“To become completely lost is rather a very rare experience for most people. But let the mishap of orientation once occur, and the sense of anxiety and even terror that accompanies it reveals to us how closely it is linked with 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.” – Kevin Lynch, Image of the City.
Signage is often considered as the negligible entities of urban design. Put up a few blue boards and yellow posts, and signage is assumed done. But what many do not understand is that, signage defines the purpose of the project – Navigation. The need to make a space legible should be considered as a very major principle for any urban design project. A project without signage is like making it dumb. It does not communicate.
Way finding is not signage. Way finding involves architectural, technical and logical reasoning. And Signage is only one of the quantitative end product. Signage is graphic communication that involves the necessity for a sensitive and individualistic approach. Any signage system encompasses architecture, landscape architecture, lighting, and landmarks and orientation points. The design of spaces should assist users with spatial problem-solving by providing consistent clues.
Working out wayfinding for Muziris involved various scales of work. Since it is a huge scale, it is important to look at subject at different levels. Macro level planning and micro level problem solving was done. The signage and maps had to be worked out for the entire area and individual project areas. Building signage was also a part of it. The navigation process for any project or destination begins even before the user enters the site. It commences the moment a person becomes aware about its existence. An assumption or visualization of the place always begins even before the user visits the place. This assumption could be precise or vague depending on the information and data inputs received by the user. So, solutions had to be derived commencing from this point.
Similar to any other entity of urban design, signage is also user oriented and user dependent. Probable users had to be zeroed on to for better performance, but also has to be universally designed.Some of the major categories were, foreign or native, if native, literate or illiterate, kids or adults, vehicular or pedestrian. This criteria differed from project to project and location to location. So we had to arrive at a method of categorizing. So a hierarchy of categorization was adopted, based on the macro and micro levels of planning.
User comfort was also considered. Areas of predicted high visitor activity were identified and walkable distances from various points were considered. Walkable radius was finalized and probable directions was discussed. We decided that we should not restrict the flow of the user. Visitor should be allowed to traverse any part of the project area but we should make sure that they don’t get lost and they should be informed about the shortest distance to reach any place from there. This was the challenge. We had to look into various permutations and combinations. Identify various routes possible. And at the same time make sure that the short-cuts do not make the signage confusing. It should help the user orient himself.
After finalizing on the position of the signage and the contents of it, based on the category and location, the type and material of the signage was decided upon. This again had a variety of options. Looking into the numerous types done all over the world, we considered factors like climate, vandalism etc and narrowed down to a certain number of types.
Materials used was also multiple. Stone, ACP panels, metal, glowing are a few to mention. Since conservation is the fundamental rationale for the project, signage also had to be sensitive to the setting. Hence, materials that camouflage with the buildings has been used.
Micro level planning, like building signage was done keeping two criterions in mind. One, intended visitors circulation and two emergency exit planning. In a very elusive manner, the signage dictates user circulation, where one is expected to enter and where one is prohibited to do it. Emergency exits needed to be worked out for each room and position. It was to be done in a very ego-centric manner, keeping in mind the short time available for evacuation and the panic in the visitor’s mind in time of an emergency.