12 December 2016 | Edward Finch
A building that is not 'readable' can never fulfil its potential. Users need to be able to navigate for functional reasons, to discover different spaces, or safety reasons (to find emergency exits).
Navigability becomes paramount if you are an infrequent or one-off user of a building. Additional obstacles arise from physical, sensory and mental impairments users may have.
Making buildings more 'readable' requires the interior designer and facilities manager to get inside the heads of users with differing spatial skills.
Signage is the first port of call for those assisting the lost. But excessive signage can be an intrusive solution that reveals design shortcomings. Sounds and changes in floor surface often provide a guide for blind and partially sighted people. Colour contrast and pathway lighting can also provide cues.
But how does a building designer get inside the mind of a disabled user? The temptation is to anticipate problems based on their own envisioning. This invariably leads to a poor design solution. Another approach is to rely on building standards. These are unlikely to provide a total solution.
One technique, 'cognitive mapping', provides just such a way to get 'under the hood' of users. Psychologist Edward Tolman introduced this idea in 1948. Cognitive maps serve to construct and accumulate spatial knowledge, allowing the mind's eye to make sense of and recall environments. These approximations of the physical space reflect our individual learning experiences, becoming more comprehensive as we investigate particular surroundings. People in wheelchairs emphasise physical barriers in their maps, obstacles that are missing from the maps of those able to move freely.
FMs who want to know more about how a space is seen or used could incorporate the cognitive mapping' into post-occupancy evaluation.
Edward Finch is a former professor in FM at Salford University and previously editor of the academic journal Facilities