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.



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