Guest Column - October 2008
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Design Corner: Finding Direction

By Curt Moody

Cracking the Code

Generally, there are three types of projects in which a new and integrated wayfinding program can be applied: facelift upgrades to existing facilities, larger expansion and renovation projects for existing facilities, and new construction. One example of a facelift project was recently completed at the Jones Center located in northwest Arkansas. The existing space featured a basement with a service desk and a grim corridor extending from locker rooms to its swimming area. Users would descend into this dimly lit lower level of the facility to use the pool and encounter undifferentiated spaces with dreary walls and little in the way of directional cues or specific signage. With a very small budget, the once dark and unattractive area was revitalized. It is now brighter, more welcoming and easier to navigate thanks simply to new paint, flooring and lighting, and incorporation of effective signage.

Many of the physical education and athletic facilities built in the middle of the last century are of a specific type. They tend to be box-like structures with little spatial articulation, long passageways and a non-hierarchical arrangement of functions. Navigating this type of facility can be an especially daunting challenge. While undertaking a complete renovation and expansion project at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, special attention was paid to the integration of the new Kress Events and Recreation Center with the old Phoenix Center—defining a new sequence of spaces throughout the entire facility and ensuring the clarity and connectedness of the arrangement.

It is in a wholly new fitness or recreation facility that a fully integrated wayfinding program can reach its full potential. Here, the major architectural components and the prime interior spaces can be conceived in relation to an integral thematic and sequential organization. Furthermore, an integrated program of wayfinding elements can be woven throughout the facility, reinforcing the understanding of the space-use arrangement and elevating identity recognition. The Claude Moore Community Center in Loudon County, Va., is a prime example. It features a large, emblematic entrance that honors the region's strong rural heritage and defines a strong, focal start to the facility's sequence of spaces. In addition, a subtle integration of directional signage, coded colors and sequential visual cues augments and supplements the organization revealed through the architecture itself.

From small cosmetic upgrades to complete new construction, all athletics/recreation facilities can benefit immensely from a well-conceived and well-integrated wayfinding program. Wayfinding provides an informative and potentially meaningful thread that knits a building's disparate elements together and ultimately organizes the users' experience and memory of the facility.


Curt Moody is president and CEO of Moody-Nolan Inc., an architecture, interior design and civil engineering firm specializing in higher education, sports/recreation, healthcare and public service facilities. Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, Moody-Nolan is the largest African-American-owned and -operated architecture and engineering firm in the nation. For more information, visit