Rebuilding a Legacy: The Gastrotypographical- assemblage

Each day our world changes, the old quickly vanishing, displaced by inspired new designs, new perspectives and brilliant imaginative creations. Society seemingly demands it, our fascination and appetite for embracing the new apparently endless. Who of us is not awed by the scale of Dubai's architecture, amused by the latest television commercial, drawn to the value and logic of the Prius Hybrid automobile or the aesthetic and functional design of Apple's iPhone?

But what of the abandoned—what responsibility do we have for preserving our displaced creations, yesterday's symbols of inspiration, logic and creative ingenuity? Champions for the salvation of one such creation is the Center for Design Study, where I serve as executive director. This Atlanta nonprofit foundation is battling to preserve a seminal piece of America's design history that for 20 years was mounted on the cafeteria wall of the CBS building. While some may not be aware of this inspiring three-dimensional memorial to typography, many are familiar with its creator, Lou Dorfsman. The CBS cafeteria wall is as legendary as its visionary designer and art director. Conceived in the mid-1960s and ultimately completed in 1966, the expansive wall, spanning over 35-feet wide and 8-feet tall, is a national design treasure. In producing the wall Dorfsman enlisted support from life-long friend and design legend Herb Lubalin. Lubalin, along with Tom Carnase, masterfully crafted the typography for the aptly dubbed “Gastrotypographicalassemblage.”

Dorfsman, now approaching 90, considers the wall his magnum opus, his gift to the world. Unceremoniously discarded by CBS management in the early 1990s, the wall's nine panels were thankfully salvaged by New York designer Nick Fasciano. Time and improper storage had ravaged the monument, however, leaving it in a state of disrepair. The Center for Design Study, having acquired the wall, is engaged in fundraising to support the meticulous and extensive restoration required. The goal is to see Dorfman's wall restored to its full integrity and as part of a permanent traveling exhibition on historical American design, to serve as a tool for education and expanding awareness of the value of intelligently applied design. The wall is a window to the past that should be built up, not torn down.

Too many once-revered icons may now only be found in books and journals or in some digitized visual library; the least fortunate are committed only to memory. Countless pieces of art and design are silently destroyed each year, lost forever, receiving only quiet bereavement after the fact. Many are lost to ignorance, either to their very existence or as historical symbols of our professions contributions in shaping our culture and its values. Loudly signaling acknowledgment to the inherent value of our professions artifacts, and the importance of their preservation, AIGA's installment of a national design archive at the Denver Art Museum is to be applauded. But is it enough to simply belong to an organization that supports the design field's creative contributions? I believe the answer to be a resounding no—we must each personally challenge ourselves to take responsible action, to celebrate not only the new but to respect our industry's valued legacy and preserve the esteemed work of those who came before us.