Alexandra Lange | Essays

Numbers Game

Are two design-snob rants in one week two too many? Probably, but here goes. I live in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, a charming neighborhood with tree-lined streets and brownstones and limestones and more humble brick townhouses like mine. Most of the neighborhood is a historic district, which means the Landmarks Preservation Commission has to sign off on anything you do to the front of your house. We went back and forth with them about whether we could get a new front door with a view-panel of glass in it, since the old front door didn’t have one and had to document nearby houses as proof we weren’t ruining the neighborhood. (The fact that the old front door was adorned with a brown pearlescent stained-glass arch, made by the former owner in the 1970s, was not their concern.) We also had to run our outside lamps past them and had one set of glowing half-spheres rejected as too modern. Which is all a way of saying that it is hard to show your personality on the outside of your house in Cobble Hill.

But walking to the bank the other day, I noticed a new and more disturbing phenomenon. The modernists in the neighborhood are declaring themselves the only way they can: through their house numbers. On several perfectly traditional houses, instead of antique gold numbers painted on the transom, or wrought iron serifed numbers bolted to the brownstone, instead they have bright shiny aluminum numbers, set off from the facade and boldly sans serif. The few contemporary townhouses around here (see above) also have shiny sans serif numbers popping off their cedar or painted brick facades. They do look good.

But then I realized: they are the same numbers. DWR’s Neutra Numbers (yes, them again) to be precise. Meaning all these people trying to declare their difference from other brownstone owners, are really just declaring that they all shop at the same other place. DWR rather than Rejuvenation. Which is hardly a declaration of aesthetic independence.

I would, therefore, like to call a moratorium on the Neutra Numbers in brownstone Brooklyn. People, there are so many equally wonderful and equally modern typefaces out there, and many websites that will let you pick and choose size, color, font and material. Think about Bodoni Bold or Clarendon, for something modern with a serif. Or Le Corbusier’s favorite Stencil, to font-check another master. Futura is quite close to Neutra. Helvetica has its own movie. Your graphic designer friends will have many more interesting suggestions. Be bold for real.

Posted in: Architecture, Typography

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