Long live the straight line

On Monday I was at the Building Centre for the judging of the IBP Awards. The judging was in the basement, which is now pretty hard to get too, because the front staircase has been shut. You have to go to the back of the building, down a kind of processional stair and then work your way forward again.
The reason is not hard to guess. Following that route takes you past many of the exhibitors’ displays, and doubtless they were complaining before that they were not getting enough footfall.

So I can grasp the commercial argument, but it is really wrong. Buildings are meant to work – you are not meant to be directed off in a direction you did not want. Where else does this happen? At airports of course. When I was at Heathrow Terminal 3 recently, it was necessary to walk through an enormous maze of duty free before reaching a spot where you could sit down or have a cup of coffee. Again, the commercial imperative is overriding common sense. Terminal 3 is also interesting because half of the shops have ceased to be useful stuff (somewhere to buy a cheap holiday top, top up on sunscreen, buy a paperback) and become designer outlets. I guess this is a representation of the global trade in high end shopping.

When I got to Singapore a friend pointed out that the low-end visitor who has a few meals and drinks and maybe buys a present from the family is neither common nor the target audience. Instead most people are there to do SERIOUS shopping – thousands and thousands of pounds worth.
So we are not only in the kind of world we want, but we are not allowed to travel in straight lines either? It was good to see though that even in law-abiding Singapore, outside Marina Bay Sands people had created a ‘desire line’ through the vegetation to cross the road more directly. It had been fenced off but the damage had been done.

Buildings and landscapes need to serve the needs of users. We should not be manipulated either into travelling in ways we don’t want, or to spending money we don’t need to or can’t afford. Long live the straight line.


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