Why Not Associates rebrands Belgian arts centre deSingel

Why Not Associates has created a new visual identity for Belgian arts campus deSingel, which draws on its distinctive architecture and original logo from 1979

deSingel stages art, dance, theatre and architecture events and educational programmes. It’s also home to a music and drama college, the Flemish Architecture Institute and Radio 2 Antwerp. The original campus was designed by architect Léon Stynen in the 1960s and 70s and a new building by Stéphane Beel (pictured below) was added in 2010 to house an exhibition space, teaching rooms and rehearsal studios.

Why Not Associates says it was asked to create a clear, bold visual language for deSingel that would illustrate ‘its dynamic, vibrant and unique qualities’ – and reflect its distinctive architecture.

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Leaflets for deSingel
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How Why Not Associates abstracted the shape of the newest deSingel building, designed by Stephane Beel and opened in 2010, to use in communications materials

The identity uses a suite of shapes based on the shape of deSingel’s buildings and features within them such as windows and staircases. Shapes can be used alone, overlaid on imagery or used to crop photographs for posters and leaflets.

“[Using the building as the basis for the identity] was something the client suggested to us,” says Why Not’s Andrew Altmann. “They’re very proud of the building – it’s actually several buildings that have been built over the years and it’s really interesting how [the campus] has sort of grown organically – so they asked if there was any way we could bring it into the identity. We commissioned a photographer to photograph bits of it and I took some pictures myself, and out of that we found these quite odd, dynamic shapes,” he says.

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With a diverse programme of events, the graphic shapes help unify a disparate collection of imagery promoting different programmes and productions. Altmann says it also allows deSingel to make photographs the focus of its posters and flyers, something it had previously failed to do.

“When we presented to the client, we photographed everything they had and said look, ‘50% of this poster is taken up with typography and not the image, but it should all be about the production – otherwise, you’re underselling what you do and letting the graphics dominate,” he explains. “We wanted to squeeze the graphics into the top [of posters] as it were, and the graphic shapes help us do that, but in a more dynamic way than a straightforward edge. It also helps link the type and image better.”

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The shapes can be used to ‘own’ imagery without overshadowing content, and provide an immediately recognisable language for deSingel. “You instantly know when you see a poster that it’s one of [deSingel’s],” says Altmann. “They’re an avant garde institution, they want to be seen to be pushing things and being different, but obviously everything has to look like it’s coming from the same family,” he adds.

The new logo, meanwhile, is based on deSingel’s original mark which was created by typographer Herbert Binneweg in 1979 and appears on the facade of one of its buildings. deSingel had previously been using a different logo, which Why Not was asked to retain, “but looking at the original, we thought ‘it’s really quite nice, why change it?'” says Altmann. Instead, Why Not proposed returning to Binneweg’s simple letterforms, but changing up the colours of letters to create a more vibrant and dynamic look. “It’s a simple idea, but it was quite a break from the brief, which was to stick with the logo they’d been using for the past few years,” adds Altmann.

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Herbert Binneweg’s 1979 logo for deSingel
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The new logo is based on Binneweg’s original design, but colours can be changed in letters to create a more vibrant look

Creating an identity based on the shape of a client’s building is an approach that has produced some rich creative work in the past – Sagmeister & Walsh created a series of logos for Casa de Musica in Porto, Portugal based on its architecture, while Studio Sutherland‘s recent signage for Norwich University of the Arts incorporated the shape of buildings from the campus into its wayfinding. Belfast studio Paperjam’s Brutalist identity for St Paul’s Bow Common church in East London also featured a logo based on the building’s striking design, a composition of three diminishing cubes with a central glass column which extends from its ceiling, while TDR notably used coloured sections of buildings for Warp Records’ 10th anniversary campaign.

Conceptually, then, it’s quite a well-trodden path but for clients with an unusual or immediately recognisable home such as deSingel, it can result in a unique identity that not only tells a story, but provides a strong link between an organisation’s branding and the physical space where its events or work takes place.

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Why Not’s branding for deSingel also provides a flexible suite of assets than can be easily adapted by deSingel’s in-house teams. “We try to avoid strict guidelines, as I think they can be quite restrictive, but we’ve been working with deSingel’s designers, and they’ve been consulting us on what they’ve designed so far,” adds Altmann. The project is one of several Why Not has worked on in Belgium of late – it recently rebranded TV Channels Vier and Canvas and created the identity for conference centre Square. “I love working in Belgium, I think because clients are really open to you radically re-thinking things. They are so open minded, and have a great sense of humour,” adds Altmann.

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