set within a 164-acre park filled with sculpture and walking trails. Pentagram was asked to create a new signage and wayfinding program as well as a new graphic identity that would reflect the boldness of the museum's transformation.
Working with the NCMA staff, Pentagram developed a custom alphabet based on the expansion building's most distinctive architectural feature: the oval-shaped skylights that will bring light into all the new gallery spaces. In developing the typeface, the designers were inspired by another designer with North Carolina roots, Josef Albers, the legendary Bauhaus artist who taught in the 1930's and 40's at Black Mountain College in Asheville; his geometric studies are well-represented in the NCMA collections.
The custom alphabet then permits the NCMA spirit to infiltrate the range of activities the museum sponsors. The distinctive new look is arresting at first, especially compared with its previous, much more anonymous, identity.