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Type Essays

Burg Giebichenstein in alphabetical order – A college encyclopedia

August 11, 2015 by
FontShop Team
FontShop Team

In 2015 the Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design in Halle, Germany, looks back on a rich history that spans 100 years. The “Burg” is perhaps best known for its numerous workshops on campus which are deeply rooted in the university’s curricula and – of course – for the memorable landmark (Burg, Engl. castle) that is found in its unique name. Having lived through all the ups and downs of Germany’s history in the 20th century, this institution has accumulated a large variety of stories, anecdotes, and almost unreal moments.

At the occasion of its 100th anniversary, the university and form+zweck publishers have released the “Burg-encyclopedia” (short for Burg Giebichenstein in alphabetical order – A college encyclopedia). The book captures memorable moments, persons of note, peculiar occurrences, big and small successes as well as failures – as is written in the foreword. Matthias Noell, professor of design history at Burg Giebichenstein and editor of the publication writes “The publication you hold in your hands gathers the real and imaginary history of the Burg through various timelines, and manages to achieve this without resorting to supposedly compelling storytelling nor offering supposed directions of development and the pitfalls that come with it.”

Because it is conceived as an encyclopedia, the book subverts the chronological hierarchy that could be expected in a historical overview; instead it is a reference work organized in alphabetical order. True to Denis Diderot, the father of the encyclopedia of the 18th century, each entry contains links to several other articles. This structure invites the reader to engage in ‘encyclopedic browsing’, and – to put it in the editor’s words – “generates chance encounters as well as clashing entries.”

The 825 entries by 82 authors are set in the book weight of Jakob Runge’s FF Franziska™ typeface, in combination with the university’s proprietary type Burg Grotesk in regular and bold. Ferdinand Ulrich – author of eight of the encyclopedic entries – was responsible for the typography. The large volume and special nature of the text required two specific typographic solutions: (1) To accommodate over 1,000,000 characters on the 544 modestly-sized pages (215×140 mm) the pilcrow sign was a handy space-saver as it eliminates the need for paragraphs to break up blocks of text. (2) Visually quoting Diderot’s Encyclopédie (c. 1765), links to other entries are indicated with rightwards arrows pointing to the relevant term set in Franziska’s subtle small caps. Underneath the paragraphs links to entries not mentioned in the text are set in Burg Grotesk Bold, preceded by an arrow; bibliographical references are set in Burg Grotesk Regular all caps.

Corinna Forthuber’s 26 illustrations provide moments of repose throughout the book – one drawing per letter of the alphabet – with one of the illustrations by her 14-year old son Severin. They range from figurative art to abstract patterns, perfectly capturing the occasionally bizarre anecdotes. The Burg-encyclopedia was printed in the university’s own on-campus offset print shop – underlining the quality of the institution’s impeccable equipment.

The book is based visually on the idea of form and counter form, black and white, and is entirely dedicated to the words of the authors. Appropriately, the publication begins with a quote by Roland Barthes: “The world is full of characters, but not all of these characters posses the beautiful simplicity of the letters in the alphabet.”

All photos © 2015 Norman Posselt

Trademark attribution notice
Franziska is a trademark of Monotype GmbH and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. FF is a trademark of Monotype GmbH registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and may be registered in certain other jurisdictions.