Big cities around the world are melting pots where people from different origins interact, share and grow. But cities can also turn into confusing places and become difficult to read. Leer Madrid is a wayfinding consultancy for the design of a pedestrian signalling system plan for the city of Madrid. Designed by Applied and Avanti Studio, Leer Madrid studies the diversity of the population and tries to meet the needs of every case, while setting a methodology that seeks to make cities a richer, healthier and more inclusive environment for all.
More than 3.2 million people live in the city of Madrid. In 2019, it received more than 10.4 million visitors. Madrid is a growing city both in residential density and touristic affluence, as well as home to Spaniards from around the country and to thousands of newcomers from all over the world. It is a diverse and rich capital with multiple coexisting realities.
This is why the British company Applied, which had been selected to define the future signalling of Madrid, joined forces in 2017 with local urban planners, designers and architects such as Avanti Studio (wayfinding and design for diversity), Paisaje Transversal (urban strategists), Urban Networks, Paralelo 39 (urban designers and architects), CGR Arquitectos and Dimas García. This multidisciplinary team acted as a consultancy group whose mission was to design a new way to read Madrid through wayfinding design.
The wayfinding design approach is a discipline aimed at implementing integrated guidance systems within the environment in a universal, sustainable and intelligent way. The purpose of wayfinding is to improve the legibility of an area and to facilitate people’s orientation, in order to obtain social and economic benefits. Wayfinding is the real voice of any city, meaning that it becomes the official narrative of the city’s political and social attitude.
How do we perceive the city, according to who we are? How many ways are there to go through the city? In other words, how do we read a city?
To answer these questions, Avanti Studio, in collaboration with the Design For All Foundation, developed the diversity cube, a tool which combines different characteristics of the city’s population in order to take care of the endless possibilities of its nature. The diversity cube considers features such as the language spoken, the functional capacity, or the reason to commute of each individual.
Similar to a Rubik’s cube, the diversity cube allows countless combinations of individual features which result in a very accurate analysis of the population’s disparity, escaping clichés and stereotypes and providing each person an ideal way to go through the city. A 60-year-old woman who lives in Vallecas and has a bad knee doesn’t have the same mobility needs as a 20-year-old student from London who is studying in the city for a year and has a bicycle. Leer Madrid is therefore a wayfinding system seeking to meet real necessities of real people.
“In the end, you realise that we experts don’t know anything until we talk with people. We have to ask real people what their needs are – the expert’s contribution is arranging those needs”.
Alex Dobaño, Founder Partner and Design Head of Avanti Studio
Another core value in this project is flexibility. The creators of Leer Madrid draw from the idea that both cities and people are constantly changing. On one hand, each environment –street, neighbourhood, area– has its specific determining factors which characterise the ideal mobility within. On the other, each person has their own capacities which can adjust more or less to that. The wayfinding system seeks to make mobility easy by compensating the environment’s characteristics and the user’s capacities at the same time.
Leer Madrid revolves around the concept of diversity as a new paradigm within urban tactics and wayfinding, an essential part in the ongoing debate of transforming cities. It reimagines the city from the perspective of residents, visitors, as well as commercial, business and social stakeholders. Ultimately, it seeks to generate stability and a positive impact on the city, both socially and economically.
The plan also makes walking and cycling much more appealing. Besides promoting a healthy lifestyle for the people, this also reduces the air’s pollution, which causes up to 30.000 deaths per year in Spain alone. Furthermore, universal design promotes inclusion between people who come from different origins and backgrounds, speak different languages, and have diverse physical and cognitive capacities.
“I have been thinking, planning and designing guidance systems for many years. Universal design has opened my eyes. It is very important that we bring this into our design so that we can really make a difference by thinking for the people.”
Richard Simon, Partner and Planning Director at Applied Wayfinding.
Leer Madrid sets a work philosophy that encourages the transformation of cities into healthy, kind and wealthy environments. Here is where Folch intervenes: Avanti is a company by Folch, founded by Alex Dobaño, and by orienting their work towards tactical wayfinding we are also seeking to generate synergies with companies of the Avanti universe, participating in the debate around the transformation of cities and the future of sustainable urban mobility.