I'm worth it

Wayfinding is one of the most important fundamentals of good architecture.

People are all so different, though one of the most common failings of all people is lack of confidence.Amongst disabled people this is exacerbated and ninety nine percent of disabled people are low on self esteem. When approaching built environments this is so important to consider. Being able to enter a precinct, and not having to worry about finding your way, or finding that the particular environment is only partially accessible is disempowering.

It is not welcoming to find this and is not compliant with the ethos of our Constitution. In public buildings it is often the Facilities Manager who is not aware how important this issue is. Even at schools where most of the users of the building use it every day, it should be kept in mind that there will regularly be visitors who are not sure which way to go. They might be people who don’t read, or are foreign language speakers, or even not able to read the Roman alphabet. I believe that at the Beijing Olympics it is a problem for all the foreigners to read scores, etc. as they are in Chinese characters! A quarter of the world’s population is Chinese. Architects are encouraged to have their buildings show the way, without a plethora of signage and directional indicators. One area should draw one into another (like the Dining Room and the Kitchen). This sort of thing should begin at the boundary of the property, so that there’s no confusion about where to park, where to find the front door etc. In public places it is essential.

In transport nodes, there is often lots of advertising, which gets confused with informative signage. I use the same critical approach to websites: they should be easy to find your way around, otherwise one loses interest. In that case one can! And just switch off. But in the real environment one also has to find one’s way back, which is also often not thought of in a methodical way.Landmarks are critical: even in an art gallery, or a hospital, a spectacular light fitting, or a coffee shop as a landmark can make the difference. The coffee shop is also a common pointer for vision impaired people; or a water feature for the sensory signals. The absence of these things can rob users of a building of their confidence, and they will not want to subject themselves to this experience again. I believe that the angled layout of the Westville Pavilion Shopping Centre, and Gateway are confusing to many people; disabled people more than others. There are many ordinary people who have a block about reading maps, so the idea of sorting this completely in this manner “you are Here” doesn’t really work. That method can be used in combination with professional wayfinding planning before the building is commissioned.People who have autism mostly have great difficulty with this kind of confusion, as well as those suffering from fatigue or trauma. The cognitively impaired are a larger group than one realizes.

Having their needs satisfied will lift a building into a higher level. There are quite a few ads on television, always using women, which have someone gorgeous like Jane Fonda, or Sarah Jessica Parker promoting a beauty product, and saying, to cap it off “Because I’m worth it”. Well if even they need their confidence boosted, why participate in having buildings which add to feelings of inadequacy?It is actually disrespectful to users of these public spaces if they lead to feelings of disorientation, and low confidence. Imagine being in an environment where everyone else was speaking Mandarin and all the signage was in Chinese characters. It would be really frightening, and completely unnecessary if general needs had been taken into account at the design stage of the project.One thing that’s always mentioned about Cape Town is that you can’t get lost, because you always have the mountain or the sea as your landmark. This could be used in buildings in Cape Town, so that you could still use these landmarks even when you are inside a building, seeing these images through the windows.

I visited a wonderful seven acre indigenous garden today. There were lots of crescent pathways and meanderings in dune forest. I really hoped I wouldn’t be left behind by the group: but slowly I realized that there was a background hum of the sea to my right. I felt fine straight away, as I was oriented. This place could afford to be unstructured as there would always be the strong element of the sea as a landmark.

As Jane Fonda says “because I’m worth it!”

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