With the rising modernism in three-dimensional form and planning of architecture, the human mind gets confounded by the maze of connectivity and circulation. The movement and experiences of a person through a series of spaces affect the overall spatial encounter. Comfort, ease of access and right of way for the priority audience is the prime purpose of a design. It is necessary to analyze the spatiality and place-making aspect of architecture. ‘To be involved, you must be informed.’
Wayfinding addresses the memorability of location and orientation of spaces. Once a user enters and navigates through spaces, they must be able to effortlessly identify the path to be taken upon revisiting it. They must be able to guide a third person with no prior knowledge of the spaces, without difficulty. Another important aspect is the ease of access and comprehensiveness of the circulation and orientation. Users must be able to associate and create experiences parallel to the path they take. The imageability helps users identify landmarks and important features to help navigation. This is why we often ask vendors at street corners and locals to guide us when we are lost. This feeling of being adrift is emphasized by the inability to understand directions. This results in the negative user feedback of the space. It also hinders the place-making aspect of the design.
Across the ages
Historically, structures were linear and had a clearly defined path to reach the desired destinations. This was done by placing multiple spaces along the same axis commonly seen as a corridor or an aisle. This can be seen to this day in the gridiron or linear planning of ancient civilizations like the Indus Valley or the Egyptian civilizations, each closely associated with a river. This enhanced the intuitiveness of the spaces and provided a satisfactory experience of the space. Plans relied more on functionality and ease of access. They also created infinite vistas and had focal points to lead the user through the structure.
Wayfinding can be incorporated into a design by various methods. The most common of these is visual imagery. Architecture first and foremost impacts our vision with the help of colors, textures and shapes. They help identify various parts of the whole. This is often added as an afterthought, to simplify complex spatial planning and circulation paths. With the increasing diversities and disparities in life, the need for simplicity in architecture is more than ever. With the help of colored facades replacing the brutal raw concrete forms, one can easily identify the function of the building as a whole. This can be continued inside with the help of differently colored floors, walls or furniture. The textural aspect comes into play to create an inclusive space with ease of accessibility for the differently-abled.
Signage is used to convey directions via symbols, text or images. However one has to be familiar with the standard pictographs which are universally accepted. The usage of signage must be restricted since it has a limited audience. Differently-abled people and children may be unable to understand what certain signs wish to convey. When used in combination with visual imagery, they reassure the user. Signage may also inform the user of the history, heritage and importance of certain places.
Transition and transparency
The in-between spaces must be designed to facilitate the movement of people along a specific path. The user may be more inclined to enjoy their holistic experience if the connectivity is smooth. Abrupt, harsh transition spaces may lead to jarring disturbances to one’s mental state. Textures and smells within a space amplify our senses and help soften the change in surroundings. Transparency of materials can further reaffirm the flow of spaces into one another. Lightweight, transparent materials like glass incorporate the exteriors and interiors of a site into one continuous visual image.
One of the main challenges faced in wayfinding is choice. Users like to have choices to enter spaces and navigate them. However, too many choices confuse them. Choices must be restricted to the need for them. There must be a coherent route for the user to access and use the space following a particular sequence of activities or events. On the other hand, it can impede a design where the user must get lost within the place and create a personal experience by navigating the meandering ways.
Wayfinding can be inculcated in designs at various scales. It is evident at the urban level in street signs and colorful bike lanes segregating the various zones. Within neighborhoods, structures are planned in correlation to the adjoining plot and the surrounding context. Each building can be navigated through a sequence of choices and directions. Houses are designed following a line of vision and with a particular hierarchy to cater to the user’s needs and comfort.
Wayfinding must not be a means to an end but rather must be incorporated at each stage of designing right from the formulation of ideas. It can enhance and amplify our senses and the phenomenology of spaces.