Case study by Debbie Adams RGD, Adams + Associates Design Consultants Inc.
Evergreen Brick Works (EBW) is a redevelopment of the old Brick Works brick-manufacturing plant/site in Toronto's Don Valley. An initiative of The City of Toronto, EBW provides a purpose for the previously unused site with programming and events related to sustainable practices in urban environments for adults and children. The project inhabits the extensive industrial grounds adjoining Don Valley Brick Works Park and includes heritage and new buildings, event spaces, a restaurant, retail store and nursery, a skating rink and farmer’s market sheds.
Evergreen is a national not-for-profit that has been working since 1991 to restore the connection between Canada’s cities and the natural environment. Focusing on four key areas—Greenspace, Children, Food and Cityworks—they build partnerships with diverse groups and engage key influencers and the public to inspire local action and create sustainable urban development. Their work is driven by a belief in the power of people to enact positive change to restore the natural health of their communities.
I read about the proposed project in the newspaper and approached Evergreen to talk to them about the need for signage and wayfinding for a project of this scope. I had not worked with the client before but I had a friend who worked in programming at Evergreen who agreed to forward my letter to the Program Director. They engaged Adams + Associates (A+A) to do a study identifying the scope of the project. This study became the basis for an RFP inviting firms to bid on the signage and wayfinding for the site. A+A was the successful bidder on the project. I saw the project as an opportunity to research the issue of sustainability within the context of signage projects.
The signage and wayfinding system included exterior site signage and interior building signage.
Exterior signage included:
- site identification
- building identification and heritage interpretation
- area identification
- donor recognition
- orientation signage
- vehicular and pedestrian directional signage.
Building interior signage included:
- donor recognition walls
- directional signage
- identification signage.
The signage and wayfinding study commenced in the fall of 2007 and the majority of the signage was completed by the spring of 2011. The consultation and fabrication budget was approximately $250,000.
The initial phase of the project was a study that resulted in a 66-page Strategy and Design Guidelines document. The client had not considered signage and wayfinding as part of this project and the document was commissioned to make a case for the need for a signage strategy. It was created as an educational document as well as setting out guidelines.
The document included:
- a definition for the project along with its goals and strategies
- a short history of the site and Evergreen
- traffic flow and site usage
- circulation on-site and an audit of existing site signage
- case studies of other historic and environmental attraction sites
- strategy for the design vision, as well as heritage, environmental and communications considerations
- a discussion of materials, media, lighting, installation and maintenance issues
- identification of all potential sign types with illustrated examples and some preliminary design concepts for a site plan submission.
Once the initial study was completed, the remaining four phases—Conceptual Design, Detailed Design, Technical Design/Specification and Fabrication/Installation Management—were tendered in an RFP and A+A provided a bid to continue working on the project. We were successful in winning the bid and then continued working on the remaining phases. The project was fabricated and installed by local signage manufacturer WSI Sign Systems Ltd.
Evergreen had a fairly standard brand guidelines document, with information about logo usage, a palette of primary and secondary colours and a custom-designed font. The design concepts were evolutionary and were influenced by these guidelines, as well as heritage issues, architecture, landscape architecture, the surrounding environment, recycled materials, accessibility and sustainability guidelines.
The concept strategy was to synthesize these influences into a coherent visual language. We introduced a group of realistic silhouettes of native flora and fauna to use as decorative elements on the signage, in part to celebrate the site location and speak to the visitor groups, but also to add visual content and texture to the backs of signs to discourage graffiti. The client was particularly interested in signage created for the Eden Project, a large-scale environmental complex in Cornwall. Its focus is on man’s relationship with and dependence on plants and the signage and wayfinding is energetic and idiosyncratic, utilizing a wide range of recycled and sustainable materials. They were looking to incorporate some of the sensibility of that project into their site. One direction was presented and approved in the initial phase. We expanded and refined this direction in subsequent phases.
My role in the project was as signage consultant and included client liaison, project management, project design, technical drawings, tender package generation, supervision of fabrication and installation.
With signage, there is a five phase structure that we follow. We provide recommendations regarding sign types, sign messaging, sign locations and design concepts and the client responds with input throughout the project. The client was involved in all phases, providing typical input for a project of this type, which is very much a "back-and-forth" process.
We worked with Evergreen’s in-house design team art director, Lea Anne Armstrong and Jaime Klein in Donor Stewardship and Recognition. They were enthusiastic, supportive of the design process and provided clear guidance throughout the project with regard to branding, donor recognition and relevant information about other aspects of the project that the other design and art consultants were working on.
Industrial designer David Dennis provided design/fabrication consultation for exterior signage. The larger team of artists and designers working on the entire project included Architectural Lead and Landscape Architecture Lead DTAH Architects Limited; Diamond Schmitt Architects for the site's Centre for Green Cities; Public Artist Ferruccio Sardella; and Landscape Architecture Claude Cormier + Associés and ERA Architects – Heritage Architecture.
In terms of collaboration with the larger team, there was some peripheral input at the start of the project, and we involved the lead landscape architects and architects in the design concept presentations for their input. Having worked with them before, they had faith in our ability to do the work.
Building a signage system that addressed sustainability as its core value was probably the biggest challenge to this project. Longevity of materials, weather-related issues and the conventions of signage manufacturing were often at odds with the re-used and recycled sensibility that the client wanted to see communicated. The client had to be convinced that long-lasting materials were, in fact, more sustainable that using materials that might be more organic but would have to be replaced every few years. In addition, the project is situated on a flood plain, which means the signage (and the entire project) had to be able to withstand “100 year floods”, two of which happened in a single summer. In addition, this was a designated heritage site, which means special care had to be taken in the installation of signs on building surfaces, with regard to the type of fasteners used and that the signs must be fastened into mortar joints, not bricks.
Budget was the biggest challenge involving the client. As they hadn’t initially envisioned signage as an integral part of the project, the signage study had to convince them of its importance. Once it was completed, they understood the need for a signage system and provided a budget to create it. The budget was a moving target and a number of designs were re-addressed to find less costly solutions.
This included the site identification sign, which was one of the most interesting signs in the project: a re-used shipping container and a wind generator which created energy to power the illumination of the sign. It had to be reconfigured as a much more conventional post and panel sign due to budget constraints. It was produced once funding had been secured, some time after the site had opened to the public. In addition, a series of proposed three-dimensional sculptural elements, intended to act as landmarks on the tops of the orientation pylons, had to be scaled back to more conventional, silhouetted elements.
The scope did exceed the initial brief and subsequent phases of work were added as needs arose. The client discovered additional signage needs beyond what was initially communicated as the project unfolded. They understood that anything that went beyond the initial scope would be billed additionally and were very understanding and cooperative to the extra fees involved.
We followed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, as we do for all of our signage projects.
Sustainability was one of the primary considerations in this project. The design of the signage and wayfinding program supported the Evergreen ethos by utilizing materials and methods of production and installation guidelines set out in the Society for Environmental Graphic Designers (SEGD)'s “White Paper on Green Signage Design”. This included sourcing wood posts from FSC forests, using recycled aluminum for sign panels, low VOC paints and no glues or silicones in manufacturing or installing signs. A+A continues to incorporate the values learned in the Evergreen Brickworks project in all of our signage work.
The success of a signage project is measured by how little a client hears from their users; if there are a lot of complaints about people not being able to find their destinations, then generally receptionists and other employees hear about it. The overall Evergreen Brickworks project was awarded an Award of Excellence in the “Large Places or Neighbourhood Designs” category in the 2013 Toronto Urban Design Awards.
The design deliverables met the goals of identifying the site and leading visitors to their destinations. The signage system went beyond the Evergreen brand to provide a personality for the site—a system of contemporary information that contributed to creating a distinct sense of place.
- This project exposed us to the challenges and solutions for creating sustainable signage and wayfinding projects, which is knowledge we now apply to our work whenever possible. The research paper provided by the SEGD on sustainable practices in signage design was invaluable in providing us with the information we required.
- I learned that it pays to be proactive and follow the development of cultural destinations in the city in order to pursue projects that would suit our firm.
- Successful signage and wayfinding projects require research, an in-depth understanding of the project and integration of the requirements of other criteria, including branding, heritage issues, environmental issues, the design of landscape and buildings and a desire to contribute to a larger conversation.
- Include a budget for signage in your project planning.
- Research other similar sites for signage projects that have impressed you.
- Engage a signage consultant to establish criteria for the project.
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