Monday, June 10, 2019

Logo sleuthing: Architectural symbol by Chermayeff & Geismar

Rich Baird, who runs LogoArchive and BP&O, recently sent out a tweet calling for confirmation on a mysterious symbol apparently designed by Chermayeff & Geismar for the American Institute of Architects (AIA). He found the logo in an old logo compilation book and there are a few instances where logos have been wrongly attributed in these books. This prodded me to do a bit of logo sleuthing.

There have been multiple retrospective books published about Chermayeff & Geismar, which means their work feels quite well preserved for the future. But to my knowledge this possible AIA logo hasn't been included in these books. Its not in the rare spiral bound portfolio they published in 1979, not in the more common TM book from 2000 nor in Identify from 2011.

The oldest record I have of this logo being created is from a special issue of the Japanese design magazine Idea, published in May 1971. The issue highlighted prominent American identity designers and included a profile on Chermayeff & Geismar as well as an extensive look at their portfolio. Besides that, the symbol doesn't appear in any of the contemporary magazine profiles on C&G I have been able to access.

The AIA symbol in Idea.

The following year, 1972, saw the first instalments in two long-running series of logo compilations: Yasaburo Kuwayama's Trademarks & Symbols and David E. Carter's Book of American Trademarks. Both include C&G's AIA symbol and this is where Rich had found it.

Both Kuwayama and Carter created their earlier books by collecting trademarks published in the graphic design press. Kuwayama even lists the previously mentioned special issue of Idea as one of his sources. It's more unclear where Carter found the AIA symbol.

The AIA symbol in Kuwayama's and Carter's books.

The symbol is also included in the first volume of Top Symbols & Trademarks, which started in 1973. Here it is said to be specifically made for the New York Chapter of the AIA. (It's also dated to 1963, but the years in Top Trademarks are often wildly off.)

Now we're on to something. In addition to the initials 'AIA' you can easily also imagine the letters 'NY' inside that cluster of lines. So, was this specifically made for the New York Chapter? Probably.

I haven't been able to find any record of this logo being used. There are a several AIA publications that have been digitised and made available online, but they are generally not specific to New York so they tend to use AIA's classic "eagle and column" symbol or no logo at all. If the New York Chapter of the AIA once used C&G's symbol, they have long since replaced it with the national AIA branding.

The traditional AIA symbol.

Chermayeff & Geismar have some recorded connection to the AIA. Ivan Chermayeff was awarded a medal by them in 1967. He also designed a symbol for a conference held by the AIA in 1965. There's also record that the firm designed a few posters for the AIA later on.

Symbol designed by Ivan Chermayeff for the 1965 Pan American Conference of Architecture.

So what's our conclusion? My initial though was that Chermayeff & Geismar were once commissioned to create a new modern mark for the national AIA, but that it was ultimately rejected. This would have explained why C&G didn't include in later portfolios and retrospectives. The New York connection probably rules that out. At the beginning of the '70s, Chermayeff & Geismar could get any client they wanted, so they may have decided that the New York AIA symbol didn't really reflect their best work. The answer may lie in whatever archives Chermayeff & Geismar or the New York AIA maintain.

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