Railway Supergraphics

Santa Fe Chief Logo

I have a great weakness for colour and scale; it’s what first drew me to posters and graphic design. Similarly with railway trains; I’m less interested in the machinery and most interested in the movement, scale, colour, and typography, of individual trains.

The term supergraphics is usually understood in terms of architecture. The idea of large-scale typographic elements was promoted, in the UK, by Edward Wright (Chelsea) and Gordon Cullen’s conceptualisation of Townscape. The 1960s architectural avant-garde group, Archigram, used supergraphics to animate their megastructures.

The idea of supergraphics was undermined by a general animosity towards advertising and a cultural suspicion of the urban spectacular. British high-tech architects haven’t really embraced the concept either. They’ve generally been unwilling to compromise on material integrity and engineering rhetoric. Only the Pompidou by Rogers and Piano has successfully embraced the civic potential of spectacular.

In the US, they have really big trains. The scaling-up plays to the strengths of the machine-age aesthetic, and the punchy graphic style gives dynamism and flair to the whole train ensemble. It’s the logical end-point of Raymond Loewy’s integrated and streamlined approach to industrial design.

The Cinema-Scope title sequence of Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), by John Sturges and with Spencer Tracy, has the streamlined diesel train thundering across the desert and with the titles and credits in monster type…

By a happy co-incidence, the film has just been shown on TV. You can catch-up, online, by using your UAL log-in with Box of Broadcasts.



PS/ These pictures come from a website called curbside classics – it’s mostly cars; but there are some trains too.

Santa Fe Streamliner Wednesday, August 11, 2010 (3)

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