A couple of things are happening right now. In Brooklyn, for no apparent reason, the much beloved Kentile Floors sign is in the process of being torn down. While in Chicago, to the disgust of many, Trump Tower has added a sign to their hotel.
I've written about signage in the past, so it should come to no surprise that I do not like the Trump sign. However I fully support the preservation of the Kentile Sign. The two situations, while connected couldn't be more different.
Let's begin in Chicago. Daniel Schell, wrote this piece on the Trump sign:
Schell's first point isn't without merit. The fact that it's Trump certainly fuels this fire. He continues by citing examples of other hotels, with large, classic signs steeped in old Chicago nostalgia and two additional notes on more modern buildings with uninspired signage. The basic conclusion being, other hotels have signs, and other new buildings have signs. What's the problem?
The difference between these older hotel signs and the new Trump sign is numerous.
- Trump Tower itself is already a sign. The architecture, rather tastefully, imposes it's mark throughout the city. With views from the Chicago River, Wabash Ave, from Hancock Observation Deck—all enhanced by the Tower. Does the Hancock Tower need a sign? How about the Willis [I still call it the Sears Tower]? The Merchandise Mart must have a huge sign somewhere? No? There is that one time.
Trump Tower is an icon, the sign is repetitive.
- The sign sucks. It is aesthetically disgusting. Outlined text, 3D raised letters, gradients streaming across the letters, glossy metallic finish. It's as if it was designed in MS Word Art circa 1998.
Smaller wouldn't helped.
- Aesthetics aside, the sign is generic. There is nothing unique, interesting, or innovative about it. Simply a logo slapped on the side, they should have done better.
- Schell points out, people are wrong to say this changes the skyline. Correct, the skyline doesn't change. Chicago's great skyline remains unmarred by this. But Chicago has something that most other cities do not, and can not rival or replicate. The river. These iconic views along the beautiful Chicago River, which were almost entirely free of corporate branding are forever TRUMPED. [I couldn't resist. Also, not sorry.]
- Oh and now the building looks like crap.
Chicago has been a long standing beacon of the design world. Held up as an example of a thoughtful, a mix of business might intertwined with strong civic interests expressed through design. This sign, and the man behind it, fly directly in the face of all that. It's the perfect, palatable sized issue, combined with enough gas on the fire [Trump] to get people talking, ie. complaining.
Schell's mentions his piece is just part 1; perhaps he'll convince me with a later piece showing all the other signs in the area. I doubt it. Yes there are other signs in Chicago. None this large, none this imposing on the urban landscape or it's people.
Chicago is supposed to be better than this. When I wrote that piece about Visual Pollution in Columbus, there were 17 large, bright and shinny logos atop the skyline. That's about 50% of the large buildings in Columbus. Do you want 50% of the buildings in Chicago covered in advertising?
A sign worth saving
This brings me to the Kentile Floors sign in Brooklyn. An imposing eight-story tall sign built around the 1950s for a long defunct flooring company. After close to seventy years of towering above Brooklyn, it has been covered in scaffolding and is being prepped for deconstruction. Kentile Floors, founded in 1898 sold kitchen tiles. By 1949 their products, mostly sold to suburban households after the war were riddled by asbestos and the eventual lawsuits ended the company. Sounds wonderful right? Not so much. Totally worth saving? Yes, yes it is.
This iconic sign sits upon a collection of unassuming one-story industrial buildings in Gowanus. The sign hasn't been an advertisement for nearly 20 years. It's become the iconic marker of Brooklyn's industrial past. An area of Brooklyn once ripe with industry and manufacturing, now on the cusp of gentrifying. Not only is this sign is a link to the past, but an enhancement to the urban fabric today and long into the future.
I first came to appreciate the Kentile Floors sign through my friend, Able Parris. He initiated, and has been joined by many others, myself included, in the #dailykentile project. Photographing the sign on a daily basis, as an art project. There are thousands of interesting and unique photos on Instagram tagged with #dailykentile.
About six weeks ago, for the first time in a long time, the Kentile Floors sign was relit as an artist installation. Our merry crew of friends gathered, people threw parties, the entire F train platform was filled with photographers. Hundreds of people waiting around, in the rain, for hours, just to see a sign light up. Amazing!
The Kentile Floors is everything that Trump Tower sign wishes it was, and will never be. It is a unique landmark for Brooklyn, for Gowanus, and deserves to saved. I implore you to sign the petition to #saveKentile.