Posted by Liv Andersson

What does a computational designer learn from a site visit?

Last week, I had the opportunity to join in for a site visit in a rail station project lead by Network Rail. “What will you learn from it?” my line manager asked me when approving my request. “I don’t know”, I said, “but that’s exactly the reason why I want to go”.

It’s always good to remind yourself of reality. Our site guide told us that we would follow the paths he was referring to as “green routes”, areas where it is safe to walk. He also mentioned that these routes change about 6-9 times a day, and that he would more than likely take us through to a dead end at some point during our tour. Working in a team with people flow consultants, here’s where I start to get twitches in my body. There surely must be a better way of planning and solving these problems.

I was shown some fine examples of structural engineering, brick layering and concrete work. I also got to see, and possibly paid more attention to, the temporary pedestrian routes. During construction, these are mapped out with bollards in their street environment, and our guide proudly presented their approach of displaying text in different sizes and fonts to make people stand at an appropriate distance, allowing passers-by to walk in front of them.

London is a high-speed city where people constantly rush from place to place (unless you’re a tourist, and if so, expect to get run over by an angry local at some point). Walkways need to be adapted to accommodate this speed and capacity even during phasing and re-construction, and wayfinding needs to be clearer than ever as walkways and familiar routes are changing.

It’s always good to remind yourself of reality. And in reality, the fewer people we have taking the wrong turn, the less frustration, irritation and rush they will experience in their everyday journeys. As much as we all should focus on a fancy design, let’s never forget the people who will actually use the space. After all, their overall experience is what truly makes a great space.