Andreu Balius [type design]
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SuperVeloz: A creative response to an emergency situation
SuperVeloz, by catalan printer and typographer Joan Trochut, was a whole type system conceived to give solution to printer's work. But far from being only a useful tool for small printers, it could be considered as one of the most interesting experiments in early modern type design in the first half of the 20th century.
The ideas and ideals of avant-guard reached Spain during the years before the Spanish Civil War. In Spain, we could not talk about native avant-guard movements although there were some significant avant-guard individuals. Artists, writers, architects and intellectuals that were close to those new ideas, were the ones that disseminated them from their work.
It was clear the influence of Futurism if we take into account the works of poet Joan Salvat-Papasseit and Josep Maria Junoy. Dadaism had also some spreading within Spain thanks to the presence of Francis Picabia in Barcelona and the publishing of his magazine 391.
Rationalism arrived thanks to a group of young architechts who were related to key figures of European architecture such as Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius. We could find the influence of New typography ideas in some architectural and art magazines that were published during the 30's in Spain: A.C. (Contemporary Activity Files), Gaceta de Arte and D'aci i D'allà, as the main ones.
So, we can be certain that the ideas of modernism reached Spain during the end of the 20's. And those new ideas spread with more energy during the years of the Spanish second Republic, just before the Civil War.
The Civil War (1936-1939) and the triumph of General Franco put a stop to the reception of external ideas for a long time. Fortunately, not all the graphic artists went into exile. Some of them decided to stay, which was certaintly not an easy decision for those who had been involved with the ideas of change and modernism.
Experiments on type design achieved by the Bauhaus and those artists related to early modernism emerged within Spain a bit late at different approaches. One of the best —from my point of view— was the design of Super-tipo Veloz by Joan Trochut (1920-1980) during the early 40's.
Joan Trochut's father –Esteban Trochut, had established himself as a printer, in Barcelona, in the early 20's. He soon got recognition because of his printing competence and became very active within the professional circles. In the early 30's, Jose Iranzo foundry, a local founder in Barcelona, with the help of Esteban Trochut, produced and distributed a collection of geometric figures for type composition.
Those figuras geometricas (as they were called in spanish) were very close from those designs that Paul Renner designed for Bauer foundry in the late 20's, –the Futura Schmuck geometric figures (1).
Printers used them for the creation of logotypes, letterheads and ornamental decoration. They became very popular among spanish printers and we could consider those 'decorative' geometric glyphs as a first approach to the idea of a modular type system.
Following the spirit of printing arts renewal that took place in Spain, particularly in Catalonia, in the first decades of the twentieth century and facing the remarkable development of advertising during the 30's, Esteban Trochut was extremely concerned about the importance of excellence in every piece of printed work. He was worried about the quality and the dignity of both printed ephemera and commercial matters. According to his understanding on how printed work should be done and how typography should be used, he published a series of books: the ADAM volumes (2).
Those volumes collected an extense diversity of printed work samples that could be considered as 'models' for good printing and references for good typography –as he understood it.
The publications themselves, printed in spanish and french, were also promotional items for Esteban Trochut printing company. He conceived those volumes (using his own words) as manuals for the "study and rationalization of Typography Arts". He emphasised the use of type as the main element on the page.
In those 'manual' books, both Esteban and Joan Trochut wrote texts on typography with the aim to challenge and promote the use of creative typography among printers. And to give to know the possibilities of printing press within the profession.
In the texts they wrote we could see reflected the ideas of New Typography that were gently being embraced by the local printers. However, although we could perceive the spirit of modernism in their approach, the ADAM volumes first and the NOVADAM volumes later, were more practical manuals than theoretical. The first NOVADAM (3) published in 1936, just before the War, included some samples about the using of modules for the creation of glyphs and ornaments. So, it seems clear that the idea of SuperVeloz was already in Joan Trochut's mind just before the civil confrontation.
After the War, in 1940, the Trochut family restarted their business activity under a very difficult situation. That was not far from the rest of the professionals who remained in the country.
The consequences of War and the imposition of an autarchy regime in Spain brought on a dramatic situation for the spanish economy. It was difficult to renew machinery, find good quality paper or purchase new material under that scarcity situation. At the same time, political repression and censorship imposed by the regime to the graphic arts and printing offices made it uneasy to work.
Small printing offices were short of resources when trying to solve commission work with originality. Budgets were very small.
Concerned about the need to improve printed work in those tough conditions and taking into account those 'geometric figures' that were still in use, Joan Trochut, with his father's help, worked on a modular type system that could improve printers' possibilities. He came through with a modular system than not only could create characters –and alphabet sets, but also ornamental compositions. Joan Trochut's SuperVeloz was the creative response for that situation. It was a real 'fast type' solution for that emercengy situation.
Super Veloz was an experimental type system based on a set of modular features that, when combined, a great range of typefaces, alphabets, ornaments –even illustrations, could be made.
It was produced in lead metal in 1942 by Jose Iranzo Type Foundry, in Barcelona. As it appears in a promotional brochure: Joan Trochut's Super Veloz was a collection of combining metal figures designed in order to satisfy the need for decorative type and advertisment demands.
It was a modular type system that appears in order to improve the aesthetics of small printed matters.
We could consider SuperVeloz as a product of spanish modernism. Trochut had taken into account those experimental typefaces derived from the Bauhaus years. He mixed architectural functional thinking with a personal taste for ornament (4). Hereafter, lead metal type was nevermore a typeface in itself. Now, each type was a part of a glyph. Trochut pushed Guttemberg's combining type towards a new stage.
SuperVeloz system is made out of three principal collections, two accompaniment features, a –so called 'Universal' collection, a 36-point size collection and a flourish set of modules. In brief, a total amount of more than three hundred modules that could be reduced to fourteen basic designs (principal stems) and their ornamental derivatives (complement features) and the rest of combining figures (secondary stems) and flourishes (5). With all that, a nearly infinite number of possible combinations let printers get a large number of typographic solutions, according to their needs. And that was great at that time, when printers had no other capital than their own skills.
The versatility of this system let them develope alphabets and lettering, logotype design and create illustrations.
The use of colour when combining all these figures 'played' an important part in the final result, since lead type modules could be printed with different inks. All these possibilities where extraordinarily exposed in the new issues of NOVADAM that were published after the releasing of SuperVeloz. Esteban and Joan Trochut published more volumes with the aim to give to know how the whole system could work, together with the objective of promoting SuperVeloz. They were real manuals of 'how-to-use' SuperVeloz according to the trends of the times.
In the late 90's, a faithful revival version of SuperVeloz has translated the combining metal shapes of SuperVeloz into digital outlines for font production (6). Andreu Balius and Alex Trochut –grandson of Joan Trochut, have worked from original type specimens and pieces of printed material in order to revive the memory of typographer Joan Trochut, nearly forgotten after his death in 1980. As a conclusion of this new digital approach to SuperVeloz, a website tries to challenge cyber visitors to play with its digital version. Superveloz.net (7) is a playground that offers the possibility to compose lettering illustrations with the combining of those modular designs.
SuperVeloz could be considered as an Ornamental type design, but originally it was an experimental 'typeface' based on a set of modular features that, when combined, a great range of type solutions could be made.
Designed in the hard years after the spanish civil war, Super Veloz is a result of the times. An upshot from a particular way to understand modernism and give, at the same time, a solution to the problems of local printing industry in Spain.
1. At the beginning of the 20th century and during the first decades, there was a strong influence of german typography. We should take into account that the main spanish type foundries were run by german families that established their founding business by the end of the XIXth century: Richard Gans foundry in Madrid and Fundicion Tipográfica Bauer (as successors of Jacob of Neufville) in Barcelona.
2. ADAM stands for 'Archivos Documentarios de Arte Moderno' (Modern Art Documentary Archives)
3. NOVADAM was a new serie of volumes published by both Joan and Esteban Trochut between 1936 and 1952 as a continuation of the ADAM series.
4. It seems that young Joan Trochut wanted to lead, with the designing of a whole range of flourishes and decorative modules, some kind of humanist feeling as a counterview to the rational approach and loose of ornament that was accustomed to early 'geometric' modernist type designs. It is this 'nostalgic' approach to ornament and local culture that connects both Esteban and Joan Trochut with the Grafia Latina movement during the early fifties in Paris.
5. According Trochut's words: 'these basic designs, –which are themselves the stems for the letters, are meant to be combined with all the secondary features'. All the designs were intended to be combined. So, they keep/hold a common sense of unity in their weight and proportion.
6. Digital version of SuperVeloz was awarded an Excellence in type design by the Type Directors Club (New York, 2005). Super Veloz is now available through the foundry TypeRepublic (www.typerepublic.com)
7. www.superveloz.net website has been designed by Andreu Balius, Alex Trochut, and programmers Inklude studio and Flan.
Published in: Ultrabold n.2 (The journal of St. Bride Library), London. Spring 2007.