That lift in your spirits when you turn into your street, the wave to a neighbour, that quick check round that everything is as it should be. Home. Whether you’re in a block, a terrace or a detached Georgian villa, most of us feel the same way about it.
But not everyone is so lucky. The housing crisis means even more people without a home, people remaining in unsafe accommodation, nowhere for the abused or the desperate to go.
Developers and local authorities across the UK are looking for solutions: for ways to build more homes, faster and more cost effectively. Homes that create communities, where your spirits lift as your turn into your street and wave to a neighbour.
Over the last 20 years, we have helped developers and local authorities to create new places for people to live, from small housing developments through to tower blocks and housing estates. The wayfinding is a key factor in creating a sense of place.
First, we consider the people who are going to live there. They want a strong sense of place: it’s about carefully balancing branding and signage to create a sense of cohesion and community. Large PRS developments or housing use signage to reinforce the architectural design and the type of place it is. “You are here”.
One of our first projects was a signage guide for a local authority housing scheme in Greenwich where the goal was to brand the estate, clearly identifying the blocks and roads and creating zones for certain activities. More importantly however, our work was about developing a tone of voice for the estate. For example, “ball games here” rather than “no ball games”. We have influenced masterplans in London for Peabody and most recently in North West Cambridge where the wayfinding has been about reinforcing branding and simplifying navigation.
Wayfinding has undergone a tremendous shift in recent years. Unfamiliar visitors use sat nav or google maps to find their way, and previously the postman was the main delivery person and soon got to know where to find all the addresses. The rise in online shopping has created a vast increase in the number of unfamiliar delivery people and vehicles navigating residential streets.
The unfamiliar visitor – someone visiting friends or family, a delivery or tradesperson – needs help finding a specific address, quickly and easily. Road names, direction signs, consistent house or block numbering schemes, as well as natural wayfinding through the use of light or [trees]. It all helps people navigate. “Go this way.”
We use gateway signs to make it clear that you have arrived. Maps and directional signs reinforce street names and guide people to hard-to-find places. Branding emphasises that sense of place that was part of the original design intent.
So how is wayfinding for residential schemes different? It seems odd, as a block of flats or a housing estate isn’t generally a public place and once occupied, people don’t need wayfinding to find their home. But a residential street is about far more than closing the door behind you.
Placemarque is currently writing a chapter on wayfinding for the City of London Housing Design Guide, where the aim is to set out some guidelines for developers and designers about how to name, brand, and identify addresses, and so a create consistency for the whole City of London Estate.