Monday, January 4, 2016

Dear Designers. . . Sound Matters

Michael Kimmelman's recent piece on the NY Times' interactive website, "Dear Architects, Sound Matters," suggests that we live in an unusually noisy age:

. . . during the Middle Ages, smell was the unspoken plague of cities. Today it is sound. Streets, public spaces, bars, offices, even apartments and private houses can be painfully noisy, grim and enervating. . . 

Thanks to the site, we hear that the sound of a book page turning can be distracting in the tomb-like Frick Art Reference Library and a baby's cries echo through St Patrick's Cathedral.  But the site also allows you to compare sounds in different spaces;  noise is relative.

And so, it's all the harder to believe that this is a particularly noisy age. Anyone familiar with New York's forgotten sounds  would think twice . . . or should click over to Emily Thompson and Scott Mahoy's website, the Roaring Twenties.  Richly detailed, the site uses historical records to help us recall the loudspeakers, boat whistles,  and street hawkers who populated  the city's raucous soundscape in the 1920s and 1930s.   It reminds us that the twenties were "roaring" for a reason.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Posters book on Design Observer

Thanks to Rick Poynor of Design Observer for listing my Posters: A Global History on his list Top Ten Books of the year. Says Poynor:

"Guffey gives a familiar subject a brand new scholarly treatment, paying close critical attention to the poster’s social history. Anyone with an interest in the medium should read this book."

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Getty Museum's access issues

I sometimes wonder how designers and architects might revisit their work over time.

I'm just back from the Getty Research Institute, which has
stunning views, elegant plazas and a stark modernist facade.  And it also suggests that architect Richard Meier was unaware of issues of access, signage, and wayfinding.

What's up this staircase?  You have to go ahead and climb up to find out. There aren't any signs here. . .

Want to find the easiest access route to  exhibitions, buildings, and accommodations?  Don't even bother looking for the International Symbol of Access, since it's scarcely used anywhere on the premises.

While good signage could certainly help user experience at the Getty, it's clear that Meier himself didn't give the disabled much thought at all.

The museum and institute cover large spaces, the layout relies on staircases to link its sprawling campus, restrooms are spread out, and the entire complex is paved in harsh and unforgiving marble. It is an uncompromising place.

The entire complex seems to have been designed for an adult male, aged 25-45, who is in good physical shape.    The Getty is one of Meier's crowning achievements, and it is unrelenting in its vision. Moreover, it remains largely as he envisaged it some 25 years ago.

But Meier, now an octogenarian, has aged.  He uses a cane.  Perhaps he could not foresee this while young. But I wonder if he's walked through the campus more recently. . . using his cane.

Meier aside, the complex was built before the ADA went into effect in 1990; surely it's time for the Getty to update itself, and join the ranks of other (accessible) art museums worldwide.