A tale of two districts: Base Design’s new identity for New York’s Meatpacking District uses contrasting type to reflect past and present

Once a gritty industrial neighbourhood, New York’s Meatpacking District has been transformed in recent years with the arrival of boutique hotels, designer stores and a new Whitney museum. It now has a sleek visual identity designed by Base, which uses contrasting typefaces to reflect the area’s past and present…

The Meatpacking District, a Manhattan neighbourhood by the Hudson River, was once filled with open-air markets, meatpacking plants and tenement housing. In the 70s and 80s it was home to some of the city’s first gay clubs, followed by nightclubs, underground sex clubs and 24-hour restaurants. As a result, it earned an edgy but somewhat seedy reputation.

Today, it is still home to bars, clubs and restaurants but rising rent prices have seen down-at-heel venues and independent businesses replaced with more upmarket boutiques. Residents now include Google, The Standard Hotel, a Rapha cycle shop, Soho House and the new Whitney Museum of Modern Art, which opened in April in a nine-story building designed by Shard architect Renzo Piano.

BBP snow March 3, 2015 © Julienne Schaer
Image © Julienne Schaer
BBP snow March 3, 2015 © Julienne Schaer
Image © Julienne Schaer

But while prices have gone up, the District has never quite shed its former reputation: a recent article in the New York Times said the area is “still commonly thought of as the underbelly of Greenwich Village.” Keen to change perceptions among New Yorkers and tourists, the Meatpacking District Improvement Association recently commissioned Base Design to create a new visual identity for the area.

The new look has been rolled out over the past few weeks and centres around a word mark with contrasting bold and light typefaces. Base says the contrast “pays homage to the history and provenance of the district while capturing the renaissance currently taking place in the neighbourhood.” The area also has a new tagline, ‘The New Original’.

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BaseMP1

The identity has been applied to the Meatpacking District’s website, and to store fronts and banners in the area. Base has also developed a style guide and template for the Improvement Association.

“The Meatpacking District is full of stark contrasts – heritage and future, chic and gritty, night and day, culture and commerce, high heels and cobblestones,” said Base partner Geoff Cook. “All of these elements make the district one of the most distinct destinations in the U.S. We aimed to capture the spirit and essence of those distinctive juxtapositions through the visual identity.”

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© Julienne Schaer

The division of typefaces is a clever solution, allowing for a range of different applications. The dividing line is flexible – in some cases, the logo is split neatly in half while in other uses, such as shop fronts and the district’s website, the split is far left of centre. The idea of contrast is also reflected in photography – for example, a close-up shot of cobblestones juxtaposed with one of flowers on the Highline Walkway.

From what we’ve seen so far, this imagery portrays more of the area’s present than its past – the overall effect is more chic than gritty – but it’s a sleek design, giving the neighbourhood a more distinctive voice and a system that can be easily adapted to suit a range of businesses and events.

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