Plates 77 to 84

A study of the subject of lettering is important to the architect for two reasons. The first and commonest is that he may add to his drawings necessary information in the form of titles, notes and dimensions, which must be done in a rapid legible style, conforming to the character of the drawing. The second and more important reason is that he may be able to apply it in correct and pleasing form as a branch of design. He is frequently required to include lettering as part of a design or ornament, to be executed in stone or bronze or other material. Such design must be in harmony with the period or style of the architecture and drawn with reference to the kind of material, so that the effect produced by its execution will be both legible and beautiful.

The foundation is the same for both of these somewhat distinct divisions in the architect's use of lettering, and involves first an intimate acquaintance with the letter forms, then a study of their composition and grouping.

The lettering on working drawings is chiefly concerned with legibility and speed. The necessary skill for this class of work may be acquired by taking up a single stroke letter such as that on Plate 80, learning the shapes of the individual letters by practicing each separately, then combining them into words and sentences, following the rules for spacing and composition.

Lettering on display drawings requires more careful attention. The effectiveness of such a drawing may be either enhanced or ruined by the character of the lettering. On this class of work the selection of the appropriate style, the placing and display, and the execution must all have thoughtful study.

For tablets, inscriptions and the like, to be carved or cast or painted as permanent ornament, there must be an intimate knowledge of historical style and an acquaintance wtih the method and effect of execution in the material used.

In the history and development of formal writing and printing there will be found many varied forms of alphabets. Some of these are interesting only from the paleographical standpoint, others are valuable to the designer. It is the intention here to select from the latter a few styles of particular application to architectural work.

Architectural Lettering


The Roman Letter

The original source from which all these varied forms have evolved or descended is the Roman letter of the period of Classic Roman architecture. This letter, somewhat modified and refined, appears again in the period of the Renaissance, and the general name Old Roman is given to both Classical Roman and Renaissance Roman. Type based on it is called by the printers "Roman oldstyle." As it is the architect's one general purpose letter it should be given most careful study.

The finest existing example of Classical Roman is that of the inscription at the base of Trajan's column (A.D. 114). The column and its inscription are illustrated on Plate 77, together with a panel containng an alphabet drawn from it. The letters shown in outline do not occur on the tablet but have been supplied in conforming style to complete the alphabet.

The letters I and J were not differentiated until the sixteenth century. Hence in classic inscriptions I is found used as J. The curved U is also a later form, the sharp V being used instead on all Roman inscriptions. While the use of I for J and V for U has thus historical sanction, the effect on legibility is such that it is not recommended in modern work. Using V for U has been much in vogue among architects, even on office drawings, but it is now looked upon as somewhat of an affectation. On United States Government buildings it is not permitted. The antique effect is preserved without injuring legibility by using the manuscript form U as shown on the plate.


The Roman Letter 82


The Roman Letter 83


The Roman Letter 84

The Roman letter is composed of two weights of lines, and to misplace these is an inexcusable fault. The rule for their correct placing may be remembered easily by recalling that these letters were originally derived from manuscript forms, written with a broad nibbed reed pen, consequently in tracing the shape of a letter as if writing it, all down strokes will be heavy while up strokes and horizontal strokes will be light. Notice that thus all inclined strokes running downward from left to right are heavy, as A M N V W X Y Z is the one exception to this rule of direction).

The old Roman is a light face letter, with the width of the heavy strokes from one-eighth to one-tenth the height of the letter, and the light strokes one-half to two-thirds this width. A very important feature in its appearance is the serif, or cross-mark at the end of each stroke and the fillet that connects it to the body of the letter.

Plates 78 and 79 give a working alphabet designed from Renaissance sources, and drawn to large size for careful study. In this alphabet the width of the stem has been taken as one-tenth the height. To show proportions each letter is drawn in a square divided into ten parts in each direction. In studying these letters it will be well to draw them in ruled squares or on coordinate paper, to a size at least as large as the copy, until the forms and proportions are very familiar. On the plates they have been arranged in alphabetical order for convenient reference, but the beginner will find it best to study the letters in related groups, starting with the straight stroke letters I H T L E F. Draw the outlines of the heavy strokes first, follow with the outlines of the light strokes, then draw the serifs and fillets. The inclined stroke group AKMNVWXYZ should then be taken up, beginning at the left side of each letter to sketch the strokes. Observe the difference in the radii of the fillets on the two sides of an inclined stroke and also as compared to the radius used on vertical strokes. Poorly drawn fillets will inevitably spoil a letter.