In most public buildings today, the semi-private zone consists of a lobby open to the public, into which access is tightly controlled. Amenities and public events are less frequently programmed in lobbies than in the semipublic zone, and the lobby often closes at the end of the work day.The challenge is to make these spaces available, in a secure way, for public use, thereby extending the hours during which the building is active and occupied.
The entrance to a public building is a key element for controlling access. But it is also the place where people get their first impression of the facility within. When people enter a courthouse for example, there should be cues that this is a place of government, democracy, and justice. Effective entrances have the telescopic effect discussed earlier, with elements visible from afar as well as clear, welcoming details at a close distance.
Visibility from a Distance
An entrance that is visible whether people approach in an automobile or on foot puts first time visitors ease, and makes it equally convenient for frequent visitors and employees to enter the building.
Clearly Marked Access
Entering a building should be intuitive, but all too often entrances are hidden behind architectural elements, are open to employees only, or have been closed due to security precautions, leaving visitors disoriented before they even get inside the building. The right visual cues, including conveniently placed and well lit signage and the presence of management personel, would help visitors find their way.
Some public buildings seem to hide their identities, giving passersby no idea of the services offered within nor of the mission of the agencies housed there. In the University Circle District in Cleveland, Ohio for instance, nearly a dozen civic and cultural institutions surround one small, central park, Wade Oval. The fact that neither the building entrances nor the buildings themselves convey a sense of what goes on inside limits their ability to attract museum visitors from across the park.
Human Scale Elements
Giving the entrance a human scale can be the most difficult of these principles to implement. But even existing buildings that seem cold or intimidating can be made more welcoming by adding details designed for the pedestrian.
The lobby can function as the “living room” of a building, and in some cases a gathering space for the neighboring community. Lobbies were traditionally designed to impress building tenants and visitors alike – with great clocks or vaulted ceilings, for instance. The main hall of New York’s Grand Central Terminal, for example, was designed to convey the excitement of rail travel with its large open corridors, the famous mural of constellations , and the panels of train schedules constantly clicking as information is updated. Today, owners and managers of public buildings are experimenting with integrating new uses and activities into their lobbies as well. For example, in the lobby of Rotterdam’s downtown library there is a full size chess set, a café, a large sculpture, a theater and a childrens’ cinema, all of which serve to enhance the experience of library visitors.
In some lobbies, people first encounter a security agent who guides them through a metal detector, a highly impersonal and unwelcoming experience for visitors. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, by contrast, a lovely display of flowers strategically located behind the security guards makes the lobby feel both friendly and welcoming.
Lobbies need “sub-places” or attractions that give people a choice of things to do while they are waiting or resting. Good examples of sub-places include: a convenient waiting area; a place to buy and sip a cup of coffee – and attractions, such as an art exhibit or interactive sculpture.
Providing Focal Points
Like a building’s exterior spaces, lobbies should have identifiable places for people to meet each other. The familiar saying “I’ll meet you under the clock at the Biltmore” is a good example of the important function these focal points serve.
Triangulation refers to the practice of locating features in close proximity to one another so that they generate more activity than they would separately. In lobbies, for instance, “waiting places” with seating, waste receptacles, and focal points such as flower beds or a small fountain, arranged so that visitors can people-watch would create an interesting and appealing space to be in.