Guatemala City type project

Richard Heap is a British graphic designer who now lives and works in Guatemala City in Central America. He recently started taking pictures of type he comes across in the capital’s Zone 1 district – and in tracing the images in Illustrator back at his studio, he has begun to document the city’s urban lettering

Richard Heap is a British graphic designer who now lives and works in Guatemala City in Central America. He recently started taking pictures of type he comes across in the capital’s Zone 1 district – and in tracing the images in Illustrator back at his studio, he has begun to document the city’s urban lettering…

Heap is a designer at Studio Domus, an architectural firm in the Guatemalan capital. He moved there three years ago (his wife is from Guatemala) and has recently started to photograph typography in the downtown area of his adopted city.

“For the past couple of weeks I’ve been exploring the capital, photographing and then vectoring the type on the buildings in the historic Zone 1 district,” he explains. “It’s a rough area, and well past it’s 1950s heyday, so I was bobbing in and out of the car, snapping a few pics and then tracing them in Illustrator.

“Some of the traces are a bit rough and ready as all the photographs are, naturally, angled upwards. But I feel it gives a good idea of what the area is like.”

“Guatemala City was known as the ‘Silver Cup’ in reference to its beauty,” says Heap. “Since then the city has been plagued by poor urban planning, crime and traffic problems – yet some buildings are real gems, if somewhat dilapidated. I thought it would be a nice idea to graphically record these in an ongoing project before any further deterioration takes place.”

Heap explains that he takes several images at each site – the shots taken straight on to the signage are then used to draw out the type. “I haven’t been able to access any neighbouring or opposite buildings to get a clean ‘flat’ photo to work from, so I always need to take into account that I’m looking up. However, the photos online are deliberately ‘not’ the shots I vector from as those images are zoomed in and don’t give you a sense of the building or context.”

Trying to date many of the examples is problematic, says Heap, who estimates that the majority of the lettering he has photographed dates from the 1920s to the 1960s.

“[With] some we know [the year] from the type itself – e.g. El Danubio, above – but others I can’t find out; either the tenants have no idea, or the building is uninhabited. If I had more time or contacts I’d love to dig deeper into this. Furthermore, Guatemala City’s Zone 1 is a pretty sketchy area, so I generally don’t like hanging around.”

Heap says that the project is ongoing and he is set to photograph three sites next month, including Guatemala’s Estadio Olimpico which was built in 1948.

The full series to date is at

  • Alejandra Morales

    As a guatemalan architect, living here for all your life is sometimes stressful and disappointing, but this article made me very proud of my city, made me appreciate treasures we take for granted on daily basis

  • Jaime Belden

    Very nice to see the real setting of the type usage and the clean line art next to it. Very nicely set. I love font design, I love architecture, and I love photography. Thus, my attraction to this series. Thanks for sharing your lens’ point of view.

  • Thanks guys. Stay tuned for more soon. Cheers

  • This gave me a bittersweet feeling, knowing by first hand how these “jewels” as he calls them are going to waste, and also knowing that they are being appreciated and documented for their remaining beauty. Wish you the best with your work in this project, keep it up.

  • Interesting article, but the extra layer of BS is unneeded. Zone 1 is not a “sketchy area,” and in fact is perfectly safe to walk around throughout all of the day (and not even so bad at night). There are plenty of hostels, hotels, restaurants, coffeeshops, and galleries that are doing just fine. Folks wander around with cameras snapping pictures and enjoying the atmosphere… it isn’t 2005 anymore. No need to lay it on thick; just stick to the typography.

  • Alejandra Morales

    No es precisamente Paris Endo Tranzo, y me han asaltado 3 veces de día y DE NOCHE! así que tampoco habemos babosadas! P.S. vivo a dos cuadras del congreso!

  • Troy Cayon

    That is such an interesting technique. To document the lettering in a urban community is a great idea. For me it gives me a new perspective of the type used to make the signs. When I initially look at them, I think “oh that just another old sign,” but this does help me see the uniqueness in each typeface and that they were really thought out, or at least more than expected. As an American Graphic Designer, it really interests me and makes me want to try this in older signs in America. El Prado and the Lux are personally my favorite because if I were to look at them on the street I wouldn’t think much of them. But I really do like them vectored. This could also define certain communities if this was documented.

  • very nice project
    There’s no way to contact Richard through his website. Richard are you reading this?

  • Hi Yoni apologies – it’s . I’m out of town, by the coast. V slow internet.

    Thanks for all your comments. Glad you like the project.

    Re Endo’s comments: I don’t want to get bogged down into an argument about this, but from 3 years living in Zone 1 I can’t say it’s safe. This isn’t a ‘layer of bs’ as you so eloquently put it. It’s a fact. Bear in mind there’s more to z1 than 6th ave (which isn’t perfectly safe by any means). I could go on but like I said I don’t want a few innocuous references to the area to overshadow the work. This is a typography project not social commentary. Glad you enjoyed the project though.

  • Héctor Santizo

    Fist of all, I am very greatful to anyone that shows the beauty of my country. So thanks a bunch.
    I love all types of art forms and I believe that Mr. Rich has started something really special and I think it can become a bigger project that he thinks. For instance, one picture has an “S” that make me think of a family story that when my father’s relatives move over a century ago to the city they have different places of labor under the name “Santizo”. I am not saying this the case for me, but for people that lived in the city my might be the case. So anyway, Mr. Rich should create a blog where people can exchange information about the signs and letters but also about the different types of doors the old houses and buildings have.