In July 2011, I attended an alumni reunion of the Basel School of Design’s international postgraduate program, the Advanced Class for Graphic Design, that was founded in 1968 by Emil Ruder and Armin Hofmann. One of the events organized in conjunction with the so-called Basel Summit was a tour of the Graphics Collection at the Museum of Design Zurich. Barbara Junod, curator of the collection, laid out an impressive assortment of historical materials that ranged from the 15th century to the 21st, including examples from the Weingart Archive, a collection donated to the museum in 2010 by Wolfgang Weingart, the trailblazing German typography teacher of the Basel School of Design (from 1968–1999) who shattered the Swiss type mold.

“He is a painter, a poet, an explorer, and an artist—in the guise of a typographer. His tools are a proof press, paper, ink, type and film.” —Paul Rand’s 1995 tribute to Weingart

Rand went on to reflect on the “richness, variety, and originality” of Weingart’s designs. “Always interesting, always the result of a meaningful idea.”

Two-thirds of the Weingart Archive is attributed to Weingart himself. His original sketches reveal how he developed his ideas, while mockups (barely held together with yellowed transparent adhesive tape) reveal his elaborate design processes and production techniques. Finished samples include letterpress-printed line studies and explorations that examine the creative potential of letters as concrete forms. Among the published pieces printed by offset lithography are boldly unconventional cover designs and interior layouts for Typografische Monatsblätter (TM) and exquisitely complex poster designs conceived as layered collages and realized by strata of film stacked inches high one on top of another.

The remaining third of the archive is made up of a cross section of student projects that were carefully selected from over three decades-worth of archived material that Weingart had methodically set aside and safeguarded. These ranged from basic typographic explorations (learning to set type, applying design principles to layout, etc.) to more long-term, individual pursuits that examined meaning expressed visually through typography, time represented as a typographic construct, and experimental designs for books, newspapers, and other publications.

In the early years of the postgraduate program, student projects were carried out using metal type and letterpress proofing presses in the school’s now dismantled type shop. In 1984, Weingart introduced his students to the Apple Macintosh and they began to experiment with digital technology. (Keep in mind that this was long before viable vector software programs existed when digital meant strictly bitmapped.)

The Weingart Archive was unveiled at the Museum of Design Zurich in 2014 in “Weingart Typografie” (Weingart Typography), the first comprehensive exhibition in Switzerland devoted to Weingart’s pivotal position in the history of Swiss graphic design through his dual role as designer and teacher. The exhibition, which was curated by Junod in collaboration with Weingart, was organized into 12 themes based on form, technique, and content. Seven themes represented Weingart’s work (Apprenticeship as a Typesetter; Round Compositions; Line Pictures; The Letter M; Typography in a New Context; Film Techniques, Layering as Collage; and Xerox and MacPaint Collages) and five typified student work (Exercises and Research; Books and Magazines; Calendars; Digital Research; and Color Applications).

Mathis Füssler, a former student of the Basel School of Design who designed the exhibition in consultation with Junod, said “It was particularly challenging to consider how best to relate to a younger audience many of whom are unfamiliar with analog methods and early digital techniques.” Posters and other pieces were hung from panels while additional works were showcased in custom vitrines with milk glass panels illuminated from below. “These tables allowed the halftone film collages to be presented in their full splendor.”

The Weingart Archive, which is housed within the Graphics Collection, is located in the Collection Center on the new Toni-Areal campus of Zurich University of the Arts, and guided tours are available, though access to the Weingart Archive and broader Graphics Collection is by appointment only. And if you’re in town you should definitely make a point to stop by. As Junod says, it’s important that scholars “analyze and interpret the originals in order to form their own opinions and make their own contributions to design history or design historiography.”

If you want to dig even deeper, Junod and her colleagues Vanessa Gendre and Sarah Owens conducted research that led to “Wolfgang Weingart: Typography in Context. Research into Tradition, Media Revolutions and Innovation in the Work of Wolfgang Weingart 1961–2004,” an excerpt of which was published in the exhibition catalog, Weingart Typografie. For additional information, contact Barbara Junod, curator Graphics Collection. mail to: barbara.junod@zhdk.ch