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 richardheap.com/#/zone-1-type.

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