A brand new independent publishing house Tower Block Books wants us to explore architecture and typography from a more playful point of view. Its first beautifully printed publication, The Big Letter Hunt, “found” letterforms from around London’s East End.
Set up by architect Rute Nieto Ferreira and graphic designer Amandine Alessandra, the new publishing house unites a somewhat unlikely pair of disciplines. “There’s something about the monumental scale of a letter being revealed in architecture that makes it very unusual,” says Alessandra. “You sometimes find words and letters sculpted on a façade, but they’re unlikely to be as big as a letter ‘drawn’ by huge beams or by a window frame. And most people would be able to read that message. Our message is in the eye of the beholder.”
In this case, the eye of the beholder first belonged to Ferreira’s children, who created the original letter hunt game while on walks along London’s Regent’s Canal, identifying letters within the surrounding buildings. “The content of the book is accessible to very young children, but its aesthetic appeals to adults too,” says Alessandra. She goes on to explain that setting up their own publishing house was an opportunity to maintain creative control and make decisions over what a children’s book should be.
“We wanted to create a book that would resonate with the young and curious who are becoming familiar with their ABC’s,” Alessandra adds. The young reader is challenged to identify each letter hidden amongst urban images of varying architectural styles and scales—an equally fun activity for parents who are interested in architecture, design, and typography.
Alessandra, who shot all the photos while on walks (“camera in hand and children in tow”), explains that searching out letterforms provided not just a new view on the shapes themselves, but also an opportunity to discover the lesser-known local area. Continuing that relationship, the book was also printed and bound just down the road from where Alessandra lives.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the book is its attempt to make the world of letters and type more accessible to a younger audience, especially those who can’t yet read, but can easily recognize shapes. Although Alessandra admits that graphic design can be an intimidating subject, she tells us that children seem to instinctively understand the concept of finding familiar shapes in their environment. “While rooted in a design and architectural discipline, the book is more about encouraging a new way of looking at the everyday city, rather than teaching children about the principles of design.”
The book is also cheerfully unafraid of breaking so-called typographic rules. “We loved creating, or shall we say gathering, a freak alphabet that breaks many rules: a variety of scales and thicknesses with no baseline or x-height,” says Alessandra. “And yet they belong to the same recomposed family and work well together at creating very dynamic, playful layouts where only instinct matters over classic rules of layout.”
With the first book published, Tower Block Books are looking to take the letterform hunt to new cities, potentially Porto and Paris. There’s even a workshop element the duo are considering, with everything united by an overall focus on playfulness. “Children are very receptive to games and challenges that have simple rules, but many possible outcomes,” Alessandra concludes. “Design, in general, is exactly that.”