Signs of revival

Each city presents a different signage challenge, and Glasgow is no exception. Anna Richardson previews the UK’s largest wayfinding system, which is being implemented over the summer

Finding your way around a city is one of the most basic needs of visitors and locals alike, and making it an easy and pleasurable experience is a complicated process.

Events such as the London 2012 Olympics make the need for well-designed wayfinding and signage systems even more acute. ‘Over the past five to eight years, more cities have been developing their provision of information for pedestrians. It’s become part of their way of competing on a European stage,’ says Sam Gullam, director of Lacock Gullam.

Gullam is rolling out a new system in Glasgow with Applied Information Group. Glasgow will host the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and has been encouraging tourism for a number of years. The new system will be the UK’s largest, in terms of number of signs and the 6km2 area covered.

AIG and Lacock Gullam have worked together on city wayfinding and signage projects since the Bristol Legible Cities project in 1997. They also developed the Legible London wayfinding blueprint, which is being implemented in three pilot projects across the capital.

But AIG creative director Tim Fendley stresses that even though the fundamentals of city wayfinding remain the same, each city has its own unique requirements. ‘It’s interesting how varied the benefits of these projects are, in terms of optimising transport, health, local business, general civic pride,tourism and income to the city,’ he says.

The Glasgow system tackles two large areas of the city, the centre and the West End, and is mostly driven by tourist needs and the desire to make the city more presentable for visitors, says Fendley. In Bristol, on the other hand, the main driver was urban regeneration, and in London it’s as much about easing transport congestion and coping with future growth.

‘The street structure, the distribution of place, how people arrive and what people want to do is always different,’ adds Fendley. ‘That’s what’s ultimately fascinating. It’s about imparting local knowledge.’

Some cities are also much more legible because of their urban form and their architecture. One challenge is forming a system that becomes part of the city. In Glasgow, AIG and Lacock Gullam developed a map-based system to highlight the city’s diverse landmarks, such as the Glasgow School of Art and The Lighthouse arts centre.

‘Glasgow has its individual character that the system needs to respond to,’ says Gullam. ‘We tried to develop something that echoes Glasgow’s fluidity as a place, while also reflecting its aspirations. It’s got a very contemporary streetscape, yet it’s a city of great heritage.’

The final physical design drew on these aspects, but also responded to Glasgow’s topography, the symmetry of its grid system and the scale of its architecture and streets, with asymmetric and angled faces to the signs reflecting the city’s hilly nature, juxtaposed with the regularity of the urban structure.

Comprising 225 signs – maps, fingerpost information and connected advertising units – the system includes large monoliths which give an overview of the whole city on one side, with additional details on the city centre and West End on the back. AIG identified the riverside along the Clyde as a district that needed to be supported. ‘There’s a lot of urban regeneration in that area and it really needs to be connected,’ explains Fendley. ‘You might not be able to walk to the area, but at least you get a general idea.’

Lacock Gullam also developed accent lighting using solar panels, exploring and driving development in that area for the first time, and is striving for longevity with materials such as stainless steel, vitreous enamel and a granite base.

With technological developments increasingly driving the desire for digital and interactive signs in cities, the static system is nonetheless vital, says Gullam. ‘[Interactive signage] is more appropriate to retail environments, where you’re looking for very specific information,’ he explains. ‘The static signage still has very much a place within cities, with its ability to describe them and give top-level information to many people.’ The new Glasgow system should provide a timely reminder of that value.

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