Architecture is increasingly intertwined with graphic design, whether through signs, branding, or the thumbnail-scale design of buildings meant to be read on the screen. Sometimes the relationship is so robust that an entire graphic identity is inspired by an architectural project, such as Natasha Jen and Pentagram's collaboration with Jimenez Lai and Bureau Spectacular (BS).
The mission was to create a set of graphics for Township of Domestic Parts: Made in Taiwan, the Taiwanese entry into the 2014 Venice Biennale. Unlike some other pavilions, the Taiwan Pavilion had a built design project that was put forth as an exhibition. Therefore, the pavilion's graphics matched a set of architecture, and were developed alongside it.
For the exhibition, a set of small houses, or "superfurnitures" were assigned singular domestic functions, such as the House of Sleep (the bedroom), the House of Social Eating (the dining room), the House of Shit (the bathroom), and so on. This created a city inside the interior of a castle, where interior, exterior, city, and object were all conflated. For each house, the graphic design team conceived an icon, using the colors and graphic styles of BS, which include pastels, CMYK, gold, silver, animal skin, strong black and white contrast, as well as bright pop colors derived from places like Superflat.
Lai felt that Pentagram's assigned team was an ideal match, as Natasha Jen is also Taiwanese American, and worked closely with BS. There were many close conversations between the two friends, and Jen's experience with architecture — she also co-designed the graphics for the US Pavilion, Office US — helped deepen the collaboration.
It is often the job of a graphic designer to, in some ways, blend into the context and absorb the language of the client, but also to maintain a skillful hand that can be seen. Lai felt that Pentagram, led by Jen, got this right. "We were acting like children," Lai told Architizer, "Our voice was kid-like, almost like kindergarteners. They understood this. The typeface is mismatched and childlike."
The work of BS is particularly inclined for visual communication, as it leans more graphic rather than painterly. It has strong, iconic features, and is derived from the theories of Robert E. Somol, who advocates for mass as graphic and the readability of the silhouette. All of these characteristics, along with Lai's experience with and interest in graphics and cartoons, make the work compatible with graphic design. The typeface took on this language, and there are noticeable influences of skylines and architectural parts in the typeface.