Environmental Graphics Ruled Architectural Signage by City Council

The following story is a curious case of environmental graphic design being called architectural signage, and for one California city, that’s a bad thing. In an effort to complement the North Beach area and local feel in San Clemente, U-Haul added orange-colored wavy graphics to the side of its warehouse to simulate ocean waves. Sounds nice, right? A business trying to integrate its facility and its brand identity into the local environment. What could go wrong?

Enter the San Clemente City Council. The following is an excert from the article, “Surf Town Says No to Wavy Sign,” by Fred Swegles with The Orange County Register:

“Asked this week to rule on whether a wavy orange line on the side of a building is a sign, the City Council concurred with city staff that it is. Therefore, a U-Haul outlet was denied permission to use an orange wave to decorate its warehouse overlooking San Clemente’s North Beach.

Mr. Swegles went on to report that “San Clemente rejects a U-Haul outlet’s bid to put a wavy orange line on its building in North Beach, with the City Council backing staff’s opinion that it would violate city code for signs and design. City staff and the zoning administrator decided the wavy orange line meets the city’s definition of a sign because it is “intended to draw attention to the building for advertising, directional or informational purposes.”

The warehouse was built and given its original orange line before the city adopted special design guidelines for the North Beach area, Nicholas said. His report states that “while the design guidelines support architectural relief to break up mass, a modern element such as the metal orange wave line shape is not consistent with the architecture. Additionally, even if painted on the building, the design and placement would be distinctly out of character with the city’s architectural style.”

Nicholas wrote that “U-Haul has selected the orange wave line element because they believe that it mirrors the ocean, strengthens its ties to the North Beach area and breaks up the massing of the structure.”

In light of this decision, it is probably a good thing that “Ripley s Believe it of Not” did not try to get into San Clemente.


Speaking of environmental graphics and architectural signage — or even commercial signage — be sure to check our InfoSeries, “Architectural Signage vs. Commercial Signage: A Comparison Guide.”           

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