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Go Beyond Architectural Signage to Strengthen Your Design

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

When designing your architectural works, do you give thought to how your occupant will navigate through the spaces that you provide? With this, I mean giving consideration to your project beyond programming and wayfinding — what I’m eluding to here is getting you to reach into the poetics of occupant movement through your building.

In other words, how do you entice your building occupant to turn left or right within your building when they have a choice? Hopefully, you do not rely fully on architectural signage to lead your occupant along. You see, while experiencing your building, your occupants move from milestone to milestone. Thus, architectural features can help to reinforce these milestones or can help to move them to the next one. Hence, your architecture becomes a roadmap for their experience — where architectural features guide them along, almost subliminally, as they journey through your building.

You may ask — But what is the point to all of this? Why not just rely on signage to tell occupants where to go? Well, the problem with signage is that it allows for an architectural design to not have to be as strong. Additionally, too much signage in a weakly designed building can leave occupants overwhelmed and disoriented. For these reasons, it is best to use your architectural design to guide occupants — and this can be done in a multitude of ways.

Imagine that your occupant is walking within your space. How might you guide them to turn right to eventually lead them toward an exterior courtyard? Well, perhaps you might place a water feature in a key location which is visible prior to their “right turn”. Also, natural light may help to instinctively guide your occupant to the courtyard — thus, you would be bringing a few features of the courtyard “inside” to gently let your occupants know where they must go to access the full courtyard feature.

In the end, your architectural designs will be stronger if you do not fully rely on signage to always tell your occupants where to go. Use the language of your architecture to communicate with your building occupants — to invite them along as they journey through your building. After all, architectural features (like landmarks) are much more memorable than a simple sign. Use that to your advantage, and design an architecture that speaks to your occupants as they move through your work.

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Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

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I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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