“Typography in the built environment is a way to visually portray this story of a city, its history. We have lost this relationship between typography, material and architectural space. What we have mostly are façades, layers of type over things, which is a loss because it makes every city look the same.”
Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès, Founding Creative Director, The Khatt Foundation
“I think the world is suffering from not knowing the other. Knowing someone else is knowing his language, seeing his language.” Naji El Mir, Type Designer
On Saturday 14th June, Creekside – the fourth creative community space from Brownbook – screened Typographic Matchmaking in the City, a documentary which accompanies The Khatt Foundation’s design research project investigating new approaches for bilingual lettering.
The Dubai Creek at Dusk, June 2014
The film tracks a year-long collaboration between five teams – comprising 15 Dutch and Middle-Eastern graphic designers, architects and typographers – as they seek to create truly-dual Arabic and Latin script types to be used in public spaces.
English is the ubiquitous hallmark of internationalism and multiculturalism in the Middle East, seen alongside its indigenous sister script everywhere, from shop and traffic signage to street furniture. Shot predominantly in Dubai and Sharjah, UAE and Doha, Qatar, the film draws attention to the often ‘after-thought’ nature of Arabic typography and signage, where the words are printed to fit with the more developed Latin script.
“Both start with calligraphy and both start with writing. The difference is that the Latin script has been evolved a lot and has been studied more. The Latin type faces that you see are quite developed and structured. Unlike the Arabic ones which have not significantly developed from calligraphy, so it is hard to make the Arabic script work as a font.” Khajag Apelian, Type Designer
For Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFarès, “the two scripts represent two very large cultures, and they come together anyway, so why not make them come together in an harmonious way?” To achieve this harmony, that task at hand was not only the attempt to integrate two scripts, but also to integrate both into their cultural context, a proposition that demanded something completely new.
A dialogue between cultures and between design mediums, the complexity of the undertaking becomes apparent to the viewer via the varied approaches demanded from the teams – digital, sculptural, geometric and collaborative. The conceptual implications of linguistic harmony are met with practical considerations of formality. When placed within the context of public and architectural space, the complexity is magnified.
The distinctive and experimental outcomes that the five teams reach demonstrate the innovation inherent within the project.
See the film here
Typographic Matchmaking in the City is available to buy here
By Rachel Bennett
The Khatt Foundation, Center for Arabic Typography is a cultural foundation and design research center dedicated to advancing design and typography in the Middle East, North Africa and their diaspora, and to building cross-cultural creative networks.
Creekside is Dubai’s newest contemporary cultural space and cafe. Its focus lies primarily on architecture, art, culture, design and heritage. Located in the heart of old Dubai, Creekside is a place of artistic expression, debate and knowledge exchange. Creekside joins its sister spaces The Archive in Safa Park, The Magazine Shop DIFC and Dubai Media City and The Space Abu Dhabi, in providing a comprehensive cultural calendar to the UAE.
Brownbook is an urban lifestyle guide focusing on design, culture and travel across the Middle East and North Africa. It is published six times a year