Lettering the Iron Block Building: Designing Exterior Signage for a 19th Century Building

by Addie Sorbo, Strawberry Fields Design Inc.

Dental Associates recently unveiled their brand new clinic and corporate office, located in the historic Iron Block Building, downtown Milwaukee. Having seen the building during its renovation – walking through the dust and rubble, then out on the scaffolding five stories up – I’d have to say that this boutique clinic is nothing shy of magnificent.

Iron Block Buliding, Downtown Milwaukee

The Iron Block Building was built in 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was president.

It’s always such a thrill to work on renovation projects like this – ones that have such history, where attention to detail is of utmost importance, and where the architect and construction crew are so focused on reviving something that was once so wonderful. The vision and passion involved is exciting! It’s very different than just building something brand new – it involves researching history, and uncovering the past though photos and personal stories, and sometimes even finding treasures during the renovation. (One such treasure was an old dentist chair that the architect had found in one of the rooms. He had it restored, and presented it to Dr. Thomas Manos, owner of Dental Associates, at the grand opening.)

We partnered with Dental Associates to help develop their visual brand for their Iron Block clinic. This included designing their logo, banners, marketing collateral, and exterior signage.

The design process for the exterior signage began in March 2013. The first task was to do research. We looked at old photographs of the building, searched for typefaces from the early to mid-1800s and the Italian Renaissance, researched other iron block buildings in the United States, and searched for inspiration online.

Research of typefaces and signage from the 1800s

Research of typefaces and signage from the 1800s

We also looked for inspiration by “touring” New York City through Google street view—and taking “photos” (screenshots) of many buildings and their signage. (Of course, it would have been much more fun to actually go to NYC, but the virtual tour kept us on budget.)

"Touring" NYC – searching for inspiration.

“Touring” NYC – searching for inspiration.

This research was compiled for our first meeting with the architect, marketing manager, and signage company. We all toured the Iron Block building in the midst of renovation, and received a glimpse of the grand vision for its completion.

Getting an up-close view of the building exterior during the renovation.

Getting an up-close view of the building exterior during the renovation.

A collection of historical photos of the Iron Block Building, paint swatches for the exterior, and other details.

A collection of historical photos of the Iron Block Building, paint swatches for the exterior, and other details.

We worked through many different design options and revisions until we found the best solution.

One of the illustrations we developed of signage options.

One of the illustrations we developed of signage options.

The Dental Associates Iron Block Building Grand Opening Celebration was August 18, 2014. After much anticipation, I finally got to see the finished result. The renovation was just gorgeous, and it was so neat to see the building adorned with our signage designs in real life, versus my computer screen. Enjoy!

The magnificent interior

The magnificent interior

Touring the Dental Associates Clinic – Wow, what a view!

Touring the Dental Associates Clinic – Wow, what a view!

Dental Clinic and Implant Center Entrance

Dental Clinic and Implant Center Entrance

Signage above the mezzanine level

Signage above the mezzanine level

Dental Associates Iron Block Buliding Corporate Entrance

Dental Associates Iron Block Buliding Corporate Entrance

Dental Associates Iron Block Building exterior

Dental Associates Iron Block Building exterior

At the Grand Opening Celebration! (L to R: Kim, who I partner with to write copy for Dental Associates marketing collateral, me, and Darin, Dental Associates Marketing Manager.)

At the Grand Opening Celebration! (L to R: Kim, who I partner with to write copy for Dental Associates marketing collateral, me, and Darin, Dental Associates Marketing Manager.)

 

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