We used two tools to conduct a recce of the area from the perspective of the user. The first is an observational study and the second was space syntax.
1. Description: The observational study was conducted on 7th and 8th of August 2018. It was made of 61 questions that related to the following categories.
- environmental stressors: air and noise pollution, congestion
- Amenities: green spaces, respite places, lighting, crossings
- walkability: wayfinding, visibility, safety, comfort
2. Method: The questionnaire was composed of several academic and industry questionnaires to create a bespoke survey for the TH. We qualified the questionnaires based on wording, technique, and measurable units. We divided the survey into three routes; Liverpool Street to Houndsditch Street, Fenchurch Street Station to Building, Bank Station to Building.
3. Key results
Air Pollution: https://www.londonair.org.uk/LondonAir/Default.aspx
People Congestion: less than 1 foot between people
The pollutions is twice the recommended EU standards rate, and 4 times the WHO Standard. This means people are breathing highly contaminated air, which can have affects not just on their breathing, but also on their cognition.
- Noise pollution score was +80 decibels which is a score that usually correlated with industrial areas. Noise pollution can be especially harmful to people who are suffering from anxiety or on the Autism Spectrum Disorder.
- The area has high levels of pedestrian congestion, which lowers the quality of experience from getting to point A to point B. It also forces people onto the streets, leaves little room for those on wheelchairs, and can be highly challenging for those that are blind or with other physical differences.
All three routes were well lit, had open shops, high people density.
All three routes had obstructions.
All three routes were highly congested.
Only one route had good wheelchair access or catered to those with mobility issues
No routes allowed for timely crossing of children or elderly.
All three routes had lights coming from street lights and buildings.
Only one of the routes had good visible maps
All three routes had visible landmarks for orientation.
Only one of three routes had protection from the elements (rain/sun)
All three routes had obstruction on the sidewalks
Two of three routes provided places for rest (benches or squares)
All routes were highly congested
The area has key indicators of safety as it is well lit and there is high people density. However when it comes to physical injury, people, especially with physical differences run the risk of not being able to access the area due to obstructions, not enough time for crossings, and narrow sidewalks.
The area is well lit therefore highly visible
There are landmarks dotted in the area to make it easier for people to orientate themselves, however, little help was given in terms of wayfinding tools.
Given the narrow nature of pavements in the near vicinity of the building, there is likely to be further discomfort from congestion as the daily population of the City of London increases from and estimated at 396,800 in 2014, to to 435,700 by 2025.
The comfort levels are low as the area is loud, congested and polluted.
To assist and guide the recce and research points we worked with Dr. Kerstin Sailer who is Reader in Social and Spatial Networks, The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis. Dr. Sailer’s work investigates the impact of spatial design on people and social behaviours inside a range of complex buildings such as offices, laboratories, hospitals and schools. A particular focus of her work lies on social behaviours such as interaction and encounters, but also how people perceive spaces, how they make choices in buildings (where to move, where to dwell, where to sit) and the associated experience of visibility. Dr. Sailer is a specialist in Space Syntax which encompasses a set of theories and techniques for the analysis of spatial configurations. It was conceived by Bill Hillier, Julienne Hanson and colleagues at The Bartlett, University College London in the late 1970s to early 1980s as a tool to help urban planners simulate the likely social effects of their designs.
Applying the theory to 70 St. Mary Axe our aim was to understand the complexity of the navigation to the building from major local transport hubs. In identifying this we can start to gather greater insights in the cognitive and physiological states a person is likely to be in as they enter the building. This shapes expectations and demands upon entering the building.
For this site Space Syntax methodology was used to rather than the software. This means there was an observation and manual drawing of isovists were used to assess the relationship between the user and their immediate spatial environment. This relationship is specifically to do with with what visual data is captured by the user, which in turn is used to make decisions about navigation.
Key results were:
The route from Fenchurch Street Station represented the most complex journey of all. Poor pedestrian infrastructure and lack of clear route increases difficulty of navigation and journey. This route in particular will provide great discomfort to those with mobility issues; ranging from sore joints through to disabilities.
A high number of intersections and turning points combined with a low visual depth of field, and the pedestrian density and vehicle traffic infers low levels of safety or control of environment. The only route that incorporates any public realm or significant sidewalk space is around the Leadenhall Building and ‘The Gerkin’, albeit these have high density levels of people. It requires a person to be ‘on alert’ at all times.
Visibility from the ground floor of the building to other areas is low. Buildings immediately surrounding 70 St Mary Axe reduce any landmarking points other than briefly in the direction of 1 Undershaft (due to be another construction site shortly). This can present orientation issues when routes are closed.
There is little visual interest to draw someone to the rear of the building (where the retail space is located) for anyone not accessing public transport at Aldgate Station or nearby buses.
The public realm in front of the building is likely to be very busy circa rush hours and lunchtimes when the occupants of a 300,000 sq ft building descend onto a space roughly 3000 sq ft. This is likely to put pressure on adjacent sidewalks and immediate space.
Place attachment has been a subject of interest within environmental psychology and architecture since the 1960’s. The crux of the theory explores the emotional experience and bonds people have with spaces, buildings, or cities. On a macro level places we attach to live on as cultural artifacts and representations such as the Eiffel Tower or Mecca. On a micro and more personal level it can be a person’s preferred running park, or square that like to relax in, or a favourite restaurant. These preferences will be a combination of many practical and psychological aspects. From location, navigability to affordances, aesthetics, safety, or comfort.
Offices are becoming places people want to bond with as well from psychological perspective it is what head of HR are actually searching for, even if they do not articulate in such terms. They want workers to bond with their physical environment from the city, to area, to the building. With the hopes that this will help attract and retain top talent. Simply speaking companies are looking to do everything in their power to attract and retain extraordinary talent as that means profit. A building no longer a passive commodity it must earn its keep by playing a role in talent retainment. Office buildings are now part of business development strategies.
Form the space syntax analysis there are three results that challenge place attachment for 70 St. Mary Axe. The first is cognitive load the area presents for the user. Cognitive load is a term used to describe the mental and structural load that performing a particular task imposed on the person. The higher the load the more difficult it is for the person to complete a specific task. From the perspective of the user of 70 St. Mary Axe has to intake various information from intersections, pedestrian density, traffic ect. Making it more difficult to find their way to the building. This could present the user feeling like they do not understand their environment or have control, lowering their levels of comfort. This can diminish their attachment to the area or building.
Secondly, the load the presented can present a challenge for memory. As we become distracted or change our attention to other factors such as the noise, the cars, other pedestrians, or construction work, we pay less attention to the building itself. This in turn will have an effect on how well a person remembers the building or the experience of the building itself. Rendering the building “unmemorable”. If a building is not memorable, ie not even in a person’s memory then it cannot attach feeling or emotion to it. It mirrors what happens in personal relationships, we bond in part with people that we remember.
Finally, there was little visual interest surrounding the building or of the building itself. From a cognitive perspective, scientists have been studying how visual perception influences our responses to our environments. In one particular study by Professor and neuroscientist Colin Ellard, states that typically, “environments which are informative and allow an individual to gain further knowledge about their surroundings are preferred." This means relevant information, not “noise” which can deter or distract from pertinent information. This again can play a role in how a person may bonds with the building. If they are categorising the building as non informative or “boring” then it will be difficult for them to form a strong opinion or emotion towards to the building. Thus making it difficult form attachment.