DANCES WITH WORDS: Function should rule over form

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Nick Wolochatiuk

Have you ever tried looking for a house number in a city? Good luck! Most look as if they were designed and installed by a military camouflage expert. I can just imagine overhearing his musings as he goes about his post-military service civil work.

“Let’s see now. Here’s where my five years of service in the jungles of Viet Nam, the decade of street combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and all the research about urban combat during WW II should come in handy.”

“Let’s make sure this first street number is colour-coordinated: grey lettering on a grey wall should look good. Hmmm, this mottled red and brown brick of the next house would call for a brown four, a red seven and two grey ones. Ah! That looks good, blends in perfectly.”

“That next house, the little bungalow with the unusually long setback, should be easy. Numbers no larger than two centimeter high and two millimeters thick should be almost invisible at a road-to-wall distance of five car lengths.”

“Now the jungle experience in Nam comes in handy. A bushy lilac should obscure this house number quite nicely. Oops! Almost forgot about lilac being a deciduous. We’ll use cedar on this one, and for variety, spruce on the next two.”

When the police, fire fighters, paramedic, ambulance, taxi or pizza guy is called to your place, will he be able to identify your house easily, by day, by night? The ten or twenty minutes wasted by a frustrating search for an identifiable house number could mean a cold pizza, an out of control blaze or a dead heart attack victim.

When I become king, uniformly-located civic number signs for all urban buildings will be mandatory. We already have such a ruling in our rural areas.

Aesthetics, style or fung shwei be damned! In the matter of identifying homes or businesses, function would rule. The signage would be uniform in height, colour, size and location, even for the Notre Dame cathedral, Buckingham Palace, the CN Tower, every Tim Horton’s – and yes, your swank suburban abode. 

Organizations: CN Tower

Geographic location: Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan Notre Dame

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