Jake Tilson was commissioned by the London architects Haworth Tompkins and the Everyman theatre to create a new sign inspired by the old neon sign that has adorned the building for many years. Tilson also created two typefaces for the project.
To merely replicate the old neon on the new facade didn't suit the transformative process the building was undergoing, so we looked at extending the neon characters into large red channel signage lit with leds and faced with red perspex.
The original sign was bare neon tubing but it cast a significant glow, making it appear larger - the new sign when seen from a distance looks almost identical as the channel sign occupies the same physical space including the neon glow. The new sign uses leds, a greener choice with lower operating costs.
The aim was to preserve the character of each letter as it became extended and built up. This phase of work involved close collaboration with Tilson, HTA and the signage firm. To get a sense of scale and to decide upon the final line width of the characters and the edging proportions he made cardboard sections and HTA provided life size plotter prints. A full scale working prototype was made of the "e" to test onsite. From the bar and balcony the back of the sign would be visible so an extra element was added - a character, matching the old neon typeface, was cut out in holes to reflect red light back into the building.
Liverpool is such a friendly city. I was photographing the second Everyman sign, painted in white onto the brickwork fly tower, someone noticed me so I said "I designed that!" pointing towards the tower. It was the actor Matthew Kelly heading for the Stage Door. We chatted, what a nice man. He loved the signs, front and back, and was glad we'd kept them. What a compliment, but if only he knew! Both the Everyman and the National Theatre signage projects are as much about stewardship as they are about design. It's not a piece of conservation, it's more about preserving visual spirit. So I'm often thinking about the NT designer Ken Briggs and the anonymous neon sign-maker in Liverpool.
Standing in front of the huge illuminated red sign on Hope Street a strange thing happens at night. The back of the new sign is punctured with holes cut in the shape of the original sign - so the reflection in the glass behind is of the old sign, a thin neon line. Inside the building I'm glad to see how the Merseyside Neon typeface has been embraced by the whole building, in particular for the much loved basement Bistro. The glowing "e" even appears as a beer label, Liverpool Organic Everyman Ale.
The best bits have been recreated: outside,
the theatre's red neon sign has been updated
for the 21st century in a new font, christened
"Merseyside Neon" by artist/graphic designer Jake Tilson.
Helen Pidd, The Guardian