Common Senses

13 01 2011

Lowri Bond

Sight is a powerful sense. Our perceptions of people, places and objects are influenced immediately in our first, visual impressions of them so it stands to reason that we should regard the way a place looks as being high on the agenda but should it rank so highly as a measure of quality or success if we allow it to overshadow some of the more crucial aspects of good design?

I’ve already gained somewhat of a reputation for being a pavement nerd so I thought I’d share some thoughts on this sparked by recent broadcasts on Radio 4’s In Touch, on 2nd and 16th November last year, discussing blind and partially sighted people’s experience of our streets and public spaces, particularly in terms of street design and the indiscriminate and inconsistent use of tactile paving!

The starting point being a piece of research funded by CABE resulting in the publication Site-Line, designing better streets for people with low vision. Which is a really useful resource for any urban designer wishing to understand the way blind or partially sighted people navigate the urban environment and not wishing to fall prey to any of the commonly seen design faux pas experienced on many of our streets. Sarah Gaventa, Director of CABE Space who is a guest speaker on the second broadcast comments that architects and urban designers are just responding to guidelines and that these guidelines are clearly failing, that they need to be simplified and made consistent nationally. Listeners comments accord with the opinions of most older people that I’ve worked with, that we spend millions of pounds on textured surfacing that is meaningless, and useless and it doesn’t translate into the information that is needed to help the people it is intended for. My favorite listener comment describing what he has to negotiate, “Dwarf walls, street furniture, lampposts in the gutterside, then the housing side, in the middle of the road in some places, indiscriminate use of blister paving, huge stone balls and one shared street…… and there’s plenty more”

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One response

10 03 2011
Carlie Douglas

I’m really glad that you brought this up actually as I’ve been noticing it lately as well. Not to mention, is it really necessary for these textured surfaces to be in such unfortunate colors? It almost ruins any overarching color scheme a planner/designer/architect might have going. I do think it’s very important to have these non-visual cues in the urban environment for sight-challenged individuals. I find it disappointing that they cannot implement a coherent texture scheme for people that are likely to be walking, but (in the US at least) they put Brail on drive-through ATMs (as a tack-on, not built into the design) when I hope that if someone cannot see well enough to read the screen, they would not be driving!

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