A Typographic Tour Through Guatemala City

A British designer scouts crumbling buildings for beautiful lettering.

British designer Richard Heap recently moved to Guatemala City with his wife to work at Studio Domus. Inspired by the city’s vintage signs, he began photographing type around the city and tracing it on his computer, attempting to capture the beauty of the old city as it crumbles away. “Guatemala City was known as the ‘Silver Cup’ in reference to its beauty,” he told Creative Review. “Since then the city has been plagued by poor urban planning, crime and traffic problems–yet some buildings are real gems, if somewhat dilapidated. I thought it would be a nice idea to graphically record these in an ongoing project before any further deterioration takes place.”


Drawing the type from photos is not as straightforward as it may seem. Since many of these signs are on multistory buildings, it can be difficult to get a straight-ahead shot of the lettering. Heap often draws the type from angled photos, trying to account for the inaccuracies in his tracing. “However, the photos online are deliberately not the shots I vector from as those images are zoomed in and don’t give you a sense of the building or context,” Heap says. It’s also difficult to date the buildings, as there isn’t historical data available for many of them. “[With] some we know [the year] from the type itself, but others I can’t find out; either the tenants have no idea, or the building is uninhabited,” Heap says. His photos display a powerful contrast between sophisticated type and the deteriorating conditions of the surroundings.

There is not much literature on Guatemala City architecture – an earthquake in 1976 destroyed many of the older colonial buildings. The architecture that Heap focuses on, which was built mainly between the 1920’s and 1960’s, has been largely ignored by history, and without his documentation it might be totally forgotten.

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I'm a writer living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Interests include social justice, cats, and the future.