New Beginnings

Innovation sparks distinctive architectural signage projects.
Baltimore-based Ashton Design and Triangle Sign & Service combined for standout signage for Circle East, a development in Towson, MD. Image courtesy of BCT Architects.

I saw First Man recently. (Spoiler alert: Neil Armstrong walks on the moon.) It is a visually spectacular film and the sound – whether it’s the effects or the score – compels you to dig your fingernails into your armrest, particularly during the claustrophobic flight sequences that reinforce the frightening realities of space travel. Those sequences are complemented by the ultra-personal scenes of Armstrong – played by the excellent Ryan Gosling – coping with intense grief as the deaths of family members and friends inundate his existence, though his own life is spared as he ascends – perilously at times – into history.

The following three architectural signage projects also represent chances taken. One is for a development partially relying on brick-and-mortar retail – a sector that faces an uncertain future – for sustained success. The two other projects were overseen by individuals unafraid to gamble on their respective journeys before they helmed their own sign companies. Risk is certainly not a game for all, so, here’s to those (literally and figuratively) shooting for the moon.

CIRCLE OF LIFE

Less than 15 miles north of Baltimore lies Circle East, a new mixed-used development in Towson, MD. Mixed-use developments have gained popularity in recent years. An alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar retail environments, they blend the residential (apartments, town homes, etc.) and non-residential (retail, restaurants, entertainment), resulting in ease of access in urban and suburban regions. Circle East – named for its location east of downtown Towson’s traffic circle – is no different, featuring a movie theater, six national restaurants, hundreds of apartments, 850 above- and below-ground parking spaces, and 240,000 sq. ft. of retail space.

Ashton Design, a Baltimore-based design firm, formulated Circle East’s logo and branding, and then incorporated that inspiration into exterior building and site signage, parking signage and wayfinding/directory signage. There were many sign placement questions to answer in the project’s early phases, such as whether to insert a sign on the corner of the building facing the traffic circle. “We decided not to, but instead placed the ‘Circle East’ signs on the flat surfaces [to] integrate and align them with the façade materials,” said Alexey Ikonomou, Ashton’s creative director. Ikonomou noted that Towson’s major roadways feed into the traffic circle, so Ashton designed a clean, white-and-teal color scheme that attracts passersby, particularly with signage that contrasts with the building’s black and gray painted lettering.

For fabrication and installation, long-time Ashton collaborator Triangle Sign & Service (Baltimore) was brought in to produce one of their specialties: signage for retail environments. “They’re the idea [people], and we’re the ones that bring it to life,” said Triangle Sign account rep Zach Fener, speaking to Triangle’s frequent work with design firms. In this instance, Fener and Ikonomou combined on budget numbers and the execution of possible design concepts. Excluding the painted lettering, Triangle fabricated all of Circle East’s exterior signage – channel letters, blade signs, the large wall-mounted directory sign and the free-standing map directory sign, fulfilling Ashton’s ideals on attracting consumers, directing pedestrians around the site, and creating a neighborhood destination. 

Installation required some ingenuity; the channel letters are stationed on the exterior part of the building that houses a storage facility, so there were storage lockers directly behind where wiring was required. Triangle engineered a solution that wouldn’t require notifying the storage facility if an outage occurred. “We found areas where we could run longer feeds so that the power supplies and could be located where they are easily accessible,” Fener said. Fener, who attended nearby Towson University, said the Circle East project “absolutely” fit a need for Towson’s downtown. “It’s a booming area. There are several colleges around, including Towson,” he said. “There’s a lot of new construction and remodeling going on within the area.”

A HAPPY ACCIDENT

Avisos Architectural Signage fabricated and installed this monument sign for an Amazon facility in Jefferson, GA.
Avisos Architectural Signage fabricated and installed this monument sign for an Amazon facility in Jefferson, GA.

When most people vacation in Miami, work is the furthest thing from their minds. Too much Cuban food to eat, beaches to visit, clubs to enjoy. Humberto Perez visited Miami – and accidentally found a job. After graduating from architecture school in Colombia, Perez traveled north to see his brother in Miami. A client of Perez’s brother was starting a new company in the tradeshow industry and needed some renderings completed. “He wanted to talk to me, but I didn’t speak English at all back in the day,” Perez recalled. “Two days later, I showed up with my drawings. He hired me on the spot.”

Even when he was a full-time architect in Atlanta, Perez didn’t shed his tradeshow past; he purchased a 24-in.-wide Roland plotter and started making vinyl signs in his basement as a side gig. “When I was in the tradeshow business and I started printing and cutting, I was fascinated by it,” Perez remembered. “I said, One day, I’ll do this on my own.’” After the recession cost him his job as an architect in 2009, Perez rented an office space, ordered a 54-in. Roland VersaCAMM and founded Avisos Digital Graphics & Signage. Over time, Avisos relocated to Smyrna, GA, rebranded as Avisos Architectural Signage, and expanded its production capabilities, completing more ADA, monument and, yes, architectural signage projects.

A 14 x 9-ft. tall monument sign that provides clear wayfinding outside of Amazon’s 850,000-sq.-ft. facility in Jefferson, GA, reflects Avisos’ refocused direction. Before each project, Avisos holds a staff meeting to determine the best way forward for a particular sign project. In this case, the priorities were to make the sign light enough to be handled with relative ease during fabrication in Avisos’s warehouse and so the sign could be installed in no more than four hours. Perez completed the fabrication specifications, routed the aluminum tubes, plates and sheets on Avisos’s AXYZ CNC machine, and then passed the sign on to his co-workers for assembly and attachment. For this job, Avisos also used a Miller Millermatic 252 welder, a custom orange ORACAL translucent vinyl and Matthews Paint.

Perez prefers to stay involved at every step of the process, and he assumed an even larger role for this particular job because Avisos was breaking in a new production manager. “We look like ants in the warehouse – everyone knows what to do,” Perez said. “I tell them never have a doubt – ask me if you have a question.” Avisos’s client list includes Georgia Tech and Gensler, an architecture firm that hired Avisos to do a sign project for Salesforce’s new Atlanta office. “My company has been growing organically since I bought the plotter,” Perez said. “My dream was always to be an architectural sign company. The last two years, that’s the path the company has been taking.”

LOCAL FLAVOR

Architectural Sign Designs produced ADA signage for a construction contractor in Tulsa that features snippets of the city’s history.
Architectural Sign Designs produced ADA signage for a construction contractor in Tulsa that features snippets of the city’s history.

Architectural Sign Designs (ASD; Owasso, OK) President Ryan Neurohr has a similar backstory to Humberto Perez; he started with one career path and then diverted to another. Looking for a change from the insurance business, Neurohr bought ASD five years ago without any experience in the sign industry. “I wanted to get into manufacturing. I loved the [sign] business when I learned about it,” Neurohr said. “It’s like any other business; it’s all about relationships and taking care of your customers.”

ASD was founded not long after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; thus, its longtime focus has been custom ADA signage. The majority of ASD’s business is wholesale, but the company retains local customers in nearby Tulsa, where a unique project recently transpired.

Ross Group, a large, local construction contractor, was renovating an older building for office purposes, and decided it wanted office signs that displayed historical Tulsa landmarks. ASD matted the subsurface landmark images on glass for the front of the signs, and instead of inserting a blank backer on the rear side of the sign/glass to hide the double stick tape, they pitched inserting short bios of the landmarks. Ross approved, with one request being the addition of the Ross logo in the background of the text, which can be read from the interior of the rooms.

ASD used a Universal Laser Systems PLS4.75 laser system to cut the P95 frosted acrylic (to give the front layer of the sign a flame-polished edge) and the tactile copy. A Vision 2550 router was used to drill holes for the braille and braille spheres on the front of the signs. A Rowmark Smooth Silver back plate provided extra depth to cap off the signage with a special local significance. To be sure, not all signmaking moonshots will wow the customer, but these three projects emphasize the upshot of risk-taking – a happy and impressed client who is likely to come back again and again.

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Signs of the Times May 2019

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