One of the issues with the library is the huge one-way escalators that sweep visitors from the ground floor into the upper reaches with no obvious means of descent. “I think there was a desire by the architects to try and thwart expectations and be a bit edgy,” says Dalton. “Unfortunately when it comes to navigation, our expectations are there for a good reason. There are very few situations in the real world where you can go from A to B via one route and you’re forced to take a different route from B back to A. That really confuses people.” On an online forum, one of the library’s users commented that she had “left the building as soon as I could figure out how to get out, hoping I wouldn’t have an anxiety attack first.’’
But that’s the thing about cities: people who live in them do a good job of making them feel like them home despite all the design and architectural obstacles that may confront them, be it in a byzantine library or a sprawling park.
A visible manifestation of this are the “desire lines” that wend their way across grassy curbs and parks marking people’s preferred paths across the city. They represent a kind of mass rebellion against the prescribed routes of architects and planners. Dalton sees them as part of a city’s “distributed consciousness” – a shared knowledge of where others have been and where they might go in the future – and imagines how it might affect our behaviour if desire lines (or “social trails” as she calls them) could be generated digitally on pavements and streets.
She is getting at a point that architects, neuroscientists and psychologists all seem to agree on: that successful design is not so much about how our buildings can shape us, as Churchill had it, but about making people feel they have some control over their environment. Or as Jeffery put it at Conscious Cities, that we’re “creatures of the place we’re in”. Welcome to the new era of neuro-architecture.
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