Typography/Lettering June 27, 2014
Being in the presence of the exquisite work of art and typographical genius that is Gastrotypographicalassemblage, it’s very hard to believe that anyone ever considered it garbage. But after a 20 year stint in the cafeteria at CBS Headquarters in New York City, that is exactly where it ended up when plans to remodel the space began in 1986. The iconic work was doomed to the dump.
That changed thanks to Nick Fasciano, a long-time friend and design colleague of the three-dimensional mural’s creator, CBS design director Lou Dorfsman. Nick had worked on the piece along with Lou and the typographic designers Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase and couldn’t bear to see it sent to the landfill, so he loaded the broken down mural onto a truck from the loading dock where it awaited garbage removal and took it home. He also salvaged a coffee table from CBS Chief Executive William Paley’s office worth $5,000. Not sure what exactly to do with all the materials he’d claimed, Nick put Gastrotypographicalassemblage in his basement, where it remained for another few decades as he lovingly restored it and worked on getting it displayed once again.
The dream was realized in January 2014 when the Culinary Institute of America installed the mural in its Marriott Pavilion after funding its complete restoration, with help from the William S. Paley Foundation. Nick estimates that the value of the piece, were it to be built from scratch today, would be around $450,000.
Our friends at the Type Directors Club let us tag along for a field trip to the CIA in Hyde Park, NY to marvel at Gastrotypographicalassemblage and hear from Nick about the labor of love that brought this icon of typography and design back to life. His fascinating stories about working with Lubalin and Dorfsman at CBS and his genuine passion for the project illuminate Dorfsman’s charisma and high standards; Nick has countless stories of his friend refusing to settle for anything less than perfect. “Tough. He was tough,” Nick told us. “But the toughness was always in the pursuit of excellence.”
The group of TDC Members who enjoyed the afternoon together was a variety of designers and academics with one thing in common: an undying love for type. On the excursion was Faris Habayeb, who leads visual communications at Columbia University and is interested in the role of graphic design in conflict resolution; Josh Levi, an independent designer who has earned the prestigious Postgraduate Certificate in Typeface Design at Cooper Union; and Rob Saunders, the curator of the Letterform Archive in San Francisco who was joining the group as one of the last stops on an educational trip to New York. Sasha Tochilovsky, curator of the Herb Lubalin Center Study Center of Design and Typography, also contributed his research knowledge of Gastrotypographicalassemblage. The study center is open to the public by appointment and unique in that one can access its entire archive of Lubalin’s work spanning 1950-1980.
Gastrotypographicalassemblage is a piece of design history that fully occupies the imagination, with new elements to discover on every viewing, and it feels uncannily contemporary for being nearly half a century old. It was hard to walk away from its allure, but after enjoying a lunch prepared by CIA students and one last look at the mural, we boarded a train back to New York City comforted by the knowledge that it has seen its last trip to the dumpster.