Oppositions 5, Summer 1976
In October 1973, the Institute launched Oppositions, a quarterly journal for ideas and criticism. Massimo Vignelli's design for the cover, with its grid system and Helvetica typeface, was strongly influenced by the Swiss tradition; the ultra-warm red eventually became known as "Vignelli red."
Julia Bloomfield, who was the journal's managing editor, worked on the layout and, with Abigail Moseley, produced the mechanicals. Still, the final design bore Vignelli’s signature. Oppositions was an eye-catcher in the bookstores, and the perfect-bound spine encouraged readers to keep the periodicals on their shelves.
City as Theater, 1977
Having already designed the posters for a visiting fellows lecture series in spring 1974, and for the Architecture lecture series from 1974 to 1977, Vignelli created the graphics for City as Theater, an interdisciplinary event organized by Institute fellows, focusing on the interplay between metropolitan culture and theatrical performance.
In keeping with the graphic identity he had created for the Institute, Vignelli used a horizontal format, which allowed him to enlarge the red logotype. On the basis of City as Theater, the Institute applied for funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Open Plan, 1978
Vignelli's posters both mirrored and communicated the transformations at the Institute.
For its tenth anniversary, the Institute, supported by a $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, turned the Architecture lecture series into an academic evening program, still addressed to the general public; thus it expanded its focus and in a sense reinvented itself as a cultural institution. Open Plan was conceived as four interrelated courses on “Architecture,“ “The City,“ “The Arts“ and “Design," with the goal of discussing the role of architecture in American culture.
The Open Plan poster had a large print run and was distributed to architecture schools and professional offices across the country; as such it helped to attract significant new attention to the Institute. With each event staged as a debate between opposing positions, Open Plan capitalized on the social network of the Institute.
Skyline: mock-up, 1978
Starting in April 1978, the Institute published Skyline, a monthly newspaper that complemented the intellectually ambitious journals Oppositions and October (both then published for the Institute by MIT Press).
In 1977, Andrew MacNair, who would edit Skyline in its first two years, created the mock-up, a single newsprint sheet, based on Vignelli's systematic approach.
As Skyline grew into a tabloid, Vignelli became responsible for the graphic design. In addition to a centerfold calendar, the magazine featured interviews with architects and designers and reviews of books, exhibitions, films and set and restaurant design. Articles were written by Institute staff and fellows as well as outside authors.
Skyline: mock-up, 1978
Skyline, April 1978: first issue
On the cover of Skyline, Vignelli used black bands to separate several layers of information: first came the title, then details about the imprint and the masthead, then information about content and authors, with brief announcements and illustrations.
With its logotype and black bands, the design of Skyline corresponded with the graphic identity of the Institute, and Vignelli characterized the extra large, narrowly spaced title — all caps, bold, sans serif — as a black band in itself. Some observers interpreted it as a metaphor for the New York skyline.
The bold cover allowed readers to register the contents of the front page at first glance — a real advantage at a newsstand or in a bookstore.
Skyline, April 1978
The topmost black band on the cover page continued on the top of the interior pages: all of the content was hung from it. Vignelli claims to have introduced the notion of unprinted white space in newspaper design.
Skyline, April 1979: calendar
Both the front page of the tabloid and the calendar functioned as posters, each structuring information and drawing attention.
With Skyline, Vignelli combined elements of the graphic language that he had developed earlier for other clients, and had already applied to other printed matter at the Institute.
Skyline, March 1979: advertisements
Addressing a broader public than Oppositions or October, Skyline not only announced the Institute's events in the calendar but also made space for advertisements, including those for Institute programs and publications.
Skyline, October 1979: Skylights
Skyline reinforced the role of the Institute as a gatekeeper of the New York architectural scene. Presenting architects as celebrities, the magazine fostered the cult of personality; selecting which architects and events to cover, it suggested who was part of the scene and who was not. This certainly contributed to strengthening the star system in architecture.
New Wave of Japanese Architecture: Exhibition Catalogue 10, 1978
Starting in 1978, the Institute published a series of catalogues that eventually included 16 titles. Published in arbitrary order, they documented solo exhibitions, group shows and Institute retrospectives, and featured critical essays.
Vignelli’s spare cover design and page layout were based on the same two- and three-column grid used for Oppositions. When Rizzoli International became publisher of the catalogues, in 1981, the cover designs were slightly altered, with pastel colors now used for titles.
Idea as Model: Exhibition Catalogue 3, front and back covers, 1981
The catalogue for Idea as Model, published five years after the 1976 exhibition, underscores the Institute's role in the popularization and eventually the commodification of architectural models.
It was Vignelli's idea that the catalogues could show different images on the front and back covers. Here the front cover shows a cutout of Michael Graves' poster design, which was originally manufactured by hand in a limited edition and mounted on a template that Vignelli designed, to finance the exhibition. The back cover shows Aldo Rossi's Teatrino Scientifico (1978), which was actually produced after the show took place.
Advanced Design Workshop, 1980/81: poster
In 1979, Diana Agrest (the only woman in a leading position in architectural education at the Institute) started the Advanced Design Workshop in Architecture and Urban Form, a one-year course for undergraduate and graduate students that focused on experimental design, with federal funding from the HEW-FIPSE program.
Vignelli designed a poster to advertise the program nationwide. Photographs showing the various educators were printed large — a way to use their prominence and attract more students; the array of leading figures suggested the plurality of voices at the Institute.
Courtesy Robert A.M. Stern Architects Records. Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.
Skyline, October 1981
Skyline was relaunched in October 1981, in a reconceived and redesigned version (this followed Andrew MacNair's resignation; Suzanne Stephens was now editor). At this point the Institute began seeking professional sponsorships for Skyline, which was facing competition from two recently launched magazines, Metropolis and Express.
With Vignelli responsible for the overall graphic image, Skyline was now designed by Michael Bierut, then a young designer in Vignelli's office. The cover for the October issue 1981 — with its large text set in Bodoni — represented a break with Vignelli's former rules.
Skyline, November 1981: Rebuttal
In the early '80s the graphic design of Skyline was somewhat post-modernized and Americanized, with the page layout bulkier, type size larger. (Michael Bierut has been quoted as saying that opponents seemed to be screaming at each other in 36-point font.)
Skyline, October 1981: In Memoriam
With the redesign, the black band of earlier issues was deconstructed, with more variations in size, width and position. There were occasional complaints that the journal had too much black space.
Skyline, October 1981: Cooking up the Classics
The page layout of Skyline became more sophisticated, but the clarity of Vignelli’s graphic design and the modernist identity of the Institute were receding. Note the transformation of the black band into a classical molding. Still, the function of the decorated band was the same: it subdivided the page. In the case of the new centerfold articles, headlines and illustrations were large and spread over two pages.
Oppositions Books: A Scientific Autobiography, 1982
In 1981, Oppositions Books, after some start-up difficulties, was launched, with MIT Press as publisher. The series included Aldo Rossi's A Scientific Autobiography, the first English edition, commissioned by the Institute. Vignelli developed the book format as a variation of the journal design, with a rather classy approach for the page layout.
High School Architecture Studio, 1983–84
While the overall graphic look was shifting toward a postmodern aesthetic in the early 1980s, the poster design for the educational programs (by this point the only activity and thus source of income of the Institute) retained the strong modernist identity that Vignelli had established. Even the poster and stationery for the High School Studio got an official Vignelli design, realized by Bierut.