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Biilmann

7 Weights. ADVANCED

Biilmann is a modern interpretation of an original alphabet drawn by the renowned Danish architect and graphic designer Gunnar Biilmann Petersen in 1932. Working directly from GBP’s original drawings, held in The Danish Design Museum’s archive, as source material Biilmann has been reimagined as a contemporary digital sans serif font firmly rooted in Danish typeface tradition. Note: A2-TYPE was granted a special permission in 2018 from the Biilmann family to reimagine and restore this beautiful Danish classic alphabet. All rights reserved.

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Source Material from Design Museum Denmark's Archive. Photo by Laura Stamer © A2-TYPE

Source Material from Design Museum Denmark's Archive. Photo by Laura Stamer © A2-TYPE

Source Material (gifted by Peter Gyllan) from the A2-TYPE Specimen Collection. Detail, original with new drawing in red outline on top

Source Material (gifted by Peter Gyllan) from the A2-TYPE Specimen Collection. Detail, original with new drawing in red outline on top

Biilmann, re-interpreted & expanded typeface
The point of departure for Henrik Kubel/A2-TYPE’s new typeface family has been – as the name suggests – an alphabet designed by the Danish architect and graphic designer Gunnar Biilmann Petersen (1897-1968). Having been employed as a newly qualified architect by Knud V. Engelhardt (1882-1931) – the architect often proclaimed to be Denmark’s first real professional designer – the early work of Biilmann, who eventually became Denmark’s very first design professor, was clearly influenced by his master. Likewise the design of this sans serif type from 1932, which both in its simple crudity, as well as in a number of specific details, draws heavily on Engelhardt’s distinct letterform aesthetics that were racy and robust in addition to being invariably endowed with a particular verve.

Through all his life Biilmann kept working on his alphabets, readjusting them in a continuous iterative process applied both to that particular sans serif and all his other typefaces from the 1930’s and up until the time of his death in 1968. His design preferences evolved though, from the sturdy expressive towards an increasingly sophisticated, Anglo-Saxon inspired typographic design of a very high standard.

Biilmann’s sans serif 1932 
1932 was the year when the Danish paint & ink manufacturing co. of P. Rønning & Gjerløff held a competition with the aim of coming by a “beautiful, easy-to-use and as far as possible characteristically Danish lettering specification material for application on numerous signs, both small and large ones, used in all kind of Danish shops for window, as well as, in-store displays”. Among the 247 proposals received, it was Biilmann’s that won both the first and the second prize – the first prize is the jumping-off point for A2-TYPE’s Biilmann font, while the second one was an alphabet of a rather more calligraphic kind. A great many qualities contained in the winning project – the now almost 90 years old sans-serif type – justify its revival. Not to mention the already suggested idea of it playing an important part in Danish design history.

It’s a stated fact that the golden age of Danish design – ‘Danish Modern’ – manifested itself primarily within the area of furniture design, with some diversions into glass, textile and industrial design. Danish typographic design had, on the other hand, lacked the same substance, so whatever examples of actual innovation one finds in that field in the 20th century must thus be solely assigned to a number of architects with a special penchant for lettering and graphics, a phenomenon which apparently is distinctively Danish. These architects and typeface designers have all learned from each other due to a number of master-and-apprentice relationships which in a chronological order, throughout the century, involved Thorvald Bindesbøll, Knud V. Engelhardt, Gunnar Biilmann Petersen, Claus Achton Friis, Naur Klint, Ole Søndergaard and Bo Linnemann.

With regard to the former, it can be said that his roots were in the old art academy tradition of lettering (albeit of a rather primitive quality) and furniture design counting as a common practice for architects and artists, not least perhaps following an even further loosening of disciplinary boundaries under the influence of Arts & Crafts, and eventually Skønvirke (a Danish equivalent of Art Nouveau). Engelhardt was a pioneer who quickly realised how the role of a designer was changing simultaneously with the mass production of the Industrial Age, and as extensive as the scope of his activities was within what we would nowadays call industrial and graphic design, it is primarily his design of alphabets for signage, he is remembered for, today. His work resulted in a shift from, what one could describe ‘ad hoc lettering’ towards an actual design of complete, coherent alphabets.

It is first and foremost thanks to Gunnar Biilmann Petersen that the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts initiated and formalized an education of design, articulating thereby a specific Danish tone in typographic design. Research, education and professional practice were all intertwined in his life, whilst in his studio he produced a great quantity of remarkable work within the fields of signage, packaging, poster design, visual identity, security graphics, and lots more – augmenting those projects with a design of a number of exceptionally beautiful typefaces. His production sketches, as well as original artwork can be found in the archives for Danish Design at Designmuseum Danmark, and in Steen Ejlers’ book “Arkitekten & grafikeren Gunnar Biilmann Petersen 1897-1968”, published by Arkitektens Forlag, Copenhagen.

Rønning-typeface and its successors
Throughout time the typeface has been applied to several stone inscriptions, and the 'lapidarian' style – i.e. the perpendicular/angled terminations of the capital letters’ endstrokes (K, V, X, R, A) add to the type’s somewhat monumental appearance. The legacy of Engelhardt – and with time characteristic also when it comes to Biilmann and his successors – can be seen in such details as the missing cross bar of letter G, Ø’s enclosed form, the arrow-shaped K, as well as the strongly marked transitions between the vertical and the diagonal strokes.

Among others of Biilmann’s students and collaborators were the two successors to his professorship, the architects Claus Achton Friis and Naur Klint. There are clear traits of Biilmann’s influence in the work of both of them. There is a particularly distinct relationship between a later version of Biilmann’s Rønning typeface and several of Klint’s alphabets.

Text by Steen Ejlers. Translated from Danish by Peter Gyllan
All rights reserved © A2-TYPE 2019