Field Notes

History: Georgetown Call Box

1969: Call Box and Street Lamps, 28th & O Streets N.W., Washington D. C. Photo by Jack E. Boucher from the Library of Congress Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey.

The Historic American Buildings Survey is part of Heritage Documentation Programs (HDP) is a division of the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) and came about during the Depression as make-work projects for out of work photographers, engineers, and architects. These programs continue to this day, now with student–led teams working in the summers for course credit.

The three surveys – HAER/HABR/HLS –are amazing works of documentation performed last century throughout America. The Library of Congress continues to scan and upload photographs from this survey, making these three surveys invaluable for research.

Photo Description

This modern call box, placed in an opening in the U–shaped upper bracket, is supported on a columnar circular base on which a shield reading “Electrical/D.C./ Dept.” is attached to the south side. The text is enclosed in a palm wreath. At a height of 29″ on the base is an acanthus band. The bracket which holds the fire box is also decorated with acanthus and is supported on a bulb of acanthus with a base formed by a wreath of bound bayleaves and berries. At the top of the bracket is a modern extension pipe 27″ long with a light at the end. Old photographs show that this pipe replaces an extension which was taller, fluted, and terminated by a capital which supported a spherical globe. Below the bracket the lower portion (50″) is painted gray; the bracket (25″ tall) and fire box are painted red; the upper extension pipe is also gray. The total height of the unit is 8-1/2”. The base of the pillar Is about 19” in diameter. Many coats of paint have made, the features of the cast iron much less distinct.

Project description

These records were made in 1969 during a project to record 14 structures and a group of 16 items of “street furniture” in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C.. The project was conducted by the Commission of Fine Arts with the cooperation of the Historic American Buildings Survey. The resulting documentation was donated to HABS by the Commission and published in 1970 in HABS Selections Number 10, Georgetown Architecture: Northwest Washington District of Columbia.

Inspiration: Aircraft Identification Cards


Physical deck of cards, or a pamphlet, which aid in identifying aircraft (usually enemy aircraft), for use by both civilian and military users. Often uses a mnemonic to make recall easier, for example: the US military uses “WEFT” as a mnemonic for the major features of an aircraft: Wings or rotors to provide lift, Engines to provide power, a Fuselage to carry the payload and pilot, and a Tail.


I’ve had some form of these identification cards saved on my hard drive for, well it feels like forever. There is something beautiful about abstracting something so complex into a simpler version in order to identify it. 

Normally I give a large side eye ? to those who appropriate martial iconography and forms. It both feels like cosplay, and an easy way to slide into some form of design Godwin’s law. That being said, to me these are formally beautiful and a snapshot in time where clear identification of fried or foe meant the difference between Hitler on your doorstep, or overcoming fascists. 

Also note: there are versions which are actual playing cards. I’m not sure the provenance of these cards. My guess is that they were remanufactured, but I’m not sure. What they certainly are not are the gauche target cards from the ill-fate Iraq war. 

Inspiration Points

  • Not relying on the coloration of the specimen, but rather the shape, characteristics, and what the specimen does.
  • Simple line drawings, in black and white, eventuates the specimen shape, parts, and characteristics over color.
  • Black and white photography equalizes individual style, or even age of photo, in order to focus on the specimen. It also allows me to use historical photographs without them looking dated or out of place.
  • Just look at that typography! It is certainly not Futura (close, but should be). I would love to consider Futura as the main typeface: isn’t as overused as Helvetica or Gotham (both faces are quite nice). Futura is a nice sans serif with a point of view. Wes Anderson surely understands what I call Nostalgia Adjacent by his ubiquitous use of color palettes, locations, and typefaces to evoke nostalgia, and how this is a great artistic tool. Certainly the nostalgia that the typeface brings (at least to me) can help set an “always been there” feeling I want for the Field Guide.
  • Use both sides: while initially I was considering a form factor analogous to a card deck with consistent back and unique face, this set of cards really opened by eyes for me to ask myself why I couldn’t use both sides for informational purposes.

Further reading

More Inspiration

Rooftop Catalogue by MVRDV

MVRDV releases new book outlining possible typological interventions on the rooftops of Rotterdam: a solution for the scarcity of space in the city

Inspiration: Wildlife Treasury


The Wildlife Treasury was a subscription-based card collection, featuring an encyclopedia of the world’s animals. The first package included a bright green plastic case to put your card collection in, and then each month additional cards would come in the mail, where you would have to sort them.


I loved these as a kid. I think this fed right into my sense of order and arrangement – by needing to organize and shelf each card in the specific Order/Genus/etc – along with my imagination. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, so family trips were wherever a KOA Campsite and a day’s drive could take us.1Often listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run So these cards allowed my young brain to wonder. Looking at them now, they really do feel like slow-motion Instagram of the late 70’s.

Inspiration points

  • How might we use subscription to heighten excitement and to paper over the fact that I won’t have every single piece of furniture or urban typology mapped out, since I’m only one person, and there continue to be new products put onto the streets.
  • How might I use the card format to make it more playful – the City is here for us to use as Adam says.
  • I love the simple taxonomy icons. Full stop.
  • The use of great photography.
  • This is surely a nostalgic play on my part, but I loved these.

More inspiration

Rooftop Catalogue by MVRDV

MVRDV releases new book outlining possible typological interventions on the rooftops of Rotterdam: a solution for the scarcity of space in the city

Inspiration: NACTO Design Guidelines

The National Association of City Transportation Officials is an association of 81 major North American cities and transit agencies formed to exchange transportation ideas, insights, and practices and cooperatively approach national transportation issues. As part of their work, they have been publishing some excellent guidebooks drawn on established case studies and best practices from their members.

The Urban Street Design Guide is a great example. Filled with guidelines and case studies, it is part guidebook and part evangelical document, aimed at assisting civic practitioners make their communities better.

Offering specific examples with wider strategy, I find these volumes to be excellent directional guides. They strike the right balance between what is compulsory, what is optional, and ways to extend the installation.

I also appreciate the mix of simple line drawings and photos from existing installations. This bridging the desired with the actual installed facts on the ground move these guides from the academic to the practical.

More Inspiration

Rooftop Catalogue by MVRDV

MVRDV releases new book outlining possible typological interventions on the rooftops of Rotterdam: a solution for the scarcity of space in the city