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July 13, 2006


New Signage Honors Bryn Mawr's History

Imagine: visitors looking for Thomas Great Hall no longer ask where it is. Legible, well-placed signs lead them to parking, a "you-are-here" campus map points the way to Thomas and a handsome, tavern-style sign greets them at their destination.

A comprehensive campus-signage plan is providing the blueprint for the location, hierarchy, design and materials for exterior campus signs. The project addresses a longstanding problem. "Because Bryn Mawr has had so little signage, and much of what exists has been falling apart or giving outdated information, first-time visitors have a difficult time finding their way around. Our goal is to make it easy for anyone to find primary destinations," says Nancy Collins, director of public affairs. Collins is overseeing the signage effort with Glenn Smith, director of facilities services, and Chris Gluesing, assistant director of planning and projects.

For assistance in design and planning, the College turned to Jon Roll & Associates of Cambridge, Mass., a firm that specializes in crafting graphic identities and signage systems for educational, cultural and health-care institutions. Founder Jon Roll maintains that "good signage looks as if it has always been there." To assure that Bryn Mawr's would, Roll read reams of Bryn Mawr's historical documents, studied old photos and campus master plans, and toured the campus extensively. He also met with student, alumnae, faculty and staff representatives to learn their esthetic values and the campus' needs. Following many meetings to hash out preferences, Roll presented the design and preliminary plan to the College in June 2004.

References to Bryn Mawr's architectural and decorative history – what Roll calls "an impressive pedigree" – abound in the design. The green background is one hue darker than the exterior of the Benham Gateway, itself a color used on Shingle-style houses circa 1900. (The slightly darker color provides better contrast to letters.) The tavern signs carry a decorative border that emulates the motif Lockwood DeForest stenciled on the ceiling of Thomas Great Hall. The font, Minion, is similar to Trump Medieval, the College's standard since the early 1990s, but has better visibility; both fonts complement Bryn Mawr's Collegiate Gothic architecture. Bracket and finial designs recall ironwork motifs wrought by Samuel Yellin in the lanterns flanking Rhoads and by the Yellin-esque craftsman who fashioned the Campus Center lanterns.

"We think Jon nailed the design – it's distinctively Bryn Mawr," said Collins. "When he showed us existing campus images with the proposed signs stripped in, the signs looked as if they had always been part of the landscape."

The plan calls for directional signs at decision points; tavern signs outside buildings on the campus perimeter and near primary destinations within; three campus-map displays that show not only the main campus but also the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, Glenmede and the two closest SEPTA R-5 stations; building signs consisting of either letters on a fascia or a simple brass plate on a door, depending on the building's architecture; major and minor parking signs; and accessible-entrance signs.

Temporary signage, an eyesore during special events and throughout the summer, is also addressed in the plan. For temporary signs, Roll drew his inspiration from the celebratory flags flown atop Rockefeller on special occasions and from the flags that hang in Thomas Great Hall. Easy and inexpensive to manufacture, these signs will have bright backgrounds of yellow, blue or red and will feature some of the coats of arms seen in the Great Hall, which are derived from those of Welsh regions. Best of all, Roll points out that "if there is good permanent signage, you'll need much less of the temporary kind."

Following the approval of President Nancy J. Vickers, the signage plan was endorsed by the Board of Trustees' Landscape Committee and Building and Grounds Committee, both of which have faculty, student and staff representation. Advised by staff who develop programs for visitors and by student tour guides, Collins refined signage priorities and developed standards for sign text, while Roll and Gluesing finalized sign locations. Over the past year, Smith oversaw fabrication and installation of permanent signage, which has been funded by a donor's gift. Smith expects all permanent signage to be in place before students return in August.

"In the fall, we'll turn our attention to funding, prioritizing and manufacturing temporary signs," says Collins.

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