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By Brendan Hurley, planning nerd and urban designer in VIA Architecture’s Vancouver office (will be dressed as a dimension-hopping mad scientist this year)

Halloween is an urbanist holiday (shhh don’t tell anybody).

Halloween as a Holiday – more than any other – is about neighbourhood. It is a holiday that teaches and surpasses what it means to be part of a community. I have a strong connection to this holiday, and as an adult still dress up in costume to both enjoy the night with my neighbours and to hand out candy to children and compliment their costumed efforts to keep that neighbourly tradition alive. However, as a planner and urban designer, this holiday taught me a great deal. As a child dragging a pillowcase full of sugar treats through the night, I learned a lot about city-building, even if I wasn’t aware at the time.

This is a holiday that survives on social capital, but is also innately reliant on the built environment. The basic premise is right in the phrase joyfully screamed at each doorway: “Trick-or-Treat!” It is a social contract that demands participation from both sides (I give more candy to those with more effort and heart in their costumes), but is also inherently connects that participation to the larger community. The act of decorating yards with jack-o-lanterns is to be explicit about participation as a “neighbour”. The young, going from door to door, are shown their connection to their community and their place with each glowing pumpkin or “scary” display, expressing connection and distinctiveness of each “home”.

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Best Neighbourhoods for Trick-or-Treating

The tradition of Trick or Treating, as it still exists, by its nature of going from door to door is a very urban act. One thing it teaches a child (or at least this planner-to-be) is about livable density. Because my family had moved through a number of neighbourhoods when I was young, I started realizing that not all were built equally for the door-to-door quest. The desire for MORE CANDY forced into me a realization that some neighbourhoods were hard to walk through and garnered little loot, while others left me with more candy than my small arms could carry.

The main metric for success of a trick or treater, at least as Seinfeld reminisces, is to “GET CANDY”. What made these neighbourhoods different was their form.

Legends of wealthy suburban houses giving out full size candy bars, didn’t chalk up to the knowledge that I could fill a pillow case to capacity if I went through the socialized row houses and tight packed smaller houses of inner-city working class family neighbourhoods. At a young age I worked out a simple equation: More doors to the street per block = MORE CANDY= better.

At VIA, we like to back-up our poetic declarations with mathematics, so I have decided to ruin my inner child’s favorite holiday with math homework.

FORM

I looked at three representative neighbourhoods in Vancouver, BC (where I grew up) to calculate where a child could get the best candy haul.

  • The Inner-City Street Car Grid neighbourhood presents a tight grid of streets, alleys with a mix of older and Vancouver special houses.
  • The Suburban Neighbourhood has large houses on loop and disconnected cul-de-sac streets.
  • The Urbanist neighbourhood shares the tight street grid with the inner-city neighbourhood, but includes a layer of pedestrian access and dense rowhouse forms that tightly pack those streets with units.

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5

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AREA

I have bounded those areas into a 200m (700ft) square. This 4 hectare (10 acre) box gives us at least a couple of blocks to examine and explore as a hypothetical trick-or-treater. As a planner it also gives us some consistency of built form.

FRONTAGES

As a trick-or-treater, any door to a street is a possibility for candy. Participation varies, but let’s suggest most houses will participate in handing out candy. For this I will assume that each house represents a piece of candy, and that some houses will give out more candy, making up for non-participants – who will have their houses rightfully egged. I have also broken down the units by frontage types:

Doors to the Street [represented below with an Orange candy]: These units have a stoop or door facing public space.

Potential Doors to The Street [represented below with a Blue Candy]: These units have access that could potentially be opened to the public, but face what is often shared or private open spaces. In the case of houses, these could also be counted for secondary dwelling units.

Retail Frontages [represented below with a Red Candy]: These sometimes participants should not be excluded from the festivities especially in mixed use neigbourhoods.

Above Grade Apartment Units [represented below with a Black Candy]: These units are often not directly accessible to the street and were not counted. These inaccessible apartments show why a direct unit-count might not be as useful of a metric, especially in terms of filling a pillow case. I have not included these in the count.

DISTANCE WALKED

In order for an accurate experience of trick-or-treating to be presented I felt it was worth showing the amount of approximate linear distance a child would have to walk to complete their bon-bon run.

I should note that I calculated this as a general distance and did not include the small movement into and out of yards for individual houses. To show this movement, sets of footprints on the diagram represents about 100m (300ft) of walking and generally how far someone would have to walk in order to knock on all the doors of the neighbourhood.

 

By The Numbers, What Are the Best Neighbourhoods for Trick or Treating?

Inner City Neighbourhoods

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The old streetcar neighbourhood that I examined is pretty typical of Vancouver or many inner-city streetcar era neighbourhoods across North America. It has lanes, ~10 m (33 ft) wide lots, regularized streets, and many single family homes.

4 hectare (10 acres) of this older urbanism has the ability to present 73 doors to knock on.

19 doors per hectare (8 per acre)

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With 1100m (0.7mi) to walk that’s 7pieces of Candy per 100m (300ft)

With the inclusion of secondary suites (I only counted five explicit side doors, but there are likely more) and laneway suites that count could increase substantially. I easily see it filling to 30 more and filling the pillow case up beyond 100 candies and ten pieces per 100m. But that would come with official addressing and legalization of those suites.

 

Sub Urban Neighbourhoods

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The loop and lollipop suburban neighbourhood that I looked at was in the far south-east of the City. This is not a common layout in Vancouver proper, but is very typical of most of the City’s post-war auto-oriented suburbs. It has no lanes, 15m+ (50ft+) wide lots, curvilinear and disconnected streets, and only single family homes.

4 hectare (10 acres) of this auto-oriented form has the ability to present 58 doors on which to knock.

14.5 doors per hectare (6 per acre)

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With ~900m (0.56mi) to walk, that’s six to seven pieces of candy per 100m (300ft)

This is a thinner pillowcase of candy. It is difficult for neighbourhoods like this to grow without changing how they are laid out, but there is potential for infill and secondary suites here. I will however note that this area in Champlain Heights is adjacent a number of housing complexes that are much denser and connected than these houses. In fact they are an older analogue to our last examined neighbourhood type.

 

Urbanist Neighbourhoods

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This mixed-use redevelopment in the Cedar Cottage neighbourhood infills the typical urban grid of Vancouver, but adds a layer of new development and new connections. It activates all of its edges with doors directly facing the street and lanes. This is not as typical in Vancouver, but is a development type that is gaining traction in many recently re-planned areas. Many of the design lessons here are connected to the older housing complexes in False Creek South and Champlain Heights (great trick-or-treating neighbourhoods in their own right). It has lanes and a mix of lot sizes, but tight frontages and minor, to even non-existent, setbacks.

4 hectare (10 acres) of this pedestrian- and transit-oriented form has the ability to present 121 doors facing the street on which to knock.

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30 doors per hectare (12 per acre)

With 1400m (1.1mi) to walk, that’s 8.5 pieces of Candy per 100m (300ft)

With the inclusion of the second layer of rowhouses and retail frontages the number of potential candy doors increases to 195. That is 14 pieces of candy per 100m (300ft).  I will also note that this neighbourhood is only a little more than halfway through its redevelopment and that future potential is not counted in this analysis.

WINNER: This is the most overflowing bag of candy. (AUTHOR’S NOTE: Parents from other neighbourhoods, please don’t take advantage of these nice people.)

 

Jack-o-Lanterns on the Street

Anecdotally, I have found that the densities of frontages also mean that more people participate in making front door displays and giving out candy. It becomes part of a localized culture. Intrinsically, I knew other things about these neighbourhoods as well: they are more likely to have more movement choices and access to transit and they were more likely to have a mix of uses, including some retailers that would give out treats (unfortunately less likely to be coveted chocolate). I am observing that retailers have an increasing role in this holiday, and now indoor malls often have day-time trick-or-treating events as well. In many suburban areas these malls may be the strongest concentration of doors that children will know… but I still feel it pales to true night time trick-or-treating.

I also want to note that I am not including the apartments in these calculations as they are inaccessible to the candy searchers on the street. If these neighbourhoods were made of apartments with lobbies, such as those commonly built in many core neighbourhoods in the 1930s through 1970s, the number here could drop to as low as 25 doors accessible to the street. In this way, the densest neighbourhoods could by far provide the lowest number of treats (one to two candies per 100m of effort) for local children.

I have found, as a planner, that this jack-o-lantern metric holds up as a definer of urban livability. It is a function of density, but it is also about neighbourhood connection and activation. If a neighbourhood has more units with more connection to its streets, the likelihood of those streets being part of a child’s territory is also increased. These are generally healthier neighbourhoods with active opportunities for interaction and social capital-building. They are healthier, save for the increased risk of cavities carried in their heavier pillowcases and treat buckets every October 31st.

Happy Halloween.

FHS2

VIA is hard at work on the new location for the Tacoma Amtrak Station at Freighthouse Square. The project was featured yesterday in Tacoma’s local new site, The News Tribune:

Nearly two years after state officials unveiled a preliminary design for Tacoma’s new Amtrak station to critical comments from Tacoma citizens and the architectural community, a final rendering is being rolled out this week by the Washington Department of Transportation.

The final image bears little resemblance to the warehouse-like initial concept. The planned station has been relocated from the west end of historic Freighthouse Square to the 100-year-old former Milwaukee Road freighthouse’s middle section. The corrugated metal walls envisioned in the original plan have been replaced with extensive glass walls, some of which will move upward in pleasant weather to make the station area open-air. A second track and an additional loading platform have been added to the station’s south side to allow for two trains to be handled simultaneously. A public corridor also has been added on the station’s street side to connect the two sections of Freighthouse Square separated by the station.

Read more at The News Tribune.

Last weekend, VIA hosted an interactive table at Design in Public’s Seattle Design Festival Block Party we called Share the City.

Block Party attendees were invited to try their hand at city planning by placing yellow LEGO® bricks onto a large map of Seattle. The goal of the activity was to educate the participants on how and where Seattle is planning to grow, and what tradeoffs the City must consider when planning for that growth. Participants had the opportunity to shape their own solutions for how to accommodate the 120,000 new neighbors projected to arrive in Seattle between now and 2035.

Practice Session
A dry run at VIA Seattle

The VIA team started with a map of the Seattle’s urban villages—areas the City designates in its comprehensive plan as centers for growth. In each urban village, we calculated the approximate number of people that center was expected to add and decided to represent those people with yellow LEGO® bricks, with each brick representing roughly 100 people. The task was to distribute the bricks across the urban villages according to City plans, or to propose one’s own strategy for providing homes for Seattle’s growing population.

What we found was no surprise—while people were interested in learning about the City’s plans, they were much more interested in creating their own rules. Creative new ideas about housing, many from the City’s next generation, included a wide range of approaches—from a new multifamily Space Needle to a neighborhood-sized treehouse to a residential megastructure bridging Elliott Bay.

Event

Many cited proximity to parks and transit when placing their bricks, and others questioned convention by placing theirs over water as well as within industrial districts. Over the course of the event one thing became clear: when invited to collaborate and engage in creative activity, people approach a complex problem in a playful way, crossing demographic barriers and giving rise to a rich diversity of outcomes.

Given all the challenges we face as a growing city, VIA will continue to look for creative ways to engage our clients and the public in a creative dialogue about our common future.

 

 

Neah Bay, WA

In collaboration with the Pomegranate Center, VIA’s Community Design Studio is providing design services for a free-standing beach house pavilion in Neah Bay, WA.  Situated on the dramatic Pacific Ocean-facing shore known as Hobuck Beach, the pavilion is located near the northwest tip of the contiguous United States.  Its covered space will provide the Makah Tribe with gathering space for community events and dance rehearsals, as well as a separate artist studio designed to accommodate carving and weaving activities.  The heavy timber columns showcase carved designs by the local artists.

 

Totem Painting

Totems

The majority of the structure was completed in the winter of 2014/2015, and it has been named Be?is, which means “Beach House” in the traditional Makah language.  From today (Friday, April 10) through Thursday, April 15 the Makah community, the Pomegranate Center, Forterra, and a few representatives from VIA will be participating in a build event to complete the remaining artistic elements of the project.

 

Live Edges and Pillar DetailBe?Is, Beach House

A total of 40 cedar benches will be constructed and carved.  The carved elements are designed such that, when not in use, the benches can be stacked in groups of five to reveal a complete image.  During inclement weather, the bench stacks can be placed between the carved columns to block wind-driven rain and allow the events to continue.

 

DSCN1094

Large profile cedar channel siding will be installed on the artist studio, referencing the traditional Makah longhouse construction in a modern way.  The leftover live edge cuts from the benches will be used as creative treatment around the doors and edges of the artist studio to make it unique and eliminate material waste.  Artists will be creating woven cedar elements which will be cast in resin panels and installed in lieu of glass into the doors to the studio.

An outdoor fire circle will be constructed of stones from the site, along with stepped access down to the beach.

This is going to be a very exciting event, bringing together folks from all walks of life and various communities to create art and realize a vision.  Stay tuned for final project images!

 

Queensway Canopy, photo by Scott Taylor

All photos by Scott Taylor

The Queensway Transit Exchange in Kelowna British Columbia acts as a gateway to Kelowna’s downtown. While providing transit connectivity to the best of the City’s entertainment, cultural, and employment districts, the Exchange acts as a placemaker and visual enhancement to Kelowna’s core.

This landmark canopy is a single-story, semi-enclosed structure with a curved roof that provides weather protection for the transit island and its eight bus stops.  In line with VIA’s Third Idea, BC’s Wood First Act plays an important role in the design and construction of the canopy.

Queensway Canopy, photo by Scott Taylor

Queensway Canopy, photo by Scott Taylor

The glue-laminated timber beam and decking panel provide a naturally beautiful structural roof span nine meters wide by 57 meters long.  Minimal steel tree columns delicately hold up the roof span, increasing visual access throughout the facility, enhancing overall visibility and sightline safety. A lattice screen, together with wind deflectors, will provide additional shelter from the elements. Seating pods at each of the three wind deflectors will be arranged loosely in an arc under the canopy to encourage transit patrons to sit and congregate while awaiting their next transfer.

Queensway Canopy, photo by Scott Taylor

Queensway Canopy, photo by Scott Taylor

This canopy is currently under construction and is projected to be fully operational by the end of April 2015.

We are interested in exceptional candidates with strong analytical and communication skills who are passionate and involved in community-building at all scales. This person will work within our multidisciplinary team to provide management and leadership on high-rise residential, commercial and public transit projects.

Experience Requirements

  • Registered architect with 10 to 15 years of project management experience
  • LEED AP preferred

Key Skills

  • Dedicated team player, excellent communicator, possessing demonstrated skill at management of technically complex projects.
  • Strong client relations experience and interest in business development.
  • Experience with project controls on complex building types, including scope, schedule and budget development, change management, tracking and reporting.
  • Passion for high quality design and sustainable design. Experience with sustainable building rating systems an asset.
  • Thorough familiarity with the technical considerations involved in coordinating and executing high-rise residential, commercial, and public transit building types.
  • Strong experience in the management of documentation created in Revit 3D Building Information Modeling and AutoCAD. Fluency with production in these programs and other drawing programs such as Google Sketchup an asset.
  • Skill in the management and coordination of project documentation and preparation of graphic presentation material.
  • Strong experience in the management of collaborative design disciplines, including integrated project delivery experience.

Salary and Benefits

Salary is commensurate with qualifications and experience. Generous benefits, including medical/dental insurance, retirement funds contribution matching, and transit subsidy.

How to Apply

Please email resume in PDF with cover letter/email, and “Project Manager” in subject-line, attention Catherine Calvert, AIA, ccalvert@via-architecture.com:

  •  Please include samples of your work, keeping total email size below 2 MB.
  • No phone calls or office visits please.
  • Applicants must meet minimum experience qualifications to be considered for these positions.

Intermediate Planner/Urban Designer

We are currently seeking candidates to join our team for the position of Intermediate Planner/Urban Designer to manage long-range planning and policy assignments, including station area, comprehensive and sub area plans as well as large scale infrastructure policy and planning. This person will work closely with our cross disciplinary team committed to place-based design.

We are interested in exceptional candidates with strong analytical and communication skills who are passionate and involved in community building at all scales.

Educational Requirements

  • Masters in Urban Planning (with a focus on Urban Design preferred)
  • or Masters in Landscape Architecture
  • or Architecture with a strong basis in Planning or Urban Design

Experience Requirement

  • 5 to 10 years as a Planner or Urban Designer in the public or private sector
  • Professional Registration preferred (AICP, MCIP or equivalent)
  • LEED AP ND registration an asset

Key Skills

  • Passion for building community and urban livability
  • Career focus on urban design, architecture, sustainability, transportation planning and economic development
  • Experience with planning legislation, drafting municipal codes, design guidelines, development agreements, rezoning processes or ordinances
  • Strong urban design skills
  • Demonstrated public engagement, meeting facilitation, and consensus building skills
  • Positive and collaborative attitude, must be a team player
  • Experience with project management and client relations
  • Excellent written, visual, and verbal communication skills
  • Working knowledge of GIS; familiarity and interest in emerging planning sector software such as tools for GHG or VMT analysis
  • Experience with business development and marketing
  • Strong experience in SketchUp, Autocad and Revit
  • Strong experience with Adobe Creative Suite
  • Strong graphic communication skills

How to Apply

Please email resume in PDF with cover letter/email, and Intermediate Planner/Urban Designer in subject-line, attention:

Charlene Kovacs, Architect AIBC, Managing Director

ckovacs@via-architecture.com

  • Please include samples of your work, keeping total email size below 3 mb.
  • No phone calls or office visits please.

Applicants must meet minimum qualifications for education and experience to be considered for this position.

 In 2013, VIA’s Matt Roewe, his wife, and his sketchbooks took a trip through Europe. These are some of his sketches (you may click an image to view it larger).

Swatches


 

Travel Route


 

Paris

Paris Storefront

Vaison la Romaine, France

Hotel de Ville, Paris

The Seine


 

Istanbul Istanbul


 

Hydra, Greece

Greece

Greece

Greece

Greece

Uptown Parklet

You may have seen them around town. You might even enjoy one daily as you grab your morning coffee, or take a walk through your very own urban village—  they’re called Parklets. These little dynamos of public space are changing the experience of the pedestrian environment throughout the city.

Parklets were first popularized by PARK(ing) Day, a nationwide annual celebration of guerilla urban design. On PARK(ing) day, street parking stalls are taken over in cities across the country— by artists, activists, designers, every day people wanting to take back their public spaces— and turned into temporary public parks. These little parks help mitigate the automobile-focused environment of urban areas, creating urban oases of seating, bicycle parking, and human-scale space.

PARKing Day Poster_080114

Recognizing the success of PARK(ing) Day and the community value of these spaces, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) as part of its Public Space Management program, began the Pilot Parklet Program. The proposed program takes a cue from cities with successful parklet programs such as San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Montreal.  Last year, SDOT began a call for applications to begin placing these parklets permanently around Seattle— parks to be designed and built as usable public spaces that are privately funded and maintained.

VIA Seattle’s James Underwood and Katie Idziorek, on behalf of VIA’s Community Design Studio, worked with The Uptown Alliance, a civic organization representing the Uptown neighborhood and urban center, to submit proposals for two different sites in the Uptown neighborhood. Of those two sites, one (in front of SIFF Cinema Uptown on Queen Anne Avenue North & Republican) was selected along with 14 others to begin construction. With the addition of Jared Slater of Slater Construction, the team set to work.

1Working on a tight schedule set by SDOT, the process began with several design workshops facilitated by the Uptown Alliance to which members of the community and local business owners were invited to get involved and be a part of the application and design process. These workshops helped to inform the process and determine the scope of the project. Throughout the community design process, the goals remained focused on reflecting the arts and culture identity of the Uptown neighborhood while providing a safe and well-lit space that was easy to maintain, engaging and interactive for the public, and that fit well with its neighborhood context.

In addition to the Seattle Parks Foundation signing on as the project’s fiscal sponsor providing support throughout the course of the work, a SeeYourImpact.com crowdfunding campaign was started to fund the project— everything was welcomed, from volunteer labor to materials and monetary donations. The crowdfunding campaign was a huge success, collecting donations both large and small from more than 90 community supporters. After a few permitting hurdles were cleared, construction on the parklet began in January, 2015.

IMG_20150209_124558With materials and funds donated by local businesses and time and labor donated by Jared Slater, VIA, James Underwood, and Katie Idziorek, construction has been moving along. Working to bring their design to life, the team has been pulling each part of the parklet’s anatomy together one piece at a time. The film reels that accent the railing (donated by SIFF); Uptown’s first Free Little Library; the bike racks (donated by Landscape Forms); the park furniture (which matches nearby Counterbalance Park); and the Walk of Fame, highlighting local donors, are making their way into their final places and will soon be open to the public.

After almost a year of hard work, The Uptown Parklet is slated to open in late February, with a grand opening event on Saturday, February 21 from 1PM to 3PM. The event is set to include Mayor Murray along with members of the Uptown Alliance and the community design groups to welcome the parklet as the sixth completed project of SDOT’s Pilot Parklet Program.

Anatomy of a Parklet

The Anatomy of a Parklet

For more event information, project progress photos, and more, visit the Uptown Parklet on Facebook.

by Zhaleh Moulaei, Intern Architect AIBC, VIA Architecture Vancouver

DSC04109

Have you ever experienced the excitement that comes from discovering something that used to be almost invisible to you? Then you start to see it everywhere and contemplate its importance?

That’s my story with wayfinding. A TransLink wayfinding project that I began working on at VIA revealed a whole new world to me: the world of wayfinding.

Now, when I think about connected communities and walkable, transit-oriented cities, the picture is not complete, or is rather dysfunctional without wayfinding elements in it– those small organs that make the whole system work the way it is designed to work. We can design cities that are perfectly connected with different modes of transit, and yet, if we fail to assist users in finding their way from Point A to Point B, our system has failed. This layer of information architecture is as important as the orchestration of the rest of the system.

Wayfinding Through Time

For thousands of years, humans have needed to be directed on where they need to go. The concept hasn’t changed, only the techniques and the materials used. As we became more civilized and our cities more complicated, so did the need for more sophisticated ways of directing people.

In 1960, urban planner and teacher Kevin Lynch coined the term wayfinding in his landmark book, The Image of the City:

“To become completely lost is perhaps a rather rare experience for most people in the modern city. We are supported by the presence of others and by special way-finding devices: maps, street numbers, route signs, bus placards. But let the mishap of disorientation occur, and the sense of anxiety and even terror that accompanies it reveals to us how closely it is linked to our sense of balance and well-being. The very word “lost” in our language means much more than simple geographical uncertainty; it carries overtones of utter disaster”

Twenty years later Romedi Passini wrote Wayfinding in Architecture. In 1992 he coauthored Wayfinding: People, Signs, and Architecture with Paul Arthur. Edward Tufte’s Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983) and Richard Saul Wurman’s Information Architects (1996) have each greatly influenced the field of wayfinding. Over time, Environmental Graphic Design (EGD) became the preferred umbrella term to describe any communications intended for spatial application, ranging from wayfinding sign programs to branded spaces, exhibitions, and even public art. During the past forty years, as the EGD profession matured, the range of wayfinding projects rapidly expanded. Today, almost every type of public space and most private complexes need a wayfinding scheme. Lynch writes:

 “Despite a few remaining puzzles, it now seems unlikely that there is any mystic “instinct” of wayfinding. Rather there is a consistent use and organization of definite sensory cues from the external environment”

His research found that people form individually-customized mental maps from the physical world, often based around five elements: paths, edges, districts, nodes, and landmarks to navigate through space. Successful cities have enough of these elements to help people create their own mental map to find their way. Time is an important element in creating one’s mental maps. In cities that are becoming more global, and where people move in and out at such a fast pace, there might not be enough time to create these individually-customized mental maps. We need other tools on which to rely.

Beginning two decades ago, some cities started programs to improve their wayfinding signage systems, and therefore to encourage and support walkability for both residents and tourists. Among these cities are London (Legible London project), Glasgow, Bristol, Philadelphia, New York City, Sydney, Melbourne, Helsinki, Edmonton, and Vancouver.

Wayfinding in Vancouver BC

In anticipation of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the City of Vancouver began to install pedestrian wayfinding map stands to provide walking information for residents and visitors looking for Olympic venues and other destinations. Recognizing the instrumental role of pedestrian wayfinding to promote walkability throughout the City, a pilot wayfinding study was launched in 2012 in partnership with TransLink, the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA), and the City to test the performance of an integrated system. The pilot focused on updating the existing map stands’ content to provide more consistent, legible, and up-to-date map content that would help pedestrians better understand their environment. The study showed success in increasing pedestrian trips and the City decided to implement the new system city-wide.

To support a seamless wayfinding system, TransLink also started developing a new wayfinding strategy in 2008. Prior to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, TransLink began installing wayfinding prototype products at select SkyTrain stations in Vancouver and Richmond, such as the new “T” sign. Since then, TransLink wayfinding strategy has expanded to include journey planning information walls providing content like “Metro Vancouver Transit,” “Buses From Here,” and “Walking From Here” maps to support the City’s updated wayfinding effort.

New TransLink “T” Signs

Jeff Deby, Wayfinding Planner at TransLink, talks about some of the new ideas in the new TransLink wayfinding strategy in his Pecha Kucha, available at this link.

New strategies include:

  •  Having a consistent language of signage among stations to create an identity
  • Being predictable: consistency in signage locations and contents create a sense of confidence in users to predict where to look for what information even in a new station
  • Disclosing information progressively: show the information only at the point where it is needed
  • Providing just the right amount of information on each piece of signage
  • Using easy to understand symbols and graphics: users do not have much time to solve a puzzle

An Impressive Example

Harry Beck’s precedent-setting map design for the London Underground, issued in 1933, is a good example of the implementation of the last two strategies. Before him, the various underground lines had been laid out geographically, often superimposed over the roadway of a city map. This meant that the centrally-located stations were shown very close together and the out of town stations spaced far apart.

London Underground Map of 1908, Image credit: Wikipedia

Beck believed that passengers riding the Underground were not concerned with geographical accuracy, and were more interested in exchanges and how to get from one station to another. He came up with a map where the spaghetti of routes were organized into a system of lines drawn at consistent angles with stations that were more or less equally-spaced.

Beck’s London Underground Map of 1933. In 1997, Beck’s importance was posthumously recognized, and today, the statement “This diagram is an evolution of the original design conceived in 1931 by Harry Beck” is printed on every London Underground map. Image credit: Wikipedia

Future of Wayfinding

Seattle Public Library, Central Branch

Seattle Public Library, Central Branch

One may argue that traditional wayfinding tools – static maps, signage, etc.–  will soon become useless in an age where everyone has all the information they may need in their smart gadgets. True–  we are living in the Age of Information, and the electronic devices we use are way smarter than our built environment, so more research is needed to envision smarter wayfinding tools–  but I would argue there is still so much room both to improve the wayfinding tools that we have and to better integrate them into our built environment. Wayfinding provides us with information, and this information can be better integrated into our spaces. I can think of the Seattle Public Library, which is taking steps toward moving in that direction, but our built spaces in general are not designed with information as a parameter to design around.

Wayfinding, especially in projects where moving users from Point A to Point B is one of the main goals– as in transit infrastructure projects–  should be one of the parameters of the design problem from the onset. This would guarantee a seamless, holistic infrastructure at the end; one that works well. Wayfinding dissolves in such projects. As the saying goes: “Good wayfinding strategies tend to remain invisible to our eyes. It is only when wayfinding strategies are not good enough that we notice their existence.”

 

Resources:
Lynch, Kevin. The Image of the City. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1960.
Print.
2014 Greenest City Scholars Program. (2014). Moving Forward, Opportunities for Vancouver’s Digital Wayfinding Map. SCARP, UBC, Vancouver: Robert W. White.