BAA’s one-time design director Dick Petersen once said to Minale Tattersfield founder Brian Tattersfield that it “would be lovely to create a building so well-designed that it didn’t need any signage at all”.
Tattersfield kept this in mind while working on signage for the 42.5m Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, which will open on 15 March.
The museum is simply designed, and signage is kept to a minimum. It has one internal street, with galleries on six floors, each with a balcony facing the street.
“I wanted the signage to reflect the building’s design and convey that the museum is basically about weapons. These are amazing and beautiful, but also incredibly threatening and sinister,” says Tattersfield.
The Royal Armouries Museum contains weapons which have been in storage at the Tower of London for many years. The galleries show how weapons were used throughout the ages, starting with Egypt, Rome and ancient Crete and tracing through to the aftermath of the Gulf War. Its menagerie section has its own Irish wolfhounds, horses and falcons and its hunting section has a real whale harpoon from Japan. Medieval tournaments, jousting and traditional arts and crafts will all be on display.
Tattersfield refused to stick to conventional methods of signage. He designed enormous open books made of laminated beech “like a medieval piece of carpentry”. The page each book appears to have fallen open on indicates the contents of each floor.
The other method of signage is personality- driven. Tattersfield has created a myriad of little figures for directional purposes and to identify each gallery. The sense of humour and light-heartedness inherent in these designs balances the atmosphere of warlike gloom.
The Craft Court shows the figures hard at work; the Education gallery depicts a lesson in bow and arrows, and the Wellington Restaurant is identified by the famous hat and boot.
“I put them fencing on the stairs like Errol Flynn to direct visitors up and down, for example,” says Tattersfield, who wanted to make the museum “as human as possible, not just a bunch of dead artefacts”.
A helmet worn by Henry VIII was chosen as a main logo. Minale Tattersfield designer Paul Astbury witnessed Tattersfield’s humorous approach: The helmet appears to have spectacles, so Henry must “have had very poor eyesight”, says Astbury. It also has a dewdrop on the end of its nose, visible in the sign, which was apparently one of Henry’s characteristics.
“Brian’s amazing, he just comes in with something scribbled on a piece of tracing paper, says ‘do you like this?’ and it’s a whole signage system for a museum,” says Astbury.