Legacy of Design

Robert Wilson

"Robert Wilson gave our laboratory the distinctive character it possesses today. We inherit from him the tradition of building large and powerful accelerators that open up new ways of exploring the fundamental nature of the universe. In addition, he planned and designed Fermilab's striking physical campus, from the restored prairie to the remarkable architecture, including several of his own sculptures. He had a vision of the laboratory as a cultural, recreational and educational center for the surrounding community as well as a global research center open to the international community of scientists. He had a profound and unshakable commitment to human rights. Bob Wilson's legacy survives at Fermilab, in the surrounding communities, and in the world of science."

--Fermilab Director Michael Witherell, Jan. 17, 2000

Design at Fermilab: The Wilson Legacy

Robert Rathbun Wilson (1914-2000)--physicist, artist, sculptor, writer--put his personal stamp on every aspect of Fermilab (originally the National Accelerator Laboratory) as its founding director.

Wilson had the laboratory's buildings painted in bright primary colors. He patterned his design for the laboratory's twin-tower headquarters, 16-story Wilson Hall, after a cathedral in Beauvais, France. He designed and installed dramatic outdoor sculptures. He established a herd of American bison at the laboratory, obtaining the first animals for the herd from Wyoming as a symbol of the laboratory's work at the frontiers of physics, as a link to the frontier and prairie heritage of the land, perhaps also as an acknowledgement of his own origins. Wilson was born in Frontier, Wyoming, on March 4, 1914.

Wilson and graphic designer Angela Gonzales also collaborated on the unique Fermilab logo, which first appeared on the lab's 1968 Design Report. The logo had gone through more than a dozen revisions, reflecting Wilson's ideas in unifying the images of the magnets in the Main Ring accelerator. The finished product, combining images of both the dipole and quadrupole magnet laminations and apertures, has served as a mark for features of the laboratory ranging from experiments to buildings to letterheads.

With such determined emphasis on the physical appearance and the representational images of the laboratory, Wilson created a strong template for subsequent generations of design and designers at Fermilab. But time has a way of leaving its own legacy, in the form of rounded corners and softened edges, wandering borders and shifting colors, fuzzy reproductions and altered proportions-or in an unanticipated explosion of possibilities, such as the Internet.

Graphics Subcommittee: Retrieving the Original Impact

The Graphics Subcommittee of Fermilab's Design Task Force was created to reconnect the current Fermilab "state of the art" of graphics with Wilson's original vision, while incorporating the outlook that Wilson used to revolutionize the construction of particle accelerators: adherence to the highest standards of the time, with the capability of building in the advances of the future. The goal: to reinforce and revitalize the unity of Fermilab's distinctive graphics presentations. The overall goal of the DTF is to unify the visitor experience at Fermilab, through consistency of theme, image and presentation-including and emphasizing the proper design of the Fermilab logo and typeface.

Thus, the Graphics Subcommittee of the Fermilab Design Task Force was given these charges:

  • Standardizing the design of the Fermilab logo
  • Recommending typefaces
  • Recommending standardized colors for various uses
  • Designing a letterhead for Fermilab official stationery

The Graphics Subcommittee, chaired by Fred Ullrich of Visual Media Services, and consisting of Reidar Hahn and Diana Canzone of VMS, Mike Perricone of the Office of Public Affairs, Sara Webber from Lab Services and subcontractors Lee Hartman of Performance Graphics (designer of FERMINEWS) and Kevin Munday of Xeno Media (designer of the Fermilab website), began meeting weekly early in the summer of 2002 and has submitted a Report on Design Standards.

Last modified: 03/07/2013 |