What Makes a Good Rooftop Sign?

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TheLastGentleman
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What Makes a Good Rooftop Sign?

Post by TheLastGentleman »

Making this its own thread because I don't want to clutter up the W&R thread with a tirade

Rooftop signs differ from ground level signs, and I fully support the latter. Signs at ground level indicate to pedestrians what businesses lie in the buildings they attach to. Thus, someone can walk down the street, see a cafe sign, and make the decision to stop in. That's the purpose that Hong Kong's famous signs serve.

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Notice, though, how much cleaner Hong Kong's skyline is than its streets in terms of signage. It's not needed up there!

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This demonstrates that rooftop signs serve a radically different purpose from street level signs. They function essentially as billboard ads. This is because you must be a decent distance away from rooftop signs for them to be legible. At that distance, their function of directing pedestrians is nonexistent, instead displaying exclusively to people viewing the skyline from afar, which could include commuters heading to work or visitors at observation points. Nobody reads, "Bank Midwest" on Town Pavilion, for instance, and goes, "Oh good, I've been looking for a bank!"

That being said, there are ways to construct a rooftop sign without detracting from the overall composition of the building, and perhaps even enhancing it. An excellent example of this is the beloved Western Auto sign. So what makes this sign acceptable?

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Well, it follows TheLastGentleman's patented 4 rules for acceptable rooftop signage:

- Simple, bold, easily legible typeface. Not complicated with serifs or other flares.
- All uppercase letters.
- Non letter shapes (ie, the big arrow) are independently constructed elements, not simply stamped onto a surface.
- Minimal interference with architectural elements.

Using these standards, we can start looking for other good signs.

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And we can identify some bad signs.

A particularly egregious offender is the aforementioned Bank Midwest sign atop Town Pavilion, which breaks all of my rules, featuring a serif typeface with lower case lettering, all accompanied by a stamped orange slice-esque sunburst design and obscuring Town Pavilion's postmodern circular windows. It cheapens the building's appearance.

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Notice how this side once had a round window.

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Another poor sign is the Holiday Inn sign on the Aladdin Hotel, which breaks all of my rules with the exception of interfering with architectural elements. That being said, the green sign, blue roof and red brick clash pretty hard.

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The Church of Scientology sign is almost there. Besides advocating Scientology, of course, it fails my requirements for being a good sign based on the typeface, which is far too thin and ornate to be on a wiry double sided rooftop structure. It becomes barely legible unless illuminated at night. Perhaps that's for the best.

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Interestingly, there are examples of rooftop signage improving.

1201 Walnut had its Stinson sign rearranged to exclude the company's logo, which is a massive improvement.

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I think this could even be a case of a building being improved by a sign, with 1201 Walnut looking too spare without it

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The AT&T Longlines Building improved its signage as well, eschewing its stamped on logo for one composed of several parts.

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Riverite
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Re: What Makes a Good Rooftop Sign?

Post by Riverite »

I agree that signs detract. I think Hong Kong it’s a case of that there are so many companies in each building that one wouldn’t reasonably take up enough space to demand a sign. The most notable detractor I can think of is the AIA building in fortress hill.

I also think street signs have a time and place though. I prefer the neater ones on Delaware, vs the hectic neon signs that still litter mong kok in Hong Kong. In fact they are getting rid of most of them, because they pollute and have been known to fall off and kill people because they are so heavy

moderne
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Re: What Makes a Good Rooftop Sign?

Post by moderne »

I think the Stinson sign obscures the truncated pyramid. Even more so at night with the dim light between the vertical fins being blocked.
The ATT&T signage improved, but the previous placement on the building was superior.
I am thankful that KCP&L never erected the rendered signs atop KC Place that were in the shape of the Arrowhead jumbotrons and were sitting awkwardly on the roof edge.
The round window on the Town Pavillion was covered when Transamerica put its logo on top, if I remember correctly. Its a shame the interesting basilica and dome roofline of the TP is itself not illuminated.

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Highlander
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Re: What Makes a Good Rooftop Sign?

Post by Highlander »

I favor subtlety and some attempt to conform to the building design so it doesn't look forced. I think the Bank Midwest and Stinson signs detract from the building while somehow the Commerce Bank sign works. I like the ATT symbol on an otherwise ugly building.

My favorite sign, however, despite my preference for subtlety, is the most garish of them all - Western Auto.

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wahoowa
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Re: What Makes a Good Rooftop Sign?

Post by wahoowa »

the audience observation is a good one. maybe a bit off topic otherwise, but relevant to that observation, is logo creep in the loop generally post-streetcar. for example, PWC put its logo on the skywalk over main and petticoat facing both north and southbound, and andrews mcmeel put its logo above the plowboys one on the town pavilion building (even though they're either entirely or predominantly in the boley building instead of the town pavilion building). i'd argue that PWC and mcmeel slapping their logo on more or less sidewalk/pedestrian facing fronts is less tasteful than even the "bad" rooftop signs for businesses that are actually in their respective buildings. the average pedestrian never needs to know where big 4 accounting firm outposts are, and the average pedestrian doesn't even know what andrews mcmeel is, let alone have any need to know where to find it. i do want to give AMU credit for packing their actual office with evidence of snoopy and friends, though, which i think is an awesome fit for the boley building.

back to the original post.. both the stinson and at&t signs currently up are massive upgrades over their immediate predecessors. i like that two light and one light change the colors on a regular basis for some diversity.

a couple law firm signs that don't appear to break any of your rules:

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i'd give both mediocre grades. they're not awful, but i don't like the fake small caps of lathrop (which generally looks dated to my eye), and husch feels cramped. contrast with the CBIZ building... looks about as bad as the aladdin, if not worse:

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beautyfromashes
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Re: What Makes a Good Rooftop Sign?

Post by beautyfromashes »

I’d like to see company signs outlawed. I think they remove the need to make a building iconic because you can just slap a sign on the side for promotion. Instead of, “The Waddell & Reed building, you know, the one with the lighted spire on top.” you just look for the sign.

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Re: What Makes a Good Rooftop Sign?

Post by flyingember »

beautyfromashes wrote:
Mon Jan 20, 2020 8:31 pm
I’d like to see company signs outlawed. I think they remove the need to make a building iconic because you can just slap a sign on the side for promotion. Instead of, “The Waddell & Reed building, you know, the one with the lighted spire on top.” you just look for the sign.
You can't outlaw private property rights. Signs can go up that are architecturally part of the structure's cladding or are painted on like the old brick signs everyone wants preserved.

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smh
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Re: What Makes a Good Rooftop Sign?

Post by smh »

flyingember wrote:
Wed Jan 22, 2020 12:42 pm
beautyfromashes wrote:
Mon Jan 20, 2020 8:31 pm
I’d like to see company signs outlawed. I think they remove the need to make a building iconic because you can just slap a sign on the side for promotion. Instead of, “The Waddell & Reed building, you know, the one with the lighted spire on top.” you just look for the sign.
You can't outlaw private property rights. Signs can go up that are architecturally part of the structure's cladding or are painted on like the old brick signs everyone wants preserved.
You can definitely ban signage if you so choose. There is no constitutional right to a sign.

mean
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Re: What Makes a Good Rooftop Sign?

Post by mean »

You can outlaw anything, unless there's a law against outlawing it; but then you can just outlaw the law against outlawing the thing you want to outlaw.

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Re: What Makes a Good Rooftop Sign?

Post by flyingember »

mean wrote:
Wed Jan 22, 2020 12:48 pm
You can outlaw anything, unless there's a law against outlawing it; but then you can just outlaw the law against outlawing the thing you want to outlaw.
Signs are a form of speech. Good luck banning any form of speech.

You can have architectural requirements for signs but not ban their existence. Look at the city sign code, it banned specific locations only, you can still put the same sign outside of the row.

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smh
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Re: What Makes a Good Rooftop Sign?

Post by smh »

flyingember wrote:
Wed Jan 22, 2020 12:50 pm
mean wrote:
Wed Jan 22, 2020 12:48 pm
You can outlaw anything, unless there's a law against outlawing it; but then you can just outlaw the law against outlawing the thing you want to outlaw.
Signs are a form of speech. Good luck banning any form of speech.

You can have architectural requirements for signs but not ban their existence. Look at the city sign code, it banned specific locations only, you can still put the same sign outside of the row.
Respectfully, this is not how this works.

Time, place, manner restrictions are typically fine. You can regulate the existence of signage. Hence the absence of billboards in many states.

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TheLastGentleman
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Re: What Makes a Good Rooftop Sign?

Post by TheLastGentleman »

Rooftop signs are banned in Pasadena, with the exception of those built before 1960, which have been grandfathered in.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bekins_St ... _Roof_Sign

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Re: What Makes a Good Rooftop Sign?

Post by flyingember »

smh wrote:
Wed Jan 22, 2020 3:06 pm
flyingember wrote:
Wed Jan 22, 2020 12:50 pm
mean wrote:
Wed Jan 22, 2020 12:48 pm
You can outlaw anything, unless there's a law against outlawing it; but then you can just outlaw the law against outlawing the thing you want to outlaw.
Signs are a form of speech. Good luck banning any form of speech.

You can have architectural requirements for signs but not ban their existence. Look at the city sign code, it banned specific locations only, you can still put the same sign outside of the row.
Respectfully, this is not how this works.

Time, place, manner restrictions are typically fine. You can regulate the existence of signage. Hence the absence of billboards in many states.
The courts have ruled against billboard laws in Tennessee following a Supreme Court ruling on the subject. A federal appeals court upheld the ruling

https://citiesspeak.org/2018/03/20/regu ... ould-know/

https://www.opn.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinio ... 33p-06.pdf

So it’s not clear that you CAN regulate signs because of the first amendment

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normalthings
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Re: What Makes a Good Rooftop Sign?

Post by normalthings »

I’m generally supportive of signage. It makes a place feel more life full. I also am often impressed/interested in the corporate signs I see in other cities. For example, I would never have known that DuPont, Microsoft, and Peadbody Coal have offices in downtown STL except for seeing their signs.


I think at a certain point - maybe over 30-35 floors - rooftop signs become unnatural. At a certain point the signs become too high up to really convey any message or sense of liveliness.

Salesforce tower in Indiana is a prime example of this.

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TheLastGentleman
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Re: What Makes a Good Rooftop Sign?

Post by TheLastGentleman »

That Salesforce sign breaks all of my rules. Impressive.

In fact, it makes me want to make a new rule: Text must be large

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normalthings
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Re: What Makes a Good Rooftop Sign?

Post by normalthings »

TheLastGentleman wrote:
Wed Jan 22, 2020 11:48 pm
That Salesforce sign breaks all of my rules. Impressive.

In fact, it makes me want to make a new rule: Text must be large
Text isn’t large enough to read and logo isn’t big enough to recognize. Truly a pointless sign.

One of the lower buildings to the right had a smaller version of the sign that looks equally illegible.

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grovester
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Re: What Makes a Good Rooftop Sign?

Post by grovester »

Apparently an ugly logo makes an ugly sign.

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