Putting Metz on the Map

The 2010 launch of the Centre Pompidou-Metz modern art museum brought almost half a million new visitors a year to the northern French town. This month, the second stage of an innovative trilingual wayfaring system to guide those visitors around the city was launched

The 2010 launch of the Centre Pompidou-Metz modern art museum brought almost half a million new visitors a year to the northern French town. This month, the second stage of an innovative trilingual wayfaring system to guide those visitors around the city was launched

Metz sees itself as a town at the ‘crossroads of Europe’. To entice visitors drawn to the Pompidou’s northeastern outpost to discover the town and its monuments, Mayor Dominique Gros commissioned a signage system from the Franco-Swiss agency, Intégral Ruedi Baur. Its second and definitive phase was unveiled on November 12.



Visually, this was a highly sensitive project, as Metz’s historic town centre is protected by both UNESCO and the Architectes des Batîments de France (the French organisation responsible for vetting work on historic buildings). Each creative proposition had to be justified and evaluated before being accepted. The citizens of Metz – or ‘Messins’ – also had their say. “I find this normal,” says Paris-based designer Ruedi Baur, “This ensures the system will be kept alive for years to come.”


Baur rejected a traditional sign system, as, he believed, this would have destroyed the visual harmony of three centuries of architecture in the town. Instead, with the objective of ‘opening the town up to the world’ he developed an ‘ethereal, poetic’ concept; ‘écrire la ville’ (spelling out the town).


Drawing on Metz’s heritage in the steel industry, Baur designed a sign system in aluminium cut by water jet. This technique produces large format signs in a single piece without any soldering marks. White letters are positioned between two horizontal bars, recalling musical notation. The resulting filigree effect is designd to be read against a background of sky or stone.


Baur chose Irma for the type for its consistent height so that the characters sit easily between the horizontal bars. Only the sides of the letters are coloured. The colour code is subtle, becoming more vivid, even fluorescent, the closer they’re placed to the town centre. Each colour was individually selected in situ in the prototype phase, to make sure each sign harmonises with its surroundings. QR and NFC codes are integrated invisibly in the city centre’s signs so that visitors can access up-to-the-minute information on what’s on in Metz in real time by scanning these with their smart phones.


The most technically challenging part of the project, according to Baur, will be launched in January – a system of street signs with mobile letters suspended between buildings on cables in the historic Coeur de Ville (mock-up shown above). “I was inspired by jewellery,” says Baur of his approach. “By the way a pendant adapts itself to the wearer’s body.”

Also to come in January will be a series of awnings for the town’s covered market (see above).

At just 90 minutes from Paris by TGV, either to visit the Centre Pompidou-Metz or to explore the city with Baur’s sign system, Metz ‘vaut le detour’ (it’s worth the trip).

Creative team: Ruedi Baur, Stephanie Brabant, Eva Kubinyi, Claudia Leuchs, David Thomazeau, Thibault Fourrier.



CR for the iPad

Read in-depth features and analysis plus exclusive iPad-only content in the Creative Review iPad App. Longer, more in-depth features than we run on the blog, portfolios of great, full-screen images and hi-res video. If the blog is about news, comment and debate, the iPad is about inspiration, viewing and reading. As well as providing exclusive, iPad-only content, the app will also update with new content throughout each month. Try a free sample issue here.

CR In print

In our November issue we look at ad agency Wieden + Kennedy in a major feature as it celebrates its 30th anniversary; examine the practice of and a new monograph on M/M (Paris); investigate GOV.UK, the first major project from the Government Digital Service; explore why Kraftwerk appeals so much to designers; and ponder the future of Instagram. Rick Poynor reviews the Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design; Jeremy Leslie takes in a new exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery dedicated to experimental magazine, Aspen; Mark Sinclair explores Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery show of work by the late graphic designer, Tony Arefin; while Daniel Benneworth-Gray writes about going freelance; and Michael Evamy looks at new telecommunications brand EE’s identity. Plus, subscribers also receive Monograph in which Tim Sumner of tohave-and-tohold.co.uk dips into Preston Polytechnic’s ephemera archive to pick out a selection of printed paper retail bags from the 70s and 80s.

The issue also doubles up as the Photography Annual 2012 – our showcase of the best images in commercial photography produced over the last year. The work selected is as strong as ever, with photographs by the likes of Tim Flach (whose image of a hairless chimp adorns the front cover of the issue, above); Nadav Kander (whose shot of actor Mark Rylance is our Photography Annual cover); Martin Usborne; Peter Lippmann; Giles Revell and more.

Please note, CR now has a limited presence on the newsstand at WH Smith high street stores (although it can still be found in WH Smith travel branches at train stations and airports). If you cannot find a copy of CR in your town, your WH Smith store or a local independent newsagent can order it for you. You can search for your nearest stockist here. Alternatively, call us on 020 7970 4878 to buy a copy direct from us. Based outside the UK? Simply call +44(0)207 970 4878 to find your nearest stockist. Better yet, subsc

  • oqcq

    form 1. function 0.

  • Alex

    Some of that signage is incredibly illegible.

  • PatrickBurgoyne

    @ oqcq and @Alex

    Really? I can’t see a problem with any of the functional signs. The top images are more decorative, as is the market awning – the others look clear enough to me. But then I haven’t visited Metz to test them

  • K-S-T

    I absolutely love this. One of my favorite Wayfinding systems in a long time.

  • oqcq

    @PatrickBurgoyne -Fair point with regards to actually seeing them. But these photos look like they were taken at very specific angles – their most legible angels. I can see that the signs have high contrast edges to make the wording more legible against lighter backgrounds but this would lead to having to decipher the signs rather than quickly extract the required information.

    As in a movie which has subtitles that become invisible when there are ‘white’ scenes, the signs’ ability to communicate their information would greatly depend on the colour of the sky and the angle of viewing. They are definitely the most original and beautiful set of signs I have seen, but I stand by my original comment in that I feel the efficiency of the signage has been sacrificed by the design choices. But I do concede that ‘Function 0’ was a little over the top.

    The purpose and

  • jonny

    For god sake, this is not signage for a high speed autobahn or an emergency room, legibility is boring this signage solution is most certainly not. Bravo!

  • Jean Grogan

    @oqcq –

    The signs’ coloured edges are surprisingly effective, oq – given that they’re designed to be viewed while in movement by pedestrians or a motorists, the coloured edge is invariably visible from any angle.

    As each sign’s colour is individually selected from a palette of 20, they’re guaranteed to contrast with their specific background (except the sky, I grant you, but over Metz, it’s light grey, medium grey, dark grey or blue).


  • Tim Riches

    Bravo indeed!

  • Ben Rochey-Adams

    Can you imagine any county council in the UK signing-off on a project as audacious and as inspired as this? Kudos to the town of Metz for having the gall to implement it.

  • Nicky Benton

    I visited Metz on an exchange trip many moons ago. I have to say that the signs seem to add to the attractiveness of the place

  • jason davis

    I can understand the attraction because the signs are fab, I wonder how much effort you’ll need to spend reading them with the sun in your eyes or blistering rain etc. they’re not exactly instant. I also wonder how much work/waste goes into their creation?

  • K-S-T

    I absolutely love this. One of my favorite Wayfinding systems in a long time.

  • katia jaeger

    Sublime et ingénieux ! A la fois sobre et présent. Inventif et respectueux. Bravo.