and signposting - using plants to help people on their
In order to work efficiently, buildings such as airports,
hospitals and shopping centres rely on people knowing
where they are and where they are going. People craning
their necks to find signposts, perhaps in a foreign
language, cause bottlenecks and result in delays. Shop
owners in large shopping centres need to entice casual
browsers into their emporia, and hospital patients need
to find their treatment rooms quickly and without adding
to the stress they may already be suffering from.
lot of research has been carried out into the theories
of efficient wayfinding. Indeed, there is a whole chapter
devoted to this subject in a key text book for environmental
psychologists. (See source for further information at
the bottom of this page.)
where do plant displays fit in? Well designed plant
displays can be very useful and inexpensive tools to
help people find their way around a building.
Plants can be used to provide visual cues to help people
locate themselves. For example, plants of different
styles can be placed in groups at places such as meeting
points or outside specific entrances. Palms at one end
of the building, bushy Ficus trees at the other and
graceful Buddhist Pines in the middle can be one way
of helping people to find their place in a busy, bustling
large shopping centres are zoned (e.g. The Metro Centre
in Gateshead, UK), different plants can be used to reinforce
the zonal design. This can be achieved by using different
types of trailing plants overhanging the balconies in
each zone. These are visible from both the upper
and lower levels of the shopping centre. As a shopper
moves from one zone to the next, the plants change in
a subtle, yet noticeable way. Dark green ivy gives way
to variegated Scindapsus, which in turn give way to
the feathery foliage of Boston Ferns.
idea would be to always use the same plant near each
exit or by the escalators. They would be visible from
a distance, yet remain subtle and understated. Use different
coloured containers to differentiate one place from
rely on the efficient movement of large numbers of people
to function properly. Passengers must get to their gates
on time. However, many airports are very confusing in
their layout. Mile after mile of corridors and walkways
all leading to near identical departure gates. Take
a wrong turn out of a restaurant or shop and you could
be at the wrong end of the airport before you realise
it. Add to that the fact that airports are places where
people with different cultures and different languages
meet. Conventional signs can only be written in a small
number of languages. More than three or four on one
signboard and they get very confusing. Plant displays
are a useful way of guiding people. Plants of different
forms, or containers of different styles and colours
can be used to point people in the right direction and
ultimately mark out the boundaries of seating areas
for particular departure points.
also need people to move around quickly and to the right
place. Unfortunately, many seem designed to make
that task as hard as possible. Entrances to buildings
are difficult to notice and once inside, there is a
maze of identical looking corridors to negotiate.
located in strategic places are very useful. Waiting
areas, often wide spaces off corridors, are much more
obvious when there is a small collection of plants.
Something that would also aid in relaxation whilst waiting
for an appointment. Visitors also need places
to go whilst their loved ones are being treated.
Planted spaces suggest social areas and they are much
more obvious along an anonymous corridor than a small
|These two corridors
are almost identical and you would be forgiven for
not knowing for sure where you are. However,
the interior landscape designers at this American
hospital have used different plant species in each
area to help visitors to tell them apart.
to buildings must be obvious. Public entrances
need to be distinguishable from private doorways and
here again, plants have a role to play. Because
of their organic shape and form, plants are much more
noticeable against the geometric shapes of a building
than a geometrically-shaped sign board. They are
probably much cheaper too.
the theme further, it might be possible to identify
different functions within a hospital by using different
types of plant display. Gynaecology departments
might be identified by Lady palms (Rhapis excelsa),
haematology by Stromanthe sanguinea and maternity
wards by mother-of-thousands (Saxifraga stolonifera).
More seriously, it is much easier to find a room that
you have been told has a plant in a pink pot next to
the door than it is to follow coloured tapes on the
floor or confusing signs hanging from the ceiling.
corridor - using a plant to show the way
(elevator) lobbies in high rise buildings are nearly
always identical, apart from a numbered sign on the
wall. When a crowded lift stops at a floor, you
have a split second chance of spotting the sign that
tells you where you are before the doors close again.
can be made easier by placing plants opposite the lift
doors that are immediately visible. Each floor
can have a different type of plant which will become
instantly recognisable to users of the building.
The theme can also be carried on throughout the floor.
Why not have a floor of fig trees and another of Yucca
plants? This is a very good way of defining spaces
and giving a sense of individuality and identity to
a work space.
do plants work so well?
The most obvious reason is that they stand out well
against the background. Buildings are made up
of lots of vertical and horizontal lines. Signposts
and notice boards also tend to be rectangular in shape.
The only thing that makes them stand out from the background
is their colour. Plants on the other hand (or
more especially plant displays, including containers
and top dressings) are much less regular in their shape.
Few conform to perfect vertical and horizontal planes.
This makes them stand out against their background.
of the type mentioned in this article frequently already
have plant displays. Why not make those displays
work a bit harder by using them for more than decoration
alone. Plants are good at multi-tasking and never
complain of overwork.
for further information: Handbook of Environmental Psychology,
edited by Robert B. Bechtel, Arza Churchman; published
by John Wiley & Sons Inc; ISBN: 0471405949.