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Look for a sign

on Jan 25, 2013

Saudi Arabia?s major urban projects recognise the value of planning people movement, says Jason Lewis.
Saudi Arabia?s major urban projects recognise the value of planning people movement, says Jason Lewis.

Stuart Matthews speaks to Jason Lewis of Limah Design Consultants about a contract win from the Saudi Economic Cities and the business of wayfinding in the modern Middle East urban landscape

If you have ever been lost in a Middle Eastern city, you will know that finding your way is not always straight forward. Whether it is streets with no name, or several of them, unidentified buildings, or a warren of corners, if you do not know your way, there is scant chance you will find it.

In this situation, directions can be little use, if there is nothing to go by. While signs are one element, there is more to intuitive navigation than that, says Jason Lewis, MD of Limah Design Consultants, which specialises in wayfinding.

Lewis’ company has just won a contract to develop a street naming, numbering and address system for the series of economic cities under development in Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi’s Economic Cities have demonstrated a keen desire to implement the latest in design for urban environments with an emphasis on sustainability,” says Lewis.

“Part of that desire is to create efficient places for people. Cities are the most confusing of all places, and the simplicity of this address system will help solve this.”

The Economic Cities Authority is the contract’s client, in conjunction with Knowledge Economic City, which is facilitating the work. The deal covers the four cities currently in development, plus those planned for the future.

“We should be finished our work in six months time, with the results rolled out over the next few years,” says Lewis. While signs are the obvious visible outcome of the work, there is more to it, and the process of getting there starts out research-intense.

Lewis explains that although any person would find it easy to gravitate toward systems they are familiar with, there are many options available to consider.

“It is about finding the most suitable system for them, one that can work in all the cities, consistently,” he says. The idea is not just to provide directions around an urban environment, but to make complex spaces more efficient through wayfinding and signage, the use of public art, as well as industrial and communication design.

As such, not only does any system have to have some basis in international and local standards, it must also pay heed to local culture and the way those cultures understand navigation.

“We need to explore different options and explain them clearly to the client,” explains Lewis. “The biggest thing I have learnt is that, in this region, landmarks are more important than a numbering or naming system.

While numbering is really effective for businesses and couriers, perhaps the average local population still may not recognise it that quickly, which is exactly why things like landmarks would be something we would recommend.”

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