Since the French Percent-for-art program has been extended to the Ministry of Transport in 1980, the country saw more and more rest areas along its highways embellished with public art sculptures. Some are truly exquisite, others less so – beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What most of them have in common is the colossal size.
Astoundingly, this quality didn’t save them from being overlooked by general public and art historians. There was no comprehensive register or database covering France’s “Highway Art” until graphic designer Julien Lelièvre took the initiative. From 2009 to 2015 he travelled thousands of kilometers, photographing and documenting 71 of these pieces of art.
In 2019 Lelièvre’s research was translated into the richly illustrated book Art d’autoroute, designed by Building Paris. It was the first title of their new publishing branch Building Books, dedicated to landscape, urbanism, and architecture.
For the typography of the book, Lelièvre teamed up with Emmanuel Besse who, in 2018, had released Signal Compressed in Production Type’s LAB section. Besse’s Signal Compressed draws its inspiration from the lettering painted on streets to inform drivers. In this book, the typeface is used in small quantities but prominent spots.
The second typeface used, Signal, was actually developed around this publication. It has its roots in Caractères, the lettering style for French road signage, legally defined since 1948. The designers complemented it with lowercase letters and carried it to a fully functional typeface suitable for setting reading text. Emmanuel Besse and Production Type meanwhile developed Signal into an extensive family.