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A Formula For Place: Building Engagement

Walkability, building engagement, and character and comfort are three qualities of a great place. If you haven’t already, read the earlier posts in this series about quantifying placemaking and measuring walkability. This post focuses on quantifying the level of activity at the building interface with the pedestrian realm. We call it building engagement.


Quantifying big ideas

The equation for building engagement is the sum of access, articulation, and permeability.


Access

Access measures the amount of pedestrian access points in a block using the number of doors as a key metric. This is an important feature to measure, because not all built-out blocks are accessible.


A study by Gehl Architects found that pedestrian traffic is 13% slower along interesting facade sections of a city street. They tracked things like how often a pedestrian turned their head to look in a store window and/or stopped to go inside. When a block was full of access points, 75% of people turned their heads, and 25% stopped while walking by.


You’ve probably walked along the back side of a parking garage, hotel, or convention center. These large structures are technically buildings, but if there are no ingress/egress options on the block, it’s a poor pedestrian experience. Some developers install cosmetic fronts, like glass displays and murals. But access measures physical doors a person can enter.


I recommend using the following criteria when measuring access points:

  • Excellent = 10+ doors per 100 meters

  • Good = 6-9 doors per 100 meters

  • Fair = 3-5 doors per 100 meters

  • Low = 0-2 doors per 100 meters


On a given block, calculate the access on each side of the street, then add those two values together. This gives you a corridor score, which can be useful when working on a multi-block project.


Articulation

Articulation measures the diversity of the building frontages using architectural interest, and glazing/blank walls as key metrics. The articulation score is calculated by multiplying the architectural interest by the blank wall scores.


Architectural Interest

The more architectural features on a block, the more interesting it becomes to people, which results in a better pedestrian experience. The following architectural features are a sample of elements that add architectural interest to a building façade:

  • Arcade

  • Awning

  • Balcony/Terrace

  • Blank ornate wall

  • Blank commercial wall

  • Breezeway

  • Gallery

  • Shopfront

  • Porch/Fence

  • Residential wall

  • Stoop/walk-up

I recommend the following criteria for scoring architectural interest:

  • Very high = 12+ features per 100 meters

  • High = 8-11 features per 100 meters

  • Moderate = 4-7 features per 100 meters

  • Low = 0-3 features per 100 meters


Blank Wall

As I’m sure you’d guess, the fewer blank walls, the better the pedestrian experience. I recommend the following criteria for scoring blank walls:

  • Very high = no blank walls

  • High = 1-50% of block face has blank wall frontage

  • Moderate = 51-75% of block face has blank wall frontage

  • Low = over 75% of block face has blank wall frontage

Permeability

Permeability evaluates how easy or difficult it is to see into buildings on a block. It can also be described as building frontage transparency. Pedestrians have a better experience when they can clearly see, hear, touch, or smell the goods, services, or activities along a block.


Add up the permeability of each building on a block face using the following criteria:

  • High = 81-100% transparent

  • Moderate = 61-80% transparent

  • Fair = 41-60% transparent

  • Low = 0-40% transparent


Building Engagement

Once you’ve calculated access, articulation and permeability, add the values for a total building engagement score.
















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