Human Factors at the University of Waterloo

Some years ago the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Canada redesigned the south entrance to the university. What caught my eye was how the university went about redesigning the entrance. They asked the entire university community to submit plans for a new entrance. They didn’t ask professional architectural firms nor even to its own Architecture and Environmental departments. (1)

University of Waterloo South Entrance

University of Waterloo south entrance. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

The University Newspaper wrote the following about the competition:

Yes, it’s ambitious, but isn’t that one of UW’s strengths? What other university would challenge its own students to design an ideal campus for themselves? These decisions are usually left up to hired planners, maybe with a couple of student surveys. Well, the current South Campus Gateway is a testament to how that can go wrong, and this challenge is a testament to how UW perhaps has more faith in its students than any other average university. Forgive me for sounding patriotic, but the fact that this competition really stresses cross-faculty collaboration makes me buy into the words on those laser-logo banners all around campus. You don’t have to be in planning, or civil, or architecture to have solid design ideas. As i3 committee member Dr. Jeff Casello put it, “everyone is a user of the space.” Ergo, a good design uses everyone’s input.” (2)

Thinking of users first

It says people who actually use the entrance are best suited to design an entrance THEY would want to use.

After over 200 submissions, the result was wider sidewalks, four wooden arches and a green space with native plants. The most visible element is a steel uWaterloo sign light by lights and build on a base that doubles as seating around a planter.

University of Waterloo South Entrance

Street view of the University of Waterloo south entrance. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

Unused paths are a waste of resources

The process all sounds rather democratic, but it really is just plain common sense. Design should be about the end-user not blue sky thinking. Sure, it is good to break new ground, come up with good ideas, introduce something new. But like a path through the forest or across a field, an unused path will end up reverting to its natural state. A useful path will remain open for everyone to use. It suits the needs of the users.

For more information

(1) Kitchener/Waterloo Record

(2) Notice from the Engineering newspaper of UWaterloo