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Way-finding in Institutional Architecture

For facility visitors or patients, it is important that they be able to navigate within the facility quickly and with ease. What this comes down to is creating and incorporating highly organized and effective way-finding measures from the first steps of the design process. The challenge for any way-finding system developed by architects, designers and planners is that it must help a first-time visitor understand the logic of the physical space. They must develop built environment solutions that balance unique architectural forms way-finding information signage with what we call “landmarks’.  Landmarks are unique architectural forms that are supported by signage.

How We Use Landmarks

We choose to develop unique elements that are specific to the client, their patients and staff for way-finding. At Southlake Regional Health Centre, the chapel is one such unique design element that visitors, patients and staff can use as a navigation point.

At Woodstock Hospital the central stairs act as an artistic landmark for visitors. The stairs serve a functional purpose while the elegantly hung acrylic plaques acknowledge donors’ support. Similarly, a large central staircase will serve to visually unite the floors at the soon-to-be Women and Newborn Hospital in Winnipeg.

Another way-finding element at the Woodstock Hospital is the large windows that face the outdoor central courtyard. With the ability to see outside and orientate themselves at each level, visitors can more easily navigate the facility.

Other way-finding devices or landmarks include colour and texture of walls, floors and ceilings. At Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital (OTMH) all of the departmental entrances have unique and distinct tile panels combined with signage.

Another landmark option is coloured or graphic panels, such as photographic images laminated to glass or drywall that are used in waiting rooms or corridors. The Women and Newborn Hospital has large images of wildflowers at the care stations, OTMH has large images of nature in its corridors and waiting rooms.

Unique landmarks can be seen at OTMH and Surrey Memorial Hospital. At OTMH gas fireplaces were installed in the cafeteria and main lobby.

At Surrey Memorial Hospital in Surrey, British Columbia wood columns in the main lobby can be seen from outside of the facility as well as within.

‘Houseposts,’ (the houseposts are in the elevator lobbies at each floor) as they are called, are each carved with a distinctive texture that is then repeated in flooring designs and screen patterning on each floor within the facility.

More examples of Landmarking:

  • Dramatic lighting fixtures in the main lobby at Groves Memorial Hospital in Fergus, Ontario
  • Design elements specific to unit (e.g., Lakeside, Historic, etc…) in elevator lobbies and art by patients created through community competition at Providence Care in Kingston, Ontario
  • Art housed in unique bridge alcoves, wooden murals and rainbow glass tile mural at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio

Way-finding Characteristics

Landmarks: laying out and highlighting specific spaces or locations within a facility helps to reinforce the recognition of certain places within the larger area. The human brain can better understand the layout and find their way by making a mental map of the area using landmarks, visual cues and signage. In combination, these elements shape the space, making a previously unknown area easier to navigate.

Orientation: to navigate, one must understand their location within the built environment in relation to other areas. This makes it easier to understand landmarks. The additional use of maps helps relay this information in a powerful, visual mode. By displaying maps in accordance to the user’s position it’s easier to relate them to their surroundings.

Navigation: using static signage and landmarks users are able to guide themselves to their destination with little to no outside assistance.

Effective Way-finding

A system that is based on human behaviours and consists of the following characteristics lends itself to successful way-finding:

Make it easy and universal

Visitors shouldn’t need to think hard to understand the system. A clear, consistent and comprehensive visual system with simplified maps, international symbols for amenities and relevant, legible signage is advantageous.

Show only necessary information

Way-finding should include only what is relevant to the space, location and navigation path. Excessive or unnecessary elements will only create confusion. Clear visuals of the environment are vital to the system’s success.

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