When illegible space is to be applauded

Making spaces legible is usually seen as a fundamental purpose of architecture. We should, we are told, be able to navigate buildings with the minimum of signage, because we should be able to work out where we are going.

Making spaces legible is usually seen as a fundamental purpose of architecture. We should, we are told, be able to navigate buildings with the minimum of signage, because we should be able to work out where we are going. But today I had an experience that was utterly illegible – and it was wonderful.

I went to a performance by Les Enfants Terribles of Alice’s Adventures Underground, set in the vaults under Waterloo Station. Having gone from Lewis Carrol’s study to a circular space in which we fell down the rabbit hole, the whete rabbit asked us to choose between ‘eat me’ and ‘drink me’ and sent us in opposing directions, after which we were divided into different suits of cards. Then, with our cohort, we were led through different spaces – as ‘diamonds’ we saw Humpty Dumpty before and after his fall, met the Duchess in the kitchen, saw Tweedledum and Tweedledee embark on a battle, and spied on the stealing of the tarts. Then we all came together for the Mad Hatter’s tea party and the final courtroom scene.

We were aware occasionally of traversing the same corridor, but mostly we had no clue where we were – which added to the pleasure. So should architects be giving up on the idea of legibility? I think not. We all enjoyed our time in the topsy-tury Wonderland but were relieved to return to reality, to the quotidian world where understanding where you are is important and reassuring.

Latest from Our Blog