Strelka Institute is a new kind of institution. The Moscow nonprofit, ensconced steps away from the Kremlin on Bolotny Island, incorporates a traditional architecture school, a public assembly, a bar (all profits go back to the school), and a lecture circuit. The aim? "To transform Russia’s physical and social environment, with cities being the platform for that change."
Three years into Strelka’s grand experiment, the school has finally unveiled its first full-fledged identity, courtesy of the British graphic design shop OK-RM. Branding an institution like Strelka is a challenge in a few different ways. First, there’s the multiplicity of activities and messages that run through its various arms. Then there’s a more fundamental issue—language. Many of Strelka’s students and guest speakers are international, so any identity or branding would need to exist both in Russian and English.
"Formally, Latin and Cyrillic alphabets have very different characteristics," says OK-RM co-founder Rory McGrath. "One of the key differences is the use of small caps versus lowercase." McGrath and his partner Oliver Knight chose to keep both typefaces in caps-only, giving the Latin and Cyrillic characters an amount of uniformity. Alongside the principal Latin typeface (Fugue, designed by Radim Peško), the duo wanted to make a point of acknowledging classic Cyrillic typography. "We envisage a carefully controlled palette of important Cyrillic fonts," McGrath says. Their design highlights a typeface called Lazurski, designed by Vadim Yefimov Lazurski, the great early Modern graphic designer.
But figuring out a way to harmonize Latin and Cyrillic was more than just a question of typeface. The two text languages would need to satisfy an incredibly diverse set of messages and mediums—from details about lectures to billboard advertising about the school. To prevent the identity from becoming an overcomplicated and underutilized style sheet, McGrath and Knight developed what amounts to a visual anchorage for the entire system—a grid, in short, that provides a simple framework for every piece of visual material the school produces. The design of the system stemmed from a physical characteristic of the Strelka building, McGrath explained in a recent interview on the school’s website:
At the same time we were really brought into the Strelka philosophy, and the aims of the school, which is about public space, shared space, and the development of space. Physically, the school is centred around a courtyard that is constantly in a state of being transformed from one use to another, reinterpreted and readapted, even though it remains spatially the same volume. We were interested in responding to that conceptually, with a grid that brings flexibility while also underpinning the coherence and continuity of a place.
So in a sense, the grid becomes Strelka’s brand. While the contents of the red rectangles change across a huge number of platforms, the dimensions of those lines are immutable. It’s a subtle way of dealing with visual consistency in an era of inconsistent mediums.