Alphabetic Kanji

As part of the exchange to the Tokyo University of the Arts I have explored the concept of written language through an umbrella project titled 'The New Type', a reference to the Tschichold's seminal book. The first project under the umbrella is 'Alphabetic Kanji': a typeface design that connects letters and words into abstract shapes, creating an alphabetic-logographic hybrid.

Spending time in Japan I was fascinated by the Kanji writing system, adapted from Chinese characters, that communicates meaning through the overall form of the words rather than by decoding a string of graphemes and phonemes like in the Greek, Latin or Cyrillic based alphabets.⁠ I wanted to create a similar system that is based on the English written language (as today's 'lingua franca'), where each letter in the typeface 'locks' into the next, giving each word a unique abstract shape that could possibly create understanding based on its form rather than pronunciation. In addition to the Japanese Kanji writing system the project was also inspired by Hangul script that combines letters into syllabic blocks, invented by King Sejong the Great in 1443 to write the Korean language.

The development of the typeface was based on the idea that logographic writing systems, such as Kanji, could potentially allow for creation of a universal written language since they do not depend on the pronunciation of the words across different languages but communicate meaning through a standardised abstract shape.⁠

The design of the letterforms in the typeface was based on the 'shoji' door of the traditional Japanese architecture found at the Maruhi Gallery in Tokyo where the work was exhibited. As a result, I decided to create a series of typographic sculptures inspired by the delicate wooden grid.⁠⁠ The words 'the', 'new' and 'type' were laser-cut out of wood, painted and assembled in pairs, visually mirroring the traditional wooden latticework. Both the typeface and its sculptures are a site-specific work based on the architecture of the aforementioned gallery.⁠

The typographic sculptures based on the typeface are visually reminiscent of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Art Nouveau furniture designs, creating a visual connection between the two universities where I have been recently researching design: Glasgow School of Art and Tokyo University of the Arts. Photography by Kenji Agata.

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