Book Review: Signs, Streets and Storefronts by Martin Treu

Signs Streets and Storefronts

Signs, Streets and Storefronts. A History of Architecture and Graphics along America’s Commercial Corridors. Martin Treu (John Hopkins University Press, 2012)

This a history book. But a very focused one.

Signs, Streets and Storefronts uniquely fills a niche in the world of architecture and graphic design history, and will probably stand alone in this role for many years to come.

The evolution of American culture as reflected by its signs, and in particular, by the look of its urban commercial districts, is a fascinating study. Even if you are not so much interested in architecture, you will find this book to be an insightful record of the sign industry in America from its earliest beginnings in the 1700s. Martin Treu is an architect and environmental graphic designer, and his research is painstaking and exhaustive. The pictures alone kept me spellbound for hours (I am a sign designer).

It is captivating to see, through Treu’s eyes, how the design of signs and commercial buildings has transformed through history, reflecting the social thinking of successive generations of architects, advertisers, preservationists  and governmental authorities. The changes brought about in the sign industry by advancing technology, electricity in particular, is a story all its own. This history of signs and storefronts is rich with photographs and well documented.

Published in 2012, if this book is not already on the shelves of many architects I will be surprised. I expect it to become essential reading as a design history.

For a much better and more comprehensive review of this book, see Ann Weiser’s in The Architect’s Newspaper:

Ann Weiser review

Also,  see Amy Korte’s review in Chicago Architecture:

Amy Korte review




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