Q&A: Pentagram/New York, Partners Michael Bierut and Paula Scher

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C: Tell us about the Children's Museum project.

Scher: Since 1991, the museum has been housed in the landmark Old Post Office Building in Pittsburgh's Allegheny Square section. In 2000, the museum commissioned an expansion that would link the Post Office with the neighboring, vacant Buhl Planetarium. The new expansion has bridged the two buildings with a three-story structure that provides a new entrance and additional exhibit space. The signage program takes its cues from the expansion architecture. The letters of the marquee signage on the museum entrance extrude from the building and are lit by neon from within a wire mesh, creating dimensional letterforms that look like something out of superhero comics. In the galleries, identification signage appears as playful treatments of words: "Garage" has been set in rubber tread; "Theater" appears in forward on one side and reverse on the other, as though projected; "Studio" was created by kids painting over a stencil on the floor. The Nursery, a hands-on section for infants and toddlers, is wallpapered with Pop graphics of giant baby heads. Throughout, the signage is inspired by the activity of the museum and employs inexpensive materials and fixtures that are easily repaired or replaced. The signage also uses scale and materials in a humorous and direct manner that is appreciated by children.

C: What's your take on 2004, the year in design, and the year from a Pentagram persepctive?

Bierut: Being an election year, 2004 already had its surfeit of pundits and parent figures and people who knew best, and designers seemed as eager as anybody to take on this role. In matters ranging from global poverty to lack of counter space, from "Massive Change" to makeover shows, design was presented as a kind of transformative cure-all, with the designer as scold to tell you What You're Doing Wrong. Of course it's always easier to let someone else do the thinking for you, but reductive pronouncements seldom make for satisfying design. And if you're a client, the designer shouldn't be your mother, yelling at you to clean up your room. Using these terms, we like to think of ourselves as the groovy kind of parents, slightly out of fashion now, who treat our charges as peers and co-parents. In 2004, our most successful projects continued to be collaborative efforts that were founded in a designer-client relationship built of mutual trust.

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